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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 June, 2003, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Taste test for alcoholism
Alcohol abuse is a growing problem
It may be possible to develop a taste test to help identify which people are at risk of becoming alcoholics, scientists believe.

A study has found that people with a family history of alcohol abuse - who are thought to be at higher risk of alcoholism themselves - perceive some tastes differently to people who have no such history.

People from both groups were asked to give their response to the taste of salt and sour solutions.

A taste test would allow us to evaluate a child's risk of becoming an alcoholic long before he or she touches an alcoholic beverage
Dr Alexei Kampov-Polevoy
Both types of solution produced a more pronounced negative response from people with a family history of alcoholism.

Previous research has also found that alcoholics tend to have a sweet tooth.

The researchers say it might be possible to use the results to develop a taste test which could be taken by children to identify which are at increased risk of developing an alcohol problem in later life.

Dr Alexei Kampov-Polevoy, of Mt Sinai School of Medicine, said: "Taste preference is an innate reaction that may be detected within minutes after birth.

"A taste test would allow us to evaluate a child's risk of becoming an alcoholic long before he or she touches an alcoholic beverage."

Complex condition

Professor Henry Kranzler, of the University of Connecticut Health Center who also worked on the study, said it was likely that alcoholism was caused by a number of factors, including decreased sensitivity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

"Perhaps salty and sour taste characteristics exert indirect independent effects that may be more important in the acquisition of drinking behaviour, while decreased sensitivity to alcohol's intoxicating effects may influence the maintenance of drinking behaviour."

Dr Jonathan Chick, a psychiatrist at the University of Edinburgh, said it was clear alcoholism runs in families, and the condition was partly biochemical.

"The taste of alcoholic drinks is not reported by alcohol dependent people as very important - it is mainly the effect on emotions, and a sensation in the head, not the mouth that they mostly report liking.

"But if the underlying neurochemistry of taste was better understood, that might point to features in the neurochemistry of emotional perceptions which are more closely relevant to the mechanism of dependence on alcohol."

Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of Action on Addiction, said: "We would welcome any tests that can better identify those at risk before they develop a problem.

"This would allow interventions to be better targeted and more cost effective."

The research is published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


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