A new study proves that your taste buds may predict post-surgery results for sinusitis surgery patients, according to a Penn study.

Taste buds pickup what is called biomarkers, that is, the existence of a certain biological state or condition, such as bitter or salt. The researchers from Penn Medicine and the Monell Chemical Senses Center reported their findings in International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology.

It might sound strange but the team discovered that a genetic biomarker—the receptor for bitter taste—could better predict post-surgery results for patients who underwent surgery for chronic sinusitis. Remember that this seasonal-related condition afflicts around 37 million Americans each year. The condition reduces daily productivity in lost worktime, and is associated with a lower quality of life. In the US, sinus infections cost more than $13 billion in lost productivity each year.

The study found people sensitive to a certain bitter compound reported breathing more easily through their nose, having fewer subsequent infections, and sleeping with ease six months after surgery than those less sensitive to the bitter compound.

Bitter taste receptors are proteins that are found in taste cells of the tongue, where they protect against the ingestion of toxic plant and bacterial products. The collaborative Penn Medicine/Monell team had earlier identified these cells lining the passages of the nose and sinuses and contributing to the natural defenses against certain bacteria.

For the study, patients were asked to taste a specific bitter chemical and report their sensations. Those more sensitive to the bitter chemical than those who were not proved to better fight off certain types of respiratory infections. This specific genetic difference correlates to how much one group is able to combat infection following surgery. Thus, the study suggests those more sensitive to certain bitter tastes fight off upper respiratory infections better, and if they do get sick enough to require surgery, they improve more than people with less sensitive systems.

The researchers warn that there is still much research to do because of the diverse functions of taste receptors, but for now, once an easy test kit is produced, ENT specialists will be better able inform and chose a treatment for their patients.

This is welcome news for otolaryngologists who can correlate surgical outcomes to bitter taste tests in order to forecast postoperative complications and results, and thus choose the best sinusitis surgery options.


Other Penn authors are Douglas Farquhar; James N. Palmer, MD; David W. Kennedy, MD; Laurel Doghramji, RN; Shane A. Morris; David Owens; and Robert J. Lee, PhD.

Other authors are Corrine Mansfield, Anna Lysenko; Beverly J. Cowart PhD; and Danielle R. Reed, PhD, all from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.