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Smoking Dulls Taste for Sweets

The effect deepens over time, researchers add

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette smoking and a family history of alcoholism can both affect how a person perceives sweet-tasting foods, U.S. researchers say.

Women who smoked were less sensitive to sweet tastes than women who did not smoke, according to a study in the November issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The study included 27 current smokers (18 with a family history of alcoholism) and 22 women who'd never smoked (9 with a family history of alcoholism), ages 21 to 40. All of the participants were tested for their sensitivity to sweetness.

"Cigarette smoking and having a family history of alcoholism had different effects on sweet-taste perception and food cravings," study co-author Julie A. Mennella, a senior researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, said in a prepared statement.

"Women who smoked cigarettes were less sensitive to sweet taste than women who never smoked. This means that women who smoke required higher concentrations of a sweet solution in order to detect sweet taste; we also found that the more years a woman has smoked cigarettes, the less sensitive she will be to sweet taste," Mennella said.

"The study suggests that cigarette smoking dulls sweet-taste detection and is associated with increased food cravings, especially for starchy carbohydrates and foods high in fat," co-author M. Yanina Pepino, a researcher at Monell, said in a prepared statement.

The study also found that women with a family history of alcoholism preferred higher levels of sweetness and craved sweet-tasting foods more often. That confirms previous findings that a pleasurable response to sweet taste is associated with a genetic risk for alcoholism.

"We may now use this knowledge to, one, identify individuals at high risk for alcoholism and, two, study biological mechanisms involved in the development of alcohol-use disorders," said Alexei B. Kampov-Polevoy, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a prepared statement.

Future studies looking at the effects of smoking on food habits and cravings should take into account family history of alcoholism, Mennella and Pepino said.

More information

The American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery has more about taste and smell.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, Oct. 24, 2007

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