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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

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-- Robert Preidt

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

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