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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

A Taste Test for Alcoholism?

Children of Alcoholics May Have Different Taste Buds
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June 18, 2003 -- Children of alcoholics may be more sensitive to salty or sour tastes than people who don't have a family history of alcoholism, according to a new study.

Researchers say the findings suggest that alcoholic fathers may pass along certain genetic traits to their children that affect the way they perceive certain tastes, and a taste test may help determine a person's risk of alcoholism.

The study, which appears in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, compared the taste buds of 112 non-alcoholic adults, of which 45 had alcoholic fathers. The participants were each given a series of salty and sour solutions and asked to rate the concoctions' intensity and pleasantness.

The study found that children of alcoholic fathers rated salty solutions as more unpleasant than others. They also expressed a greater dislike of the sour solutions and found them more intense.

Because alcohol (ethanol) generally produces a bitter or sour taste sensation in healthy people, researchers say this inherited sensitivity to sour tastes may discourage alcohol consumption and dampen other risk factors of alcoholism. In fact, since the participants in the study had already been screened for alcohol dependence, researchers say this increased sensitivity to sour tastes among children of alcoholic fathers may have already served as a protective factor.

Researcher Henry R. Kranzler, MD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center, and colleagues say these salty and sour taste preferences may act as independent contributors to alcoholism risk. And if further studies confirm these results, an alcoholism taste test might be developed in the future that would reveal if a person were predisposed to become alcoholic.

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