Researchers Found Link Between Bitter-Taste Sensitivity and Cancer Risk

A new study began investigating the association between sensitivity to bitter tastes and the risk of cancer in women. However, researchers were surprised to discover that their working hypothesis with regards to women’s sensitivity to bitter flavors had nothing to do with their long-term dietary preferences. The study findings were published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

A new study began investigating the association between sensitivity to bitter tastes and the risk of cancer in women.
The study was conducted by researchers at the College of Agricultural Sciences of Pennsylvania State University in State College in collaboration with the team from Leeds University in the UK.

Associate Professor of Food Science, Joshua Lambert, served as the study’s lead researcher. Along with his team, he examined the data connected to the health history and lifestyle and diet factors of 5,500 British women over a period of 20 years.

They examined how a woman’s ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) can affect a person’s cancer risk.

PTC is a chemical that can be identified as extremely bitter or absolutely tasteless depending on the individual’s sensitivity to bitter flavors.

The research team also assessed the the impact of genetic variants encoding the taste receptor TAS2R38, which is connected to PTC, enabling a person to perceive its taste.

The findings suggest that there is an association between an increased ability to taste bitterness and a woman’s risk of developing cancer. It was published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

The researchers gathered the majority of their data from the UK Women’s Cohort Study, which was founded in 1995 by Leeds University researchers.

Lambert and his team began from the premise that women with a high sensitivity to bitter tastes would eat less vegetables and be exposed to a higher cancer prevalence.

In examining the data, women were divided into three groups according to their ability to respond to the bitterness of PTC.

The first group were classified as the “super-tasters”, the second group as “tasters”, while the third group as the “non-tasters.”

They discovered that “super-tasters” and “tasters” were at a higher risk of getting cancer compared to the “non-taster” women.

“The difference in cancer incidence between the women with the highest bitter-taste sensitivity and those with the lowest was striking,” says Lambert.

“Super-tasters had about a 58 percent higher risk of cancer incidence and the tasters had about a 40 percent higher risk of developing cancer, compared to women who were classified as non-tasters.”

While this proved their working hypothesis, they were surprised to find that women’s sensitivity to bitter flavors had nothing to do with their long-term dietary preferences.

“We thought [the increased risk of cancer in women with high bitter taste sensitivity] would happen because over their lifetime they would have consumed fewer bitter-tasting vegetables, which have been reported to have cancer preventive activities,” says Lambert.

However, what puzzled the researchers was that the “super-tasters” did not report eating any less vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, compared with the “non-tasters.”

This inspired Lambert and his team to apply for a grant to the American Institute for Cancer Research. They intend to run a new study to take a closer look at the relationship between sensitivity to bitter flavors and women’s risk of cancer, especially colon cancer in the U.S.

“Our hypothesis that women with greater bitter-taste sensitivity would eat fewer vegetables, putting them at heightened risk for cancer, was perhaps too narrow a concept. If you have an aversion to bitter taste, you are also less likely to drink alcohol, and alcohol is a risk factor for cancer,” said Lambert.

He explained, “Maybe, if we pull back and look at the whole-diet level, we will see that women who are super-tasters have a poorer-quality overall diet compared to women who are non-tasters.

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