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Depression Health Center

Taste Test for Depression Drugs?

Way to Choose Right Antidepressant May Be on the Tip of Your Tongue, Study Suggests
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 5, 2006 -- It might be possible to create a taste test to help in choosing a depression drug.

So say British researchers who studied taste and brain chemicals linked to depression. They include the University of Bristol's Jan Melichar, MBBS, MRCPsych, and Lucy Donaldson, PhD.

"This is very exciting," Melichar says in a university news release.

"Until now we have had no easy way of deciding which is the best medication for depression," Melichar says.

"As a result, we get it right about 60% to 80% of the time," she says. "It can take up to four weeks to see if the drug is working, or if we need to change it.

"However, with a taste test, we may be able to get it right [the] first time," Melichar says.

Taste Test

Melichar, Donaldson, and colleagues studied 20 healthy adults aged 19-47.

First, participants were screened for depression. None were depressed.

Next, the researchers applied sweet, sour, salty, or bitter solutions to the tip of the participants' tongues for about five seconds. The participants correctly identified the taste of each solution.

The participants repeated the test after taking the antidepressants Paxil or reboxetine, or a pill containing no medicine (placebo).

Paxil raises brain levels of a chemical called serotonin. Reboxetine, which isn't available in the U.S., boosts another brain chemical, noradrenaline.

Drugs' Effects

Each patient tried one drug a day over three days, switching between the drugs. They had the taste tests two hours after taking their assigned pill.

After taking Paxil, patients had heightened sweet and bitter tastes. After taking reboxetine, they had heightened sour and bitter tastes.

Neither drug affected salty tastes. The placebo pills had no effect on taste.

The researchers concluded that serotonin and noradrenaline may affect taste.

Donaldson explains that a taste test could show whether a patient's depression is more affected by serotonin or noradrenaline. That information could help in choosing an antidepressant.

The findings may also explain appetite changes in depressed people, according to the researchers.

However, the study didn't include any depression patients, so more studies are needed.

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