New research suggests that the key to understanding obesity might be hidden in your taste buds.
In a study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology, scientists discovered that mice that were fed a high-fat diet lost about 25 percent of their taste buds in just eight weeks, Science News reported.
Taste buds are clusters of cells on the tongue that help the brain identify flavors, Pacific Standard reported. Although taste buds have a natural life span of about 10 days, in mice with high-fat diets, new taste buds weren't being produced nearly fast enough to replace the old ones as they died off.
This research suggests that obesity might be part of a dangerous, self-fulfilling cycle: Because taste plays a significant role in the amount of satisfaction we get from food, people with a dulled sense of taste may naturally seek out more food to appease their appetites. Robin Dando, one of the co-authors of the study, told Pacific Standard that learning more about this phenomenon could help treat obesity in the future, by changing "how people perceive their foods."
Scientists don't yet fully understand why the obese mice weren't producing enough new taste buds, but per the study, it might have something to do with a molecule called tumor necrosis factor alpha. When the researchers repeated their study with mice that couldn't produce that molecule, the mice who were fed high-fat diets still gained weight, but their taste buds reproduced just like their normally-fed counterparts, Pacific Standard reported.
Read more about the study at Pacific Standard.