November 20, 2014

Weight Loss Surgery Does Weird Things to Your Taste Buds

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Hmm…did you know?

People who sign up for weight loss surgery often have a lot to lose — including their sensitivity to taste, according to new research presented during the ObesityWeek 2014 conference.

In the study, researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California asked 55 obese preoperative bariatric surgery patients and 33 people with normal-range BMIs (the control group) to take a taste test designed to assess their sensitivity to sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (i.e., savory truffle) tastes. Then, they monitored the patients’ weight loss and conducted taste tests three, six, and 12 months after the weight loss surgery.

Interestingly, patients’ sensitivity to taste decreased after surgery. Lead author John Morton, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Stanford University, says this could be because bariatric surgery affects hormones in a way that can zap a patient’s appetite. You know how food tastes somuch better when you’re hungry? Well, the opposite applies: Food doesn’t taste so great when you’re not hungry.

Morton has one other theory: Obese patients might have taste buds that are in bad shape in the first place. “They just get worn out over time, and it’s not reversible with weight loss,” Morton says. Considering the fact that the overweight patients started out with lower-than-normal sensitivity to tastes across the board, this makes perfect sense. It could even hint at why people become overweight in the first place: “Some people derive satisfaction from that full feeling, but you don’t eat as much if you derive satisfaction from taste, not volume,” Morton says.

Non-surgical weight loss strategies like exercise and dieting won’t mess with your hormones like bariatric surgery does, and probably won’t dull your sense of taste quite as much. On the flip side, if you want to keep your weight in check or you have a few pounds to lose, you can use these new findings to teach your taste buds to be more sensitive, Morton says. He suggests an old-school method: Chew every forkful 60 times. While that might sound a little extreme (and kind of gross?), the point is that when you savor every bite and eat more slowly, you give your body a chance to register that it’s full — and give your mind a chance to register that your mouth is full of deliciousness. *~yUm~*.

2016, Bariatric Specialists of North Carolina, a part of the EmergeOrtho network
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