Bariatric surgery may alter taste buds, aid weight loss

(Reuters Health) – Stomach-shrinking bariatric surgery may also foster changes in a person’s taste buds, which could help them lose weight and keep it off, according to a new study.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California found that patients who reported a decrease in taste intensity after bariatric surgery had lost more of their excess weight after three months than those whose sense of taste became more intense.

The results were reported November 4 during Obesity Week 2014, hosted in Boston by the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and The Obesity Society (TOS).

The researchers said they did the study after noticing that many of their patients reported changes in their perception of taste after bariatric surgery, including both increased sensitivity to tastes and new aversions to foods.

The study included 55 obese patients undergoing bariatric surgery and a comparison group of 33 healthy non-obese people who didn’t have surgery. At the start, all participants took a taste test using flavor-saturated paper strips to gauge their ability to identify sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pleasant savory (umami) tastes.

The bariatric surgery patients were retested at three, six and 12 months after surgery.

Even before surgery, the tests showed the obese patients were “uniformly less taste sensitive than normal weight patients,” said Dr. John M. Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford, who worked on the study. “Obese patients may seek to derive satisfaction through volume rather than taste appreciation.”

The majority (87 percent) of patients reported a change in taste perception after bariatric surgery, with 42 percent saying they ate less because food didn’t taste as good. “After surgery, patients did note less preference for salty foods,” Morton said.

Those who said their taste intensity decreased after surgery lost 20 percent more weight over three months, than those whose taste intensified.

“The study provides excellent new insight on taste change after bariatric surgery,” Dr. Jaime Ponce, medical director of bariatric surgery at the Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Georgia, and past-president of the ASMBS, noted in a conference statement.

“More research is needed to see how we can adjust for taste perception to increase weight loss,” he added.

Morton told Reuters Health, “Future strategies may include teaching patients taste appreciation to derive satisfaction with less food volume.”