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May 22, 2014 05:45 AM EDT

Sweet Tooth Has Positive Effects on Lifespan, Study

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Taste buds can affect lifespan and quality of life, at least in fruit flies, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland.

Researchers said that suppressing the fly's ability to taste food, without considering how much it eats, can increase or decrease its lifespan and encourage healthy aging.

Bitter tastes are associated with negative effects on lifespan, while having a sweet tooth was linked to positive effects. However, the ability to taste water affected the most.

In the study, fruit flies - which weren't able to taste water - were found to live 43 percent longer than those who could taste it.

Researchers said that lack of taste may result in physiological changes, adapting to the loss and signalling the body that it is not receiving sufficient amount of nutrients. In an attempt to compensate for the water shortage, fruit flies store fat in large quantities and later on use the reserve to generate water internally.

"This further explains how sensory perception affects health. It turns out that taste buds are doing more than we think," said study author Scott Pletcher of the University of Michigan in a statement. "We know they're able to help us avoid or be attracted to certain foods but, in fruit flies, it appears that taste may also have a very profound effect on the physiological state and healthy aging," Pletcher said.

The finding is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous studies showed that sensory perception plays a significant role in health-related characteristics like athletic performance, type II diabetes, and aging.

"These findings help us better understand the influence of sensory signals, which we now know not only tune an organism into its environment but also cause substantial changes in physiology that affect overall health and longevity," said lead author Michael Waterson, a Ph.D., graduate student in U-M's Cellular and Molecular Biology Program.

 "We need further studies to help us apply this knowledge to health in humans potentially through tailored diets favoring certain tastes or even pharmaceutical compounds that target taste inputs without diet alterations."

Fruit flies are increasingly used in aging research, as their genetic makeup is similar to humans. Another recent fruit fly study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found certain proteins can alter sleep patterns in the aged.

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