Strong sensitivity to bitter tastes tied to higher cancer risk

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


New research suggests that a raised sensitivity to bitter tastes might be a good predictor for cancer risk in women.

A recent study has started to investigate the link between sensitivity to better tastes and the risk of cancer.

It was conducted by researchers at the College of Agricultural Sciences of Pennsylvania State University in State College alongside a team from Leeds University in the United Kingdom.

Lead researcher Joshua Lambert and his team analyzed the data related to lifestyle and diet factors and health history of 5,500 British women over 20 years.

The scientists looked at how a woman’s ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), which is a chemical that can be perceived as either extremely bitter or completely tasteless depending on a person’s sensitivity to bitter flavors, can influence cancer risk.

Lambert and colleagues also considered the impact of genetic variants encoding the taste receptor TAS2R38, which binds to PTC, allowing an individual to perceive its taste.

The findings, which are now published in the European Journal of Nutrition, suggest that there is a link between an increased ability to taste bitterness and a woman’s risk of developing cancer.

‘Striking’ differences in terms of cancer risk

They collected most of their data via the UK Women’s Cohort Study, which was founded in 1995 by researchers at Leeds University, and which has been gathering information about potential links between chronic diseases — particularly cancer — and the impact of dietary factors.

Specifically, Lambert and team started from the premise that women with a high sensitivity to bitter tastes would eat fewer vegetables and be exposed to higher cancer incidence.

In analyzing the data, the scientists split the women into three groups, depending on their ability to respond to the bitterness of PTC: “super-tasters,” “tasters,” and “non-tasters.”

They found that “super-tasters” and “tasters” were, in fact, at higher risk of cancer compared with women who could not taste the bitterness of PTC. However, they did not observe a significant correlation with the amount of vegetables consumed by the women in each group.