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The Route to Obesity Passes Through Your Tongue

December 20, 2008 | 101,793 views
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obesity, taste, taste buds, sugar, bitter, tongue, leptin, insulinAccording to neuroscientists, obesity gradually numbs the taste sensation of rats to sweet foods, and drives them to consume larger and sweeter meals. There is apparently a critical link between taste and body weight.

Previous studies have suggested that obese persons are less sensitive to sweet taste, but little is known about the specific differences in sense of taste between obese and lean individuals. Researchers investigated these differences by studying the taste responses of two strains of rats.

Compared to the lean and healthy LETO rats, the taste responses in OLETF rats mirror those in obese humans. These rats tend to chronically overeat due to a missing satiety signal, and they become obese and develop diabetes. The obese rats also show an increased preference for sweet foods.

The researchers implanted electrodes in the rodents' brains to record the firing of nerve cells when the rats' tongues were exposed to various tastes. The OLETF rats had about 50 percent fewer neurons firing when their tongues were exposed to sucrose, suggesting that obese rats are overall less sensitive to sucrose.

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Dr. Mercola's Comments:

This research bears some resemblance to a previous study, which also concluded that the key to a thinner physique might lie in how sensitive your taste buds are. “Super tasters” who are sensitive to bitter compounds found in broccoli and other foods were found to be about 20 percent thinner than “non-tasters.”

Super tasters also tend to have more papillae, the tiny bumps on your tongue that hold taste buds. This may explain why non-tasters tend to like much sweeter, hotter and more bitter foods (which correspond to foods high in fat) as they simply can’t taste the food as well.

The natural cause and effect of this difference in ability to taste leads super tasters to indulge in healthier foods, while those with less sensitive taste buds eventually suffer from a higher body weight.

But is that really all there’s to it?

Of course not!

Hormone Influences Your Sweet Tooth

In fact, your sense of taste may be little more than the result of a poor diet to begin with, rendering it a symptom, not an underlying cause, for overeating and obesity.

Here’s how this works: The hormone leptin has been shown to target taste receptors on your tongue, thereby increasing or reducing cravings for sweet foods. It is believed that leptin is a sweet-sensing modulator (suppressor), and therefore a contributor to the process that regulates food intake.

It is likely that either a lack of leptin, or your body's failure to respond to the hormone due to defects in your leptin receptors, contributes to the so-called 'sweet tooth' that affects so many people.

It’s already been discovered that animals and humans with low leptin levels, or with defective leptin receptors, tend to become obese. Leptin -- a hormone produced by your fat cells -- is directly involved in weight regulation by signaling your brain when your fat cells are full; instructing your body to reduce hunger, increase fat burning, and reduce fat storage.

So, in addition to increasing cravings for sweets, low leptin levels (or conversely, excessive leptin levels due to leptin resistance) also diminish your feelings of satiety, leading to continued intake of sweet foods.

But, what causes your leptin levels to go haywire in the first place?

If you eat a diet that is high in sugar and grains, the sugar gets metabolized to fat (and is stored as fat in your fat cells), which in turn releases surges in leptin. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it (just as your body can become resistant to insulin).

And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer “hear” the messages telling it to stop eating, burn fat, and maintain good sensitivity to sweet tastes in your taste buds -- so you remain hungry, you crave sweets, and your body stores more fat.

Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.

So in essence, whether or not you have fewer, or less sensitive, taste buds may be inconsequential. That’s NOT the underlying problem. Being leptin resistant is the problem; one that can be fixed, as I’ll explain in just a moment.

Sugar Cravings is an Addiction!

Making matters worse, refined sugar has been found to be far more addictive than cocaine -- one of the most addictive substances currently known! So, if you think quitting tobacco is tough, giving up sugar can be even harder.

And, it’s important to remember that refined sugar is not the only culprit you have to contend with if you’re craving sweets.

Starch, in the form of grains and potatoes, metabolizes into sugar in your body and should therefore also be limited within your diet if you want to lose weight and feel better. Following my nutrition plan is a simple way to automatically reduce your intake of both grains and sugars. 

How to Re-Sensitize Your Taste Buds and Restore Optimal Health

All of that said, it’s important to remember that your taste buds are likely not the best indicators of what foods are good for your body.

Many people, especially those who are overweight, have developed a link between their taste buds and their brain that cause their body to produce leptin and insulin, the moment they eat anything sweet. And due to the rise in leptin levels, you keep craving more sugar and grains.

Fortunately, there are ways to remedy this problem and put an end to the evil circle. Here’s how:

Modify your diet – A strategic diet that emphasizes good fats, and avoids blood sugar spikes will re-sensitize your cells' ability to hear hormonal messages correctly.

But I recommend taking your dietary modifications even one step further. Though increasing healthy fats and limiting sugar and carbs will benefit everyone, understanding your nutritional type is equally important when losing weight. Just as you are unique in all other respects, your body has a unique biochemistry that requires certain proportions and types of healthy carbohydrates, fats and proteins that differs from other peoples' requirements.

Learning your nutritional type will help you get started on an eating plan that is right for you (and your taste buds).

Reeducate your taste buds -- This is simply a matter of "cleaning" your palate of grains to eliminate your body's learned response to sugar. Once you’ve abstained from grains for awhile, you'll notice that foods will taste better than ever.

Battle the physical aspects of your sugar cravings -- Anyone who exercises intensely on a regular basis will know that significant amounts of cardiovascular exercise is the cure for sweet cravings.

It always amazes me how my appetite, especially for sweets, dramatically decreases after exercise. I believe the mechanism is related to the dramatic reduction in insulin levels that occurs after exercise.

Elevated insulin levels are one of the primary reasons for food cravings and if insulin levels are reduced, many of these cravings simply disappear.

Battle the emotional aspects of your sugar addiction -- A great way to help you overcome your food cravings is through the energy psychology tool Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). In addition to sugar being excessively addictive, there is almost always an emotional component to food cravings as well. And while most people are able to find success in overcoming their physical addiction, they are still left with the emotional addiction.

This technique eliminates negative emotions that sabotage your health, and replaces them with positives. You can review my free EFT manual to learn this technique.


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