Flavor and Fertility: Taste Receptors for Sweet and Savory Linked to Male Reproduction
You've heard the term food-gasm before.
Maybe you've actually experienced one yourself. It's hard to deny that food is closely tied to sex; whether as an aphrodisiac or a sexual object in and of itself -- you've seen that sandwich-eating sex scene at the end of Bridesmaids. Hey, we're not going to judge.
Turns out the carnal ties to fodder might be more biologically intertwined than you may have thought; the genes that allow us to taste umami (savory) and sweet are same genes that are active in male reproduction.
On Tuesday, a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that suppressing that gene can lead to lack of taste and reproduction issues.
When food enters your mouth flavors activate the taste receptors which sends a protein signal to the brain alerting of the flavors. "As soon as you chew on it and eat, your body starts a messaging process much like a computer," said Dr. Robert Fishman of Post Haste Pharmacy in Hollywood.
If you were actually going to compare the body to a computer, the taste receptor would be keyboard and the protein would be the hard drive. When you type a message or code into the keyboard it sends a message to the drive telling the system how to operate: both are needed for the system to function properly. Damage the keyboard and you're not going to send a message. Harm the hard drive: it's like the Apple wheel of death.
Here, the gene TAS1R, the taste receptor, would be the keyboard and the protein, gustducin that is manifested by the gene GNAT3, is the hard drive.
Geneticist Bedrich Mosinger, a specialist in the science of taste, and his team at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia were trying to examine the behavior of these genes in mice when they came across a startling discovery.
When the TAS1R and GNAT3 genes were deactivated in mating mice, they found that the male mice became sterile.
Currently, make infertility is on the rise. Mosinger and his colleagues believe that there is an environmental factor causing the decrease of testes and sperm.
Mosinger indicates concern regarding fibrates, a class of drugs used to treat high cholesterol, which are commonly identified with inhibiting expression of TAS1R. Likewise, phenoxy herbicides are known to have a similar effect on the GNAT3 gene.
According to the study, "We hypothesize that even low levels of these compounds can lower sperm count and negatively affect human male fertility, which common mouse toxicology assays would not reveal."
A long-term proponent of healthy lifestyle and organic foods, Dr. Fishman is not surprised by the results.
"Herbicides change the genetics of the food and the body, if it gets inside you. Essentially, those materials are changing the bodies genes," he said. "High cholesterol medication is a problem too. I think these drugs are good for one purpose only, emergency. In the process of of lowering cholesterol, it lower CoQ10 levels, which are necessary in delivering oxygen and nutrition to cells. It's a band-aide: not a cure."
On the bright side, the study also speculated that TAS1R3 and GNAT3 activators may be able to help infertile men, which could benefit those who are having trouble conceiving.
If you're man has doesn't have a finely tuned palate, you may be on to a new form of birth control. Then again, we're food bloggers -- not doctors -- so we wouldn't count on it.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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