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Genes decide how much salt you use

A group of US scientists have examined peoples salt consumption by comparing variations of a gene that can make us sensitive to bitter taste.

Genes decide how much salt you use
Better understanding of genes relating to taste may help doctors tailor diets for patients. Credit: Harvard Health Publications

The people who had the specific gene variant ate twice as much salt as the recommended daily intake. The researchers started from previous studies that have shown that people with the most common variant of a particular gene (TAS2R38) has a stronger “bitter experience” of bitter food. They are in other words better at detecting bitterness. It means that these people tend to avoid vegetables with bitter elements, such as broccoli.

In a new study, presented at an annual meeting organized by the American Heart Association (AMA), the researchers followed a group of 407 people who were part of a study of cardiovascular disease in Kentucky.

When they compared the groups the results showed that those who had the “bitter” gene variant used almost twice as much salt as the recommended daily intake. Too much salt has been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to heart attack or stroke.There is some research to suggest that those who experience food to be more bitter than average are also experiencing the salty taste stronger, and prefer it. Another theory is that they salt their food more than people without this variant, which leads them to ingest more salt, said Jennifer Smith of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

Tailor-made food

With better understanding of how different genes affect our dining experiences, doctors would eventually be able to make recommendations that are tailored to each patient, according to the researchers.

It is an interesting study. It has proved difficult to find the linear relationship between peoples genes, eating habits and risk of cardiovascular disease. But in this context it is only flavor you look at, and there we find a strong correlation. What is needed now are clinical tests to get a better idea of how this salt consumption can affect one’s risks for various types of heart disease, says Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden.