ICE/ENDO 2014: 16th International Congress of Endocrinology and The Endocrine Society's 96th Annual Meeting:

Taste Buds, Blood Sugar and Aging: Is there a connection to diabetes?

It is known that 25% of Americans over the age of 65 (11.2 million) are living with diabetes. The study’s leader investigator, Chee Chia, MD stated, “The reduced number of taste buds with advancing age might be linked to the increase incidence of type 2 diabetes among older adults. Dr. Chia is a medical officer at the National Institute of Aging (NIA) in Baltimore, MD. He presented the study's findings during the joint 16th International Congress of Endocrinology and 96th Annual Meeting of The Endocrine Society held in Chicago in June 2014.

The results from the National Health Interview Survey, showed less than 1% of people in the 18-24 age group reported taste impairment. In people age 85 and older taste impairment was reported at 1.7%. Furthermore, studies have shown that people with a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes had impaired sweet taste. According to Dr. Chia’s presentation, people with a first-degree relative and type 2 diabetes needs a glucose solution to be twice as sweet before they can perceive/taste sweet.

The investigators analyzed data from 353 adults who participated in the NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging between 2011 and 2014. This is an observational study of community volunteers. The study (ongoing) counts the number of taste buds on the tip of the tongue after the tongue is stained with blue food dye.

“Taste cells are present in the taste buds on the tongue. A taste bud is like an onion-shaped structure consisting of between 15 to 100 taste cells,” Dr. Chia illustrated. Researchers at the NIA found the hormones contained with the taste cells on the tongue in mice to be glucagon and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). These are the hormones that help the body regulate sugar. Glucagon increases glucose levels, GLP-1 regulates insulin secretion and lowers blood sugar. Researchers found taste bud size decreased as the mice aged.

In summary, Dr. Chia stated, “Our preliminary results support the hypothesis that taste bud number will play a role in how our body handles sugar during the aging process. So given these findings and that the prevalence of diabetes increases with age, the potential connection between aging, decreased number of taste buds, and how our body handles sugar poses some intriguing questions that need further investigation.”

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