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Letter to the Editor   |    
Sweet Taste Preference and Alcohol Dependence
ALAN R. HIRSCH, M.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2002;159:497-b-498. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.3.497-b

To the Editor: We applaud the article by Henry R. Kranzler, M.D., et al. (1) and concur that sweet taste preference, rather than being a marker for alcoholism risk or a generalized alteration in rewarding response to hedonic stimuli in those with alcohol dependence (2), instead reflects a chemosensory adjustment to the effect of alcohol on the olfactory system. Both acute alcohol intoxication (3) and chronic alcoholism (4) are associated with an impaired olfactory ability. Smell is approximately 90% of what is described as taste or flavor; hyposmic individuals perceive food as bland or tasteless (5). In order to compensate, spices and enhanced true taste (e.g., sugar) are added to food (6). Therefore, through a learned response paradigm, those who are alcohol dependent develop a preference for a higher concentration of sugars, even in the absence of other foods.

Alternatively, because of chronic excess daily use of sugars, they may induce an up-regulation of the sweet taste receptors, raising their sucrose threshold and their associated sucrose hedonic curve (7). Thus, preference for higher sucrose concentration in individuals dependent on alcohol may represent only a behavioral compensatory response for those with alcohol-induced olfactory loss and thus, as Dr. Kranzler et al. found, would not be useful as an indicator of risk for developing alcohol dependence.

Kranzler HR, Sandstrom KA, Van Kirk J: Sweet taste preference as a risk factor for alcohol dependence. Am J Psychiatry  2001; 158:813-815
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Kampov-Polevoy A, Garbutt JC, Janowsky D: Evidence of preference for a high-concentration sucrose solution in alcoholic men. Am J Psychiatry  1997; 154:269-270
[PubMed]
 
Hirsch AR, Russell GS: Effects of inebriation on olfaction (abstract). Investigative Medicine  1995; 43:422A
 
Mair RG, Doty RL, Kelly KM, Wilson CS, Langlais PJ, McEntee WJ, Vollmecke TA: Multimodal sensory discrimination deficits in Korsakoff’s psychosis. Neuropsychologia  1986; 24:831-839
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Hirsch AR: Olfaction in migraineurs. Headache  1992; 32:233-236
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Ferris AM, Schlitzer JL, Schierberl MJ, Catalanotto FA, Gent J, Peterson MG, Bartoshuk LM, Cain WS, Goodspeed RB, Leonard G, Donaldson J: Anosmia and nutritional status. Nutrition Res  1985; 5:149-156
[CrossRef]
 
Contreras RJ: Gustatory mechanisms of a specific appetite, in Neural Mechanisms in Taste. Edited by Cagan RH. Boca Raton, Fla, CRC Press, 1989, pp 119-145
 
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References

Kranzler HR, Sandstrom KA, Van Kirk J: Sweet taste preference as a risk factor for alcohol dependence. Am J Psychiatry  2001; 158:813-815
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Kampov-Polevoy A, Garbutt JC, Janowsky D: Evidence of preference for a high-concentration sucrose solution in alcoholic men. Am J Psychiatry  1997; 154:269-270
[PubMed]
 
Hirsch AR, Russell GS: Effects of inebriation on olfaction (abstract). Investigative Medicine  1995; 43:422A
 
Mair RG, Doty RL, Kelly KM, Wilson CS, Langlais PJ, McEntee WJ, Vollmecke TA: Multimodal sensory discrimination deficits in Korsakoff’s psychosis. Neuropsychologia  1986; 24:831-839
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Hirsch AR: Olfaction in migraineurs. Headache  1992; 32:233-236
[PubMed]
[CrossRef]
 
Ferris AM, Schlitzer JL, Schierberl MJ, Catalanotto FA, Gent J, Peterson MG, Bartoshuk LM, Cain WS, Goodspeed RB, Leonard G, Donaldson J: Anosmia and nutritional status. Nutrition Res  1985; 5:149-156
[CrossRef]
 
Contreras RJ: Gustatory mechanisms of a specific appetite, in Neural Mechanisms in Taste. Edited by Cagan RH. Boca Raton, Fla, CRC Press, 1989, pp 119-145
 
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