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A hallmark study published in JAMA by Dr. Henry P. Barham shows that your ability to taste bitterness strongly correlates with your ability to clear viral infection and explains why some struggle with viruses and others clear with a quick sniffle.
The study showed that bitterness reflects the presence of a vital receptor in your upper respiratory tract that signals your 'innate' immunity to rev up and fight off infection before it enters your bloodstream.
Dr. Barham is a board-certified ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician who works as a dedicated rhinologist (nose, sinus, allergy, endoscopic sinus, and skull base surgery) at Sinus and Nasal Specialists of Louisiana, LLC.
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The study was published in JAMA Network Open on May 21, 2021. Here is the link: Association Between Bitter Taste Receptor Phenotype and Clinical Outcomes Among Patients With COVID-19
Supertasters have a genetic hypersensitivity to certain flavors and foods. According to the NIH, roughly 25% of Americans are Supertasters (25% are nontasters and 50% are medium tasters). Supertasters have the functional form of the TAS2R38 gene.
Innate immunity is your body’s general protection and first line of defense against pathogens. This type of immunity refers to the immunity inborn within someone. It does not differ in its mechanisms against the various pathogens, it offers protection against them at the same level. It does not differ according to the type of pathogen. It is non-specific, occurs rapidly (within minutes to hours), and has no memory response. This form of immunity is life long, and it includes various organs and tissues, such as the epidermis (the upper layer of skin). For example, if you develop a cut or wound on the skin, harmful substances can then enter the body, paving the way for infection. Another component of this type of immunity is the mucous membranes (the lining of the tissues inside you). These produce mucus in parts of the body such as the respiratory and digestive tracts. The main job of mucus is to trap bacteria, dirt, and debris and expel it from the body.
Adaptive immunity, also known as acquired immunity, is the body’s second line of defense against pathogens. It requires exposure to the pathogens to elicit a very specific immune response (refined over time) to a particular pathogen. It combines the various efforts of different cells, antibodies, and blood components to combat the pathogens. To accomplish this specific response, its components need to detect the specific molecules found on the surface of the invading pathogen (called antigens). Each pathogen has its own specific antigen, and adaptive immunity provides a directed immune response that lasts longer than that of innate immunity. However, to do so, it requires longer exposure (several days) and is associated with memory response to that specific pathogen. This memory response acts as if your body makes note of each of these pathogens and learns to defend against them if you become infected with them in the future.
Passive immunity is transferred from one body to another to prevent disease. For instance, a mother can transfer passive immunity to her child in the womb via the placenta and after birth via breast milk. The child will develop an immunity to the same diseases their mother was exposed to. However, antibodies given through passive immunity only last for 6 to 12 months.
Let’s start at the beginning and boil it down to very simplistic terms. DNA is the genetic material in our cells that makes us who we are. You inherit this genetic material, half from your mother and half from your father. It determines all kinds of things, such as your physical appearance, like your hair and eye color. This is your genotype, the actual physical genetic material you inherited.
Genes can interact with each other and be influenced by outside agents, such as environmental factors. This can change how your genes act or how they function. This is your phenotype, or the observable things that happen based on the genes you were born with but possibly changed by what’s happening around you. Sometimes, this is referred to as “turning genes on and off,” but in scientific terms, it’s called “expressing a gene.” Sometimes, one gene is dominant over the other gene, and it is the only one that gets expressed.
TAS2R receptors are located in the taste buds on the surface of the tongue and perceive bitter taste (one of the five basic tastes that humans can detect.)
A supertaster test based on these bitter tasting compounds (PTC, PROP) is typically used to determine these genetic variations. This at-home test involves you tasting various chemicals on small strips of paper. You then rate how intense the taste is to you by completing an online form. You’ll receive the results immediately.
Being a supertaster isn’t inherently harmful, but supertasters tend to avoid cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts) due to their bitter flavors, and as a result may have an increased risk for certain cancers. Furthermore, supertasters often add excessive salt to their meals to mask any perceived bitterness, which can raise risk for heart disease. But according to recent research, being a supertaster improves your defense response against various pathogens in your respiratory system, among many other protective roles that scientists are still evaluating.
You can strengthen your immune system in a number of ways. Exercising daily, eating a balanced, healthy diet, getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, and keeping stress levels under control can all help.
Other ways of boosting your immune system include eating healthy fats like Omega-3 fatty acids, including probiotics like sauerkraut and yogurt in your diet, and limiting the amount of sugar you consume.
Lastly, avoid tobacco and drink alcohol only in moderation.
There are many potential factors that could lead to loss of smell. Some of the most common ones include the common cold, side effects of various medications, the COVID-19 virus, allergies, smoking and illegal drug use, and aging.
Treatment for loss of smell depends on the cause. If you have a cold, for example, your loss of smell will return as the virus runs its course. But if you have something like nasal polyps, you’ll require surgery to restore your sense of smell. Once you’ve determined the cause of your loss of smell, you can pursue treatment together with your doctor.
Yes, loss of smell has been linked to COVID-19, and it’s often accompanied by loss of taste as well. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly half of all COVID-19 patients have experienced this side effect.