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Binge eating may be caused by taste bud cells

Binge eaters may have their tongues to blame when they binge. New research shows that part of the desire to binge on sweets when stressed comes from taste bud receptors on the tongue.

Scientists have known for many years that stress can cause people to binge eat. This is because stress triggers the body to release hormones called Glucocorticoids or GCs. These hormones bind to receptors in certain cells and influence human’s food choices. For most people the hormones trigger a desire for sweet and high fat food.

The researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia PA decided to take this information and test whether taste buds have GC receptors.

What they found was that taste buds do have GC receptors but some had more than others. The taste buds with the most GC receptors were those that detected sweet and umami tastes.

This means that, under stress, our sweet and savoury taste buds are more active and we therefor crave sweet and umami foods.

So far, tests in mice show that stressed mice had a 77% higher level of GC hormones in their taste buds than non-stressed mice. This provides a direct link between stress and desire for sweet foods. "Taste provides one of our initial evaluations of potential foods. If this sense can be directly affected by stress-related hormonal changes, our food interaction will likewise be altered," said Lead Researcher M. Rockwell Parker, PhD.

With this new discovery, scientists may be able to explain why some people are more likely to crave sweet food when under stress. It is important to remember that taste buds are present in the mouth but also in the gut and pancreas. This means stress could be linked to metabolism and appetite.

Armed with this knowledge, scientists may be able to design a drug that would actually block GC receptors. This could stop stress from causing binge eating and possibly provide a treatment for other food related problems.

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