MONDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Variations in a certain gene can make people more or less sensitive to the taste of fat and affect their risk for obesity, researchers report.
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The team at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied 21 obese people and found that those with a particular variant of the CD36 gene were far more sensitive to the taste of fat.
This is the first study to identify a receptor on human tongues that can taste fat. The finding was recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research.
"The ultimate goal is to understand how our perception of fat in food might influence what foods we eat and the quantities of fat that we consume," senior investigator Nada Abumrad, a professor of medicine and obesity research, said in a university news release.
"In this study, we've found one potential reason for individual variability in how people sense fat. It may be, as was shown recently, that as people consume more fat, they become less sensitive to it, requiring more intake for the same satisfaction. What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity," Abumrad noted.
Previous research found that rats and mice without a working CD36 gene no longer had a preference for fatty foods and that animals that can't make the CD36 protein have difficulty digesting fat.
It's believed that up to 20 percent of people have a CD36 gene variant that's associated with making significantly less CD36 protein. This, in turn, could make them less sensitive to the presence of fat in food, the researchers said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, news release, Jan. 12, 2012