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It is official now. Food does taste better if you are hungry. A new study at the National Institute for Psychological Sciences in Okazaki, Japan, states that food tastes better when we are hungry. This makes the food we dislike easy to eat. This happens because of the neural circuit in the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain that creates the craving for sweets and signals us when food has turned bad. Apart from this, the hypothalamus is also responsible for controlling appetite, sex drive and emotional responses. This study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
According to the study, hungry mice inclined more towards sweet food instead of bitter or sour tasting food, which they naturally dislike. But researchers saw that their dislike for bitter and sour food decreased when they were hungry. Hence, researchers concluded that hunger can change taste preferences. This study is currently limited to animals and there is no scientific proof that it works for humans too.
To study taste preference, researchers focused on the neural circuit in the hypothalamus, also known as Agouti-related peptide (AgRP). Neural circuit in the hypothalamus is responsible for triggering feeding behaviour in humans. This is a group of a specific type of nerve cells in the hypothalamus region of the brain. These are activated when animals are hungry.
To understand the taste preference of mice, researchers took the help of the optogenetic and chemogenetic techniques. Optogenetic technique means that neuron are attached to light-sensitive agents, which light up as per the activity of the neurons. Chemogenetics is a process of adding designer receptors in the system to affect the activity of neurons artificially. Through these receptors, researchers found that hunger made downstream glutamate neurons in the lateral hypothalamus increase the preference for sweet tastes and lateral habenula in the lateral hypothalamus decrease the sensitivity to bitter tastes.
According to researchers, the next step of this research would be to see if the changing taste preference could help people with diabetes and obesity. While, the application of this research still has a long way to go, it is nice to know that our taste preference is nothing but mental conditions that can be altered.
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