A ‘supertaster’ gene that makes people more sensitive to bitter flavors may also help protect against COVID-19

tongue
  • The T2R38 gene makes people more sensitive to bitter tastes and also enhances immune function.
  • It has been linked to stronger immunity against infections. Research suggests that includes COVID-19.
  • “Supertasters” with two copies of the gene may be less likely to get COVID-19 and develop severe illness.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Despite performing countless procedures that increased his risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Dr. Henry P. Barham has not gotten sick yet.

The ear, nose, and throat doctor, who works at Baton Rouge General in Louisiana, was grateful for his luck but baffled as to how he stayed healthy. He and his colleagues all wore protective gear at work, but some of them still got COVID-19, he told the Washington Post.

The answer, according to his research, may lie close to his area of expertise: the nose.

Barham is studying T2R38, the so-called “supertaster” gene which makes people more sensitive to the bitter notes in broccoli, spinach, and coffee.

Those who inherit the gene from both of their parents also have stronger immunity to respiratory and sinus infections – and according to Barham’s latest research, they may be better protected against COVID-19.

The supertaster gene enhances innate immune function

The T2R38 gene arms the body with superior natural defenses against intruders like the coronavirus.

Those who have two copies of the gene typically have extra hairlike filaments, called cilia, in the airway to sweep bugs away. They also produce more mucous membranes to keep invaders out and create nitric oxide to kill the pathogens that get into the body.

All of these layers of immunity help the body fight off infections, so Barham wondered if those who inherit the gene – himself included – might have an innate advantage over COVID-19.

His hunch was supported when his friend got a serious case of COVID-19, but the man’s wife remained healthy. Bahram gave them both a taste test where they rated the bitterness of paper strips from 1 to 10, revealing that his friend was a “nontaster” and his wife was a supertaster.

A person’s supertaster status can predict the severity of COVID-19

Barham went on to test his hypothesis, first in a group of 100 people who previously had COVID-19 and then in nearly 2,000 people who had been exposed but not fallen ill.

He used the same taste test he gave to his friends to classify people as supertasters, tasters, and nontasters. In the second study, a subgroup also submitted spit samples for genetic testing.

The larger study, published in JAMA Network Open last month, revealed that nontasters were more likely to get COVID-19, stay sick for longer, and require hospitalization. Nontasters who got COVID were sick for an average of 23.5 days, compared to 5 days for supertasters.

None of the supertasters who got sick in the study required hospitalization. Overall, the researchers were able to predict how ill a person would get based on their taster status with 94% accuracy.

However, supertasters can get sick too, and the classification system Barham used was inexact. Giving patients a taste test is not a surefire way to determine if the have the T2R38 gene, so more research needs to be done with genetic testing to support the findings.

Still, Barham’s research is a step towards unraveling the mysteries of COVID-19, public health expert Amesh Adalja told the Washington Post, and it could someday be used to help hospital workers make tough decisions about treating patients.

“Immune profiling could be a way to help them make those decisions, but it’s going to take some time to change how people approach this,” Adalja told the Post.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Miso butter potatoes and veggie pineapple tacos headline a free cookbook aimed at helping COVID-19 long-haulers enjoy food again after losing their sense of taste and smell

noodles
Sambal butter noodles from “Taste & Flavour.”

  • Some people who get COVID-19 develop lasting symptoms, like loss of taste or smell.
  • A new cookbook was formulated specifically to help coronavirus long-haulers enjoy food again.
  • The book, “Taste & Flavour,” is available for free as a digital download.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For coronavirus long-haulers, loss of taste and smell is one of the persisting symptoms. Now, a new cookbook aims to help those people enjoy food again.

The book, “Taste & Flavour,” features 18 recipes with stunning food photography and is being offered for free as a digital download.

UK Chefs Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke spent months formulating the recipes, designed specifically for people experiencing an altered sense of taste and smell due to COVID-19.

“If you’re living with taste loss no one talks about it,” Riley told Insider. “But six months of not being able to taste something and you form a mental barrier to food. It can become a mental health problem in itself.”

sweet vinegar aubs copy
Sweet vinegar aubergines, or eggplant.

Researchers estimate about 10% of people who become infected with COVID-19 become long-haulers, meaning they have symptoms that last for months and for some, indefinitely.

A quarter of people who experience an altered sense of smell or taste improve within a couple of weeks, according to John Hopkins Medicine. But for most, the symptoms persist and some have gone more than a year without improvement.

Riley and Duke, who run a cooking school for cancer patients experiencing loss of taste, spent months working on the recipes. They consulted with Barry Smith from the University of London’s Centre for the study of the Senses, a leading UK researcher for loss of smell as a COVID-19 symptom.

Riley said about 80% of taste is actually smell, so the two senses are considerably intertwined. Some COVID-19 long-haulers experience anosmia, a loss of smell or taste, while others experience parosmia, a distorted sense of smell.

veggie tacos copy
Veggie pineapple tacos.

Creating the recipes for the book involved heightening certain flavors while avoiding others. Coffee, for instance, can smell like sewage to some people with parosmia. Things like onion, garlic, eggs, roasted meat, and nuts can smell “repulsive, almost like rotting flesh,” Riley said.

“It’s quite hard to write a recipe without garlic and onions,” he said. “They’re the basis of flavor.”

Instead, the chefs focused on amplifying the savory flavors and “adding texture and brightness to make up for the lack of depth.”

Riley and Duke tested nearly 300 recipes to narrow them down to the 18 that made it into the book.

