Stomach’s Sweet Tooth

Taste, scientists are discovering, is a whole-body sensation. There are taste cells in the stomach, intestine and, evidence suggests, the pancreas, colon and esophagus. These sensory cells are part of an ancient battalion tasked with guiding food choices

Newly discovered taste cells in the gut appear to send a “prepare for fuel” message to the body, a finding that may explain a link between diet soda and diabetes risk.

The gut’s taste cells appear to be built from the same machinery as the taste cells of the tongue, the structures of which scientists have only recently nailed down. Taste cells interact with what are called “tastants” via receptors, specialized proteins that protrude from cell walls and bind to specific molecules drifting by. When a tastant binds to a receptor, it signals other molecules that, in the mouth, immediately send an “accept” or “reject” message to the brain.

Gut taste cells appear to regulate, in part, secretion of insulin, a hormone crucial for telling body tissues whether they should tap newly arrived glucose or valuable stored fat for energy.

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