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A new study in the most recent issue of Cell Press publication Current Biology details how just the taste of something incredibly bitter can inspire feelings of nausea and stomach churning. "This work shows that our body and our physiology anticipate the consequences of foods we might eat, even if those foods contain toxins or antinutrients," said Paul Breslin of the Monell Chemical Senses Center and Rutgers University.
Bitterness, which is often associated with many plant-derived toxins, previously lacked an evidential link to nausea, but in this study, Breslin and Catherine Peyrot des Gachons had 63 healthy individuals sample an intensely bitter but nontoxic solution to see their reactions. On average, the participants held the solution in their mouths for three minutes before spitting it back out, and many of these people reported mild to strong nauseous feelings after following tasting the substance, feelings they did not reciprocate in solutions that were sweet, umami or salty.
Researchers also recorded the electrical activity in the stomach during the experiment and found the results of tasting the bitter solution similar to those caused by extreme motion sickness. "It was known that our body can anticipate the ingestion of nutrients and prepare for them," Breslin said. "It was not known if our bodies anticipated the ingestion of toxins or antinutrients and prepared for this. Here we show that our bodies punish us for holding strong toxins in the mouth and that our stomachs respond so as to trap them and likely vomit them back up if swallowed."