Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Bitter helps lungs?

Prof Stephen B Liggett and team have been working on a rather odd piece of science. We have bitter taste receptors (TAS2R) in our lungs. And these cause our lungs to open up in a manner that might help people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD – bronchitis, emphysema or both).

The theory was that a bitter taste is associated with plant-based poisons, so exposure to a bitter smell would cause the receptors in the lung to close up the lungs. However, the opposite happens and the lungs open up.

In the current study, Dr Deepak A Deshpande looked at the effect of bitter-tasting compounds in human and animal airways and on mice with asthma, to work out why this effect was happening. A mechanism that usually causes muscle to contract, (calcium), was working the opposite way in this case.

The team compared these bitter compounds against an existing class of drugs used to open up the lungs, (called beta-adronergic agonists – a type of bronchodilator) and found the bitter compounds to be three times more effective.

Simply eating bitter foods will not help as it is the lung receptors for bitter taste that control this, not mouth receptors. The team used quinine, chloroquine and saccharin (which has a bitter aftertaste) made into an aerosol.

The same approach may lead to new treatments for asthma and COPD – take a chemical equivalent of soemthing bitter-tasting, make it into an aerosol, and use an inhaler.


October 25, 2010 - Posted by | Asthma, Bronchitis, COPD - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Emphysema, Stephen B Liggett, Success


  1. Bitter helps lungs?…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Trackback by World Wide News Flash | October 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. Lung cancer patients, like my mother,complain of a bitter taste and “nothing tastes sweet anymore.”
    This has the effect of diminishing appetite which is both a symptom and tactic of advancing, late stage lung cancer.
    I think the link to advancing lung cancer merits study: What can be eaten with pleasure?

    Comment by Sarah | October 26, 2010 | Reply

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