They relied on intense savory flavors like soy sauce, miso, parmesan, and mushrooms, and tried to touch on all five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami – and stimulate all the senses. They also used ingredients that stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensations in the face and sinuses and can be felt when eating foods like horseradish and wasabi.

Riley called the miso butter potatoes with green herb vinegar the “perfect” recipe in that sense. The potatoes are umami-rich. The miso and soy sauce are umami and salty. The white pepper and fresh mint stimulate the trigeminal nerve. The green chile adds crunch for texture. The vinegar sets off the sour receptor.

miso butter copy
Miso butter potatoes with green herb vinegar.

Even though it seems like a simple recipe, Riley said, “it’s actually designed to stimulate all of the senses and a lot of the different taste buds, but also has to taste really nice.”

Riley said the reception to the book has been incredible, with people from around the world reaching out to thank them.

“Flavor is important. I think that’s what we’re desperately trying to make people understand,” he said.

Riley and Duke started Life Kitchen, their free, nonprofit cooking school for cancer patients, after both had lost parents to cancer.

“I’d seen my mother go through all of the sadness and pain of not being able to eat,” Riley, who lost his mother to cancer at age 20, said.

In 2017, he first had the idea to do a one-off cooking class for cancer patients whose taste had been altered by the disease or the treatment. But after a tweet about the class went viral, they launched Life Kitchen as a full-time endeavor.

“It’s depressing if you can’t taste,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest pleasures that we all take in this world. If you take that away, life really becomes a diminished experience.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

This free, downloadable cookbook is aimed at helping COVID-19 long-haulers enjoy food again after losing their taste and smell

noodles
Sambal butter noodles from “Taste & Flavour.”

  • Some people who get COVID-19 develop lasting symptoms, like loss of taste or smell.
  • A new cookbook was formulated specifically to help coronavirus long-haulers enjoy food again.
  • The book, “Taste & Flavour,” is available for free as a digital download.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For coronavirus long-haulers, loss of taste and smell is one of the persisting symptoms. Now, a new cookbook aims to help those people enjoy food again.

The book, “Taste & Flavour,” features 18 recipes with stunning food photography and is being offered for free as a digital download.

UK Chefs Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke spent months formulating the recipes, designed specifically for people experiencing an altered sense of taste and smell due to COVID-19.

“If you’re living with taste loss no one talks about it,” Riley told Insider. “But six months of not being able to taste something and you form a mental barrier to food. It can become a mental health problem in itself.”

sweet vinegar aubs copy
Sweet vinegar aubergines, or eggplant.

Researchers estimate about 10% of people who become infected with COVID-19 become long-haulers, meaning they have symptoms that last for months and for some, indefinitely.

A quarter of people who experience an altered sense of smell or taste improve within a couple of weeks, according to John Hopkins Medicine. But for most, the symptoms persist and some have gone more than a year without improvement.

Riley and Duke, who run a cooking school for cancer patients experiencing loss of taste, spent months working on the recipes. They consulted with Barry Smith from the University of London’s Centre for the study of the Senses, a leading UK researcher for loss of smell as a COVID-19 symptom.

Riley said about 80% of taste is actually smell, so the two senses are considerably intertwined. Some COVID-19 long-haulers experience anosmia, a loss of smell or taste, while others experience parosmia, a distorted sense of smell.

veggie tacos copy
Veggie pineapple tacos.

Creating the recipes for the book involved heightening certain flavors while avoiding others. Coffee, for instance, can smell like sewage to some people with parosmia. Things like onion, garlic, eggs, roasted meat, and nuts can smell “repulsive, almost like rotting flesh,” Riley said.

“It’s quite hard to write a recipe without garlic and onions,” he said. “They’re the basis of flavor.”

Instead, the chefs focused on amplifying the savory flavors and “adding texture and brightness to make up for the lack of depth.”

Riley and Duke tested nearly 300 recipes to narrow them down to the 18 that made it into the book.

They relied on intense savory flavors like soy sauce, miso, parmesan, and mushrooms, and tried to touch on all five basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami – and stimulate all the senses. They also used ingredients that stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensations in the face and sinuses and can be felt when eating foods like horseradish and wasabi.

Riley called the miso butter potatoes with green herb vinegar the “perfect” recipe in that sense. The potatoes are umami-rich. The miso and soy sauce are umami and salty. The white pepper and fresh mint stimulate the trigeminal nerve. The green chile adds crunch for texture. The vinegar sets off the sour receptor.

miso butter copy
Miso butter potatoes with green herb vinegar.

Even though it seems like a simple recipe, Riley said, “it’s actually designed to stimulate all of the senses and a lot of the different taste buds, but also has to taste really nice.”

Riley said the reception to the book has been incredible, with people from around the world reaching out to thank them.

“Flavor is important. I think that’s what we’re desperately trying to make people understand,” he said.

Riley and Duke started Life Kitchen, their free, nonprofit cooking school for cancer patients, after both had lost parents to cancer.

“I’d seen my mother go through all of the sadness and pain of not being able to eat,” Riley, who lost his mother to cancer at age 20, said.

In 2017, he first had the idea to do a one-off cooking class for cancer patients whose taste had been altered by the disease or the treatment. But after a tweet about the class went viral, they launched Life Kitchen as a full-time endeavor.

“It’s depressing if you can’t taste,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest pleasures that we all take in this world. If you take that away, life really becomes a diminished experience.”

Have a news tip? Contact this reporter at kvlamis@insider.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider