When we only rely on our taste buds to tell us what to eat, we generally stay away from bitter foods. However, researchers have performed a study that demonstrates that bitter foods could potentially save a person’s life. When a person tastes something bitter, it causes a reaction that is just the opposite of when cells in your airway constrict. This process is called bronchodilation. This new knowledge can hopefully be used to create more effective means to fight conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While bronchodilators are traditionally used to treat these conditions, researchers are excited because they hope this discovery will lead to a whole new class of drugs for treating chronic disorders. When we eat, we experience five different senses thanks to the cells in our tongue. Something can either be sweet, savory, salty, sour or bitter. We strive to keep away from bitter, since it usually alerts us to something being spoiled and unfit for eating. These receptors, however, are not limited to an oral reaction. Researchers now realize that respiratory cells are affected when something bitter is tasted.

During an asthma attack, a person’s airways become narrower. This is what causes difficulty breathing. Bitter tastes relax the cells in the airways, and they do it faster than many of the available medications that are used to treat asthma. This means that they have the potential to halt an attack, and researchers are looking to create new drugs for stopping asthma attacks quickly and efficiently.

How does the process work? When a person suffers an asthma attack, membranes in the airway open and accept calcium which causes the constriction. Bitter substances reverse this process, allowing airways to open and breathing to become easier. Now that the process is better understood, it will be easier for researchers to develop therapies using bronchodilation.