Obese people have less sensitive taste buds than normal-weight people, but bariatric surgery may increase their taste sensitivity in addition to helping them shed pounds, finds new research from Stanford University School of Medicine.
In a study presented at the 31st annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery this week, researchers followed a group of 88 patients, with an average age of about 49, who were mostly female and had an average preoperative body mass index (BMI) of 45.3. A BMI of 30 or greater indicates an obese weight, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Study author Dr. John M. Morton pursued the research after noticing in his clinical practice that many patients reported alterations in their perception of taste following bariatric surgery, but little evidence exists as to how and why the changes affect weight loss after surgery.
Prior to their surgery, patients and a control group of normal-weight adults, took a baseline taste test using paper strips with concentrations of each taste component: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. The standardized test allowed for objective results compared to past studies, researchers noted. The bariatric surgery patients were retested at three, six and twelve months after surgery.
“Compared to the normal weight [participants], obese patients had consistently less taste sensation,” study author Dr. John M. Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, told FoxNews.com. “My speculation is that obese patients may make up for lack of taste intensity with volume.”
After surgery, the patients with the most increased taste sensation lost more weight over time.
Morton suspects that improved taste buds allowed some of the patients to change their relation to food, and therefore become satisfied by taste and do not need to eat as much to be satisfied by volume as they had in the past.
It’s unknown how taste buds change or why obese participants had less sensitivity at baseline, Morton noted, but based on the study and his clinical experience, obese patients do have taste buds that are different from normal weight people, he said.
For those trying to lose weight, their findings have a practical application to how people approach eating.
“If you become more appreciative of taste, perhaps you don’t need to eat as much because you’ve satisfied a different sense,” Morton said.