So, are there any positives or negatives to being a supertaster? Yes, there appear to be a few positives and concerns with all types of tasters. It is known that supertasters have enhanced defense mechanisms against inhaled toxins, pathogens and particulates in the respiratory system with enhanced immunity and maintenance of a clean airway as noted in the study by Lee et al.21,22 Respiratory disease such as chronic rhinosinusitis affects approximately 35 million Americans at a cost of $6 billion annually. Added to this, Lee et al. state 1 in 5 antibiotic prescriptions occur because of rhinosinusitis. Adappa et al. found patients testing positive for the bitter receptor gene T2R38 were less likely to need surgical intervention for chronic rhinosinusitis.1,2 More research is being conducted in this area of study with more funded research projects in the future.
A recent study by Shetty et al. in 2014 found a much lower caries rate in children who were supertasters compared to those in the non-taster group. The PROP test was used to assess the supertasters, tasters (mid-tasters) and non-tasters (sub-tasters). The research was undertaken because knowing the potential of an increased risk of caries rates in a group of children is beneficial in long-term oral health. Shetty found a lower rate of caries in the supertasters, but a higher rate in non-tasters (sub-tasters). The non-tasters tended to consume the sweeter type foods, but supertasters tended to avoid these foods.28
Hedge and Sharma found similar results in a group of 500 children ages 8-12. Body mass index was assessed and caries rates recorded. The supertasters appear to remain thinner than their non-taster counterparts or even the middle group of tasters. The non-tasters tended toward more obesity with higher caries rates.16
Keller and Tepper also assessed weight differences. Researchers found different results in eating habits and body weight of boys who were non-tasters, and they reported increased consumption of proteins compared to taster groups (the general population as well as supertasters).19
In a study by Goldstein, the PROP non-taster phenotype was strongly associated with several measures of adiposity in middle-aged women as well. The researchers suggested this might indicate the susceptibility of weight gain in non-tasters since they tend to consume more sugar/sweet foods and also more fatty foods such as fatty meats over time.13 This may be a negative consideration for the non-taster since consumption of more fatty foods may increase the level of heart disease as well. Non-tasters have a lower perception of the taste of saccharine, potassium chloride, sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate and to the sweetness of sucrose. The sweetness consumption is associated with weight gain and high fructose corn syrup consumption to diabetes. Of course, this could increase the rate in adult onset diabetes as well.
A concern with the supertaster is the avoidance of the dark green vegetables since they may be beneficial in lessening the chance of diseases such as colon cancer. This may especially be relevant with young children since some tend to be labeled as “picky eaters” very early on. They will have a lifetime in avoidance of these types of cruciferous vegetables. Campa et al. did not establish a connection with colon cancer in a 2010 study, but the researchers concluded they lacked sufficient statistical power to exclude the possibility of a connection with colon cancer.7 Searching for alternatives to the more bitter vegetables may insure the child receives enough of the needed nutrients and fiber. Researchers are investigating the connection of the supertaster with colon cancer.
A third positive factor related to supertasters is they do not tend to over indulge in alcohol. In fact, it is the non-tasters that tend to consume more alcohol. Studies by Duffy et al. found alcohol use to be less in supertasters but much higher in non-tasters.10 This would make sense because alcohol often has a bitter taste and non-tasters do not react to this taste sensation making the product more tolerable or pleasant for non-tasters. Supertasters react more to the bitterness and non-tasters tolerate the bitterness much better. Individuals who taste the PROP chemicals as most bitter tend to experience more negative sensations from the alcohol. They concluded the decreased taste on the anterior portion of the tongue might remove the usual inhibition that taste has on trigeminal sensations from this part of the tongue in older individuals making alcohol more tolerable. Therefore, older age groups of supertasters may tolerate the taste much more than they did at a younger age.
Benson et al. sum up the importance of gene research and why the subject of supertasters should matter to us: “It matters because new knowledge about the molecular basis of food likes and dislikes in children, known to be a generation that will struggle with obesity and diabetes, may suggest strategies to overcome diet-induced diseases.”5