Good taste in men linked to colon risks

From Denver, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Men with exceptionally good taste may pay for it in health risks.

About 25 percent of people have extra taste buds on their tongues. They live in “a neon taste world” instead of a “pastel” one, as Yale University researcher Linda Bartoshuk puts it (SN: 7/12/97, p. 24:

There may be a nasty consequence to the benefit. Among men over 65, intense tasters have significantly more colon polyps than other tasters, according to Bartoshuk and Marc Basson of Wayne State University in Detroit. Extra polyps suggest an extra risk of colon cancer.

Bartoshuk speculates that sensitive tongues lead these men astray in food choices. Supertasters often cringe at intense vegetable flavors, and the supertasting seniors eat fewer vegetables than do their counterparts with normal taste sensitivity. The supertasters also tended to weigh more. Low-vegetable diets and extra weight both raise the risk of colon cancer.

Ear infections may exacerbate this cancer risk. The nerves from the tongue pass through the ear, and ear infections distort neural mechanisms so that the tongue increases its sensitivity to fat. Bartoshuk has found that among men with a history of ear infections, supertasters are especially likely to be very overweight.


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Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.