High bitter-taste sensitivity is associated with a significantly increased risk of cancer in older British women, according to new research from Penn State.
The team conducted a unique study of 5,500 women whose diet, lifestyle and health has been tracked for about 20 years.
The study examined the relationship between the ability to taste the bitter-tasting chemical phenylthiocarbamide, known as PTC, or the presence of specific genetic differences in the bitter taste receptor, TAS2R38, and risk of cancer.
The data are from a subset of the UK Women’s Cohort Study.
The UK Women’s Cohort Study was established in 1995 by nutritional epidemiologists at Leeds University to explore links between diet and chronic disease, cancer in particular.
The study had an initial middle-aged female population of 35,000. The researchers obtained cancer incidence data from Great Britain’s National Health Service Central Register.
Researchers analyzed the food intake of women in the study, using a 217-item food-frequency questionnaire administered when the women joined the cohort in the late 1990s.
Researchers hypothesized that women with higher bitter-taste sensitivity would consume fewer vegetables and have higher incidence of cancer.
Although there was no correlation between bitter-taste sensitivity and vegetable intake, researchers did find that, among older women, bitter-taste sensitivity was linked to greater cancer risk.
Depending on the level of sensitivity to bitter tastes, study participants were classified as super-tasters, tasters and non-tasters.
Super-tasters and tasters didn’t eat fewer vegetables than the non-tasters. They reported consuming as many Brussels sprouts and as much broccoli, for instance, as the non-tasters.
But it also makes the team think that the relationship between bitter-taste sensitivity and cancer likely relates more to overall diet quality than just vegetable consumption.
Although the researchers didn’t see the relationship between bitter-taste sensitivity and vegetable consumption that they expected, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in the wider context of the total diet.
The findings are published in the European Journal of Nutrition.
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