Remember that first taste of beer you had when you were five years old? We kid, we kid! We have no idea when you had your first drink, but we do know that you likely didn't enjoy it. That's natural, of course. Beer and other alcohol is an acquired taste. However, a new study shows that at least for some people, the enjoyment of alcohol comes faster. Why? Because they've got the alcohol gene.
The difference is located on our tongues. Dr. John Hayes and his team of researchers at the Sensory Evaluation Center of Pennsylvania State University focused their study on two of the 25 taste receptors we all have — the TAS2R13 and TAS2R38. They wanted to see if changes to these receptors' genetic code would impact if beer tasted bitter or not to humans.
For their study, Hayes and his colleagues asked 93 healthy people to taste an alcoholic drink with 16 percent alcohol (likely wine) and then spit it out. They were then asked to rate the bitterness and intensity of the drink. After they rated the drink, they had their tongues swabbed with a cotton ball that was soaked in a solution made up of 50 percent alcohol. The participants then waited three minutes and rated the taste once again.
What Hayes found was that those people who had two copies of the most sensitive genes rated the alcohol as the most bitter. Those with copies of the least sensitive gene considered the alcohol to be less bitter. As Hayes noted, this is an important finding because it could help people locate future alcoholics. "It seems unlikely the taste of alcohol matters at all once someone is alcohol-dependent," Hayes told LiveScience. "Still, taste genetics may be an important risk factor before someone becomes dependent."
Indeed, a previous study showed that those with the sensitive alteration to the tasting receptor gene drank less than others. Those with the sensitive gene copies reported drinking roughly 134 drinks a year, while those with just one copy drank 188 drinks. The people who didn't have the altered gene at all? They reported drinking about 290 drinks per year, and you know they were underestimating.
Hayes' report is even more important because of another report that showed even the slightest taste of alcohol can release dopamine in peoples' brains. "We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain's reward centers," said the study's senior author, a neuroscientist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, in a statement.
The research shows that alcohol can be a very powerful thing, and we cannot be blamed for enjoying it. However, this doesn't mean you need to be doing keg stands when you're out of college. You probably never should have done them in the first place.
[Image via Flickr - Simon Cocks]