Based on the results of a study conducted by Cornell University researchers, obesity can blunt a person’s taste buds, reducing their ability to enjoy the taste of food, especially for the five primary tastes: Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory.

The study, which was published in PLOS Biology, discussed how chronic low-grade inflammation caused by obesity could reduce the number of taste buds on the tongue after examining murine gustatory tissues. “[This reduction in tissue] is likely the cause of taste dysfunction seen in obese populations—by upsetting this balance of renewal and cell death,” the researchers wrote.

To understand how the changes in the taste buds occur because of obesity, the team divided male mice into two groups. The control group was fed with a standard chow diet containing 14 percent fat; the experiment group, on the other hand, was provided with a high-fat diet that had a 58.4 percent fat content. After eight weeks, they observed that the high-fat diet group added about 30 percent to their body weight. In addition, the mice in this group had a taste-bud loss of around 25 percent more than those in the control group.

Reduction in taste buds is not uncommon: These cells are often renewed through a process that involves programmed cell death (apoptosis) and the production of new cells from “specialized progenitor cells.” What researchers discovered in the study, however, was that cell apoptosis increased in obese mice, which affected the number of progenitor cells that create new taste buds – explaining the reduction in the number of taste buds. In comparison, mice that were mutated to be resistant to obesity did not show these signs when they were subjected to the diet. This means that the adverse effects of obesity in the taste buds are not because of an increase in fat consumption but rather a build-up of fatty tissue.

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