For many people, coffee and cigarettes go together like peas and carrots but researchers have recently discovered that tobacco products may interrupt taste bud regeneration which prevents smokers from tasting the natural bitterness of coffee. Nelly Jacob of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital APHP in France led the researchers in this study and their results have been published in the journal Chemosensory Perception.
The chemicals in tobacco have already been known to decrease the sense of taste in smokers and cause structural changes in the fungiform papillae of the tongue which contains the taste buds. However, the extent to which the taste range is affected and whether it can be restored after quitting smoking is not understood. The main function of taste buds is to sense sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and metallic tastes and they also have responsibilities that include prompting the digestive system to secrete saliva, stomach acid, and pancreatic juices.
Jacob and his team of researchers investigated the effects of smoking on taste buds by testing 451 participants in their recognition of the four basic tastes, sweet, salty, sour, and bitter, and the intensity of those tastes. The participants were divided into three groups; smokers, non-smokers, and former smokers. According to the researchers, the smoking status did not affect the participants’ abilities to recognize sweet, salty, and sour tastes but hindered their ability to recognize bitter tastes. Almost 20 percent of the smoker group and over 26 percent of the former smokers could not identify bitterness compared to 13.4 percent of the non-smokers who could not.
“We consider that the perception of bitter taste should be examined more closely, both as a tool for smoking cessation or for preventing smoking initiation,” says Jacob. “More generally, it should be worthwhile to consider the role of chemosensory perceptions in smoking behavior.”
The results of the study have led the researchers to believe that tobacco use can interrupt the regeneration of taste buds and affect the recognition of certain tastes even after quitting smoking. This could be a major reason why so many smokers enjoy coffee but it can also disrupt certain functions of the digestive system. However, recent advancements with digital taste simulators could one day be used to help regenerate a lost sense of taste.