New research from the Monell Center reports that children's response to intense sweet taste is related to both a family history of alcoholism and the child's own self-reports of depression.
The findings illustrate how liking for sweets differs among children based on underlying familial and biological factors.
"We know that sweet taste is rewarding to all kids and makes them feel good," said study lead author Julie A. Mennella, PhD, a developmental psychobiologist at Monell. "In addition, certain groups of children may be especially attracted to intense sweetness due to their underlying biology."
Because sweet taste and alcohol activate many of the same reward circuits in the brain, the researchers examined the sweet preferences of children with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. They also studied the influence of depression, hypothesizing that children with depressive symptoms might have a greater affinity for sweets because sweets make them feel better.
In the study, published online in the journal Addiction, 300 children between 5 and 12 years of age tasted five levels of sucrose (table sugar) in water to determine their most preferred level of sweetness. The children also were asked questions to assess the presence of depressive symptoms, while their mothers reported information on family alcohol use.
Nearly half (49 percent) of the children had a family history of alcoholism, based on having a parent, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle who had received a diagnosis of alcohol dependence. Approximately one-quarter were classified as exhibiting depressive symptoms.
Liking for intense sweetness was greatest in the 37 children having both a positive family history of alcoholism and also reporting depressive symptoms. The most liked level of sweetness for these children was 24 percent sucrose, which is equivalent to about 14 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of water and more than twice the level of sweetness in a typical cola. This was one third more intense than the sweetness level preferred by the other children, which was 18 percent sucrose.
Mennella noted that the findings do not necessarily mean that there is a relationship between early sweet preferences and alcoholism later in life. "At this point, we don't know whether this higher 'bliss point' for sweets is a marker for later alcohol use," she said.
Previous studies have suggested that sweets may help to alleviate depressive symptoms in adults. In a similar vein, sweets are rewarding to children not only because they taste good, but also because they act as analgesics to reduce pain. Because of this, the study also examined the ability of sweet taste to reduce pain in the children by measuring the amount of time they could keep their hand submerged in a tub of cold water (10° C / 50° F) while holding either sucrose or water in their mouth.
The sucrose acted as an effective analgesic for the non-depressed children, who kept their hands in the cold water bath for 36 percent longer when holding sucrose in the mouth.
However, the researchers found that sucrose had no effect on the pain threshold of children reporting depressive symptoms. These children kept their hand in the cold water bath for the same amount of time regardless of whether they had water or sucrose in their mouths.
"It may be that even higher levels of sweetness are needed to make depressed children feel better," said Mennella.
Citing global initiatives to promote a healthier diet lower in refined sugars, Mennella notes that the current findings highlight the need for additional research to identify whether these clusters of children will require different strategies to help them reduce their intake of sweets.
M. Yanina Pepino, Sara Lehmann-Castor, and Lauren Yourshaw also contributed to the research, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research institute based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Monell advances scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and well-being. Using an interdisciplinary approach, scientists collaborate in the programmatic areas of sensation and perception; neuroscience and molecular biology; environmental and occupational health; nutrition and appetite; health and well-being; development, aging and regeneration; and chemical ecology and communication. For more information about Monell, visit www.monell.org.
Leslie Stein | EurekAlert!
Inactivate vaccines faster and more effectively using electron beams
23.03.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Organische Elektronik, Elektronenstrahl- und Plasmatechnik FEP
Hunting pathogens at full force
22.03.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
22.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
22.03.2017 | Materials Sciences