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When good tongues go bad

August 20, 2009 |  5:36 pm

Pity the smokers. They're more likely to have flatter fungiform papillae than their nonsmoking counterparts. That is, some of their tongue's taste buds appear damaged.

Researchers at Aristotle University in Greece compared the taste perceptions of 34 smokers and 28 nonsmokers -- all healthy men, all members of the same Greek military unit, all with similar diets and, among the smokers, all of whom held their cigarettes in the center of their lips. Also, most of the study participants were right-handed (researchers should cover their bases).

To compare the perceptions of the men, the researchers used an electrogustometer (taste tester). Essentially, they sent a slight electrical current through the tongue to create the perception of a metallic taste. The researchers also took a close look at the men's taste buds.

The smokers generally needed more current before they could detect the metallic taste; they were also more likely to have flatter fungiform papillae and a reduced blood supply to them.

The results were not conclusive, but the researchers wrote: "Smoking is an important factor which can lead to decreased taste sensitivity." And, keep in mind, these were young men, with many smoking years ahead of them.

The study was published Thursday in the journal BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders. Here's the full article. And the short version. We're not saying this is an earth-shattering finding, but it does involve electrical currents, tongues, flattened fungiform papillae…

As for that fungiform papillae. They're mushroom-shaped, taste bud-laden projections on the surface of the tongue, located mostly at the tip and edges.

Here's an explanation from InnerBody.com, which includes a nifty guide to the tongue's taste areas.

-- Tami Dennis

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