Stress Can Affect Taste Perception, Study Shows

Taste Perception

Do your favorite snacks sometimes tend to taste a bit, well, off? It could be due to stress.

Our favorite health and wellness guru John Tesh recently suggested that the ‘off’ taste could be an unusual sign of stress—mainly because stress triggers receptors in taste buds that alters the taste of food:

Science supports the stress-taste theory as well.  A study published in Chemical Senses looks at the effect of stress on taste perception and sensitivity in humans.

For the study, there were 35 participants in the stress group (19 women and 16 men) and 16 participants in the control group (nine women and seven men). Participants were between the ages of 18 and 21, with average BMIs of 23 and 22 (there were three overweight people in the stress group and one overweight participant in the control group).

Participant anxiety levels were assessed by State Trait Anxiety Inventory—basically a measurement of trait and state anxiety levels. Stress protocols included:

  • The Stroop Color and Word Test: A brief cognitive-processing test that remains a standard measure in neuropsychological assessment. It helps provide diagnostic information on brain dysfunction and cognition.
  • Cold pressor tests: A cardiovascular test conducted by placing the hand briefly into ice water, and measuring changes in heart rate/blood pressure.

Salt and glucose taste detection levels were looked at before and after the stress tests in both groups. Researchers discovered:

  • The stress tests increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Stress salt and glucose taste detection levels decreased in the stress group, but didn’t change in the control group.
  • Pre-stress salt baselines were positively linked with trait anxiety scores.
  • The state trait anxiety levels of the stress group were positively linked with the decrease in glucose baselines.

Researchers concluded that there is a relationship between taste perception and anxiety levels, and that threshold levels for salty and sweet tastes are restrained during stressful situations! This  might help people further understand appetite alterations under stressful conditions.

John Tesh Twitter. 8:53 a.m. – 5 May 2016.
Ileri-Gurel, E., “Effect of Acute Stress on Taste Perception: In Relation with Baseline Anxiety Level and Body Weight,” Chemical Senses, 2012; doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjs075.