Metabolism: Bitter aperitifs to aid digestion

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The Roman tradition of drinking wine infused with bitter herbs before meals may have been wise: a study in mice reveals that bitter foods can temporarily aid digestion.

Bitter-taste receptors are found in the gut, as well as the mouth. Inge Depoortere and her co-workers at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium treated mice with compounds that activate these receptors, and found a rise in a hunger hormone called ghrelin. Over the next half-hour, treated mice ate and digested more food than mice that started out with water. After that, digestion and feeding slowed.

These effects were reduced in mice lacking a protein called α-gustducin, which is also involved in taste. Tweaking this pathway could provide a new approach to tackling obesity and some digestive disorders.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA doi:10.1073/pnas.1011508108 (2011)

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