According to a study turning to sweet snacks as a way to cope with stress may be more than just a bad habit; it could be a natural biological response. Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia PA have discovered that taste buds can detect flavors through stress triggered hormones. This finding, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters on June 13 2014 sheds light on why we tend to crave tastes when we’re feeling anxious.
The study focused on the influence of GC (receptors on our food preferences. The researchers aimed to determine if these receptors are present on taste buds specialized in detecting flavors and whether stress triggers their activation.
To unveil their findings the researchers compared the number of taste cells with GC receptors between non stressed mice. They discovered that stressed mice had a 77% increase in GC receptors within their taste cells compared to stressed mice. While its already known that stress affects our perception of taste and food intake these observations suggest that this influence is directly linked to an increase, in activated GC receptors caused by feelings of anxiety.”Stress can have an impact on our sense of taste particularly when it comes to sweet flavors ” stated Dr. M. Rockwell Parker, the lead author of the study and a chemical ecologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Our findings offer an explanation for why some individuals tend to crave sugary foods during periods of intense stress.”
The Connection Between Stress and Sweet Cravings
So why do we often turn to desserts of chips when we’re stressed? According to Parker while stress is known to increase our desire for foods it seems that the receptors responsible for detecting sweet tastes react differently. He suggested that this could be because the influence of stress on salt intake may be processed in the brain than through taste bud receptors.
The Impact of Anxiety on Taste in Body Parts
“Stress might also affect taste receptors located in the gut and pancreas which could potentially impact how our bodies metabolize sugars and other nutrients and ultimately affect our appetite ” explained Dr. Robert Margolskee, a senior author and molecular biologist at Monell. Although this specific study did not explore areas beyond oral taste sensations its results indicate that stress can have far reaching effects, throughout different parts of our body.
Carla Nasca, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in the laboratory of Neuroendocrinology at the Rockefeller University, New York. Dr. Nasca received her B.A. in Molecular Biology and her M.S. in Electrophysiology from the University of Palermo in Italy. She earned her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Pharmacology from the University Sapienza in Rome, Italy, before moving to The Rockefeller University under the mentorship of Dr. Bruce McEwen.