A study published by Penn State College, in the journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, has found that whether people like and consume alcoholic beverages is linked to specific genes; explaining why some people just don’t like the taste of alcohol.
The researchers focused on three chemosensory genes — two bitter-taste receptor genes known as TAS2R13 and TAS2R38 and a burn receptor gene, TRPV1. The results appear in the September online issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Research participants consisted of one hundred thirty people of various races, age 18 to 45, completed all four of the study’s tasting sessions.
“In general, greater bitterness relates to lower liking, and because we generally tend to avoid eating or drinking things we don’t like, lower liking for alcoholic beverages associates with lower intake,” said John Hayes, assistant professor of food science and director of Penn State’s Sensory Evaluation Center. “The burn receptor gene TRPV1 has not previously been linked to differences in intake, but we reasoned that this gene might be important as alcohol causes burning sensations in addition to bitterness. “In our research, we show that when people taste alcohol in the laboratory, the amount of bitterness they experience differs, and these differences are related to which version of a bitter receptor gene the individual has.”
The lead researcher Alissa Allen, a doctoral candidate in food science commented on the relevance of the genes: “Prior work suggests greater bitterness and less sweetness each influence the liking of alcohol beverages, which influences intake,” Allen said. “Here we show that the bitterness of sampled ethanol varies with genetic differences in bitter taste receptor genes, which suggests a likely mechanism to explain previously reported relationships between these gene variants and alcohol intake.”
“Additional work is needed to see if these variants can prospectively predict alcohol use behaviors in naïve individuals,” Hayes said. “But biology is not destiny. That is, food choice remains that, a choice. Some individuals may learn to overcome their innate aversions to bitterness and consume excessive amounts of alcohol, while others who do not experience heightened bitterness may still choose not to consume alcohol for many reasons unrelated to taste.”
Pen State University