Oh, sugar, we know how toxic you are, but you give us so much joy. The pleasure is simply a matter of sucrose hitting your tongue, right? Nope. A series of discoveries by researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center has shown that many of the taste receptors on your tongue are also present in your guts. You continue to taste sugar as it works its way through your body.
Taste cells specialized to detect sweetness live on the tip, back, and sides of the tongue. When something sweet like sugar brushes past these cells’ receptors, they snap shut, ensnaring the goodies like a Venus flytrap. The sugar activates the taste cell, which sends a signal to a nearby nerve that transmits a message to your brain: “Yum!”
As you digest sugar, enzymes break it down into glucose and fructose. In the small intestine, transporter proteins carry those molecules into the bloodstream. Researchers have discovered these same proteins in your tongue’s taste cells. And some of the taste cells on the tongue are present in the intestine. When they detect sugar, they send a message to your brain: “Yum!”
When the glucose and fructose in your blood hit your pancreas, they prompt proteins called K channels to close, releasing insulin into your bloodstream. Monell researchers have discovered these same proteins on your tongue. And another surprise find — even your pancreas has taste cells that send a final message to your brain: “Yum!”