Thursday, September 24, 2015

Would People be Happier and Healthier if Broccoli Tasted Like Chocolate?

Could we make people healthier by tricking the brain into thinking broccoli tastes like chocolate?

A group of internationally acclaimed chefs, bench neuroscientists, food scientists and clinical neurologists are confident that they can.

A new science called Neurogastronomy explores brain and behavior in the context of food.

Would People be Happier and Healthier if Broccoli Tasted Like Chocolate?

According to Dan Han, PsyD, a co-founder of the International Society of Neurogastronomy, this isn't about re-engineering food per se, but re-engineering the brain into perceiving food differently.

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Neurogastronomy is bringing internationally-renowned chefs and neuroscientists together to improve quality of life for patients with taste & smell deficits

"The potential applications for this are extensive," said Han. "Just about everybody knows someone who's had cancer, Parkinson's disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, or some other neurological impairment, and these patients usually have altered sense of smell or taste as a result. To be able to help these people have continued quality of life despite their condition should be an important part of our clinical practice."
Research into olfactory function is providing the first steps towards success. A group of scientists led by Tim McClintock, PhD, has developed a new test, called "The Kentucky Assay," which can identify individual receptors and nerve cells in the nose that respond to specific odors -- the beginnings of a roadmap of human olfactory capability, which directly affects taste.

It’s a sliver of proof that neurogastronomy isn’t just some fancy, pie-in-the-sky pop science but a real proposition with some scientific muscle behind it.

Gina Mullin is thrilled about the idea. Diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer in 2012, Mullin now has tumors in her liver, spine, brain and lungs. The chemotherapy she must have every three weeks for the rest of her life has ruined her appetite.
"Chemotherapy has definitely given me a different outlook," said Mullin. "Some days food tastes good, some days it doesn’t, sometimes I can eat, sometimes I can’t. Sometimes something sounds great to me and I make all sorts of effort preparing it, but then I can’t eat it."
"As you can imagine, as perception of taste and smell changes it’ll change your nutritional intake profile as well," Han added, "and nutrition is a critical component of getting or staying healthy for patients like Gina."
Han says only recently has quality of life been considered a clinical outcome, yet huge numbers of patients can't enjoy food as a result of their illness and never think to describe it to their doctors. He likens the concept to Masters & Johnson's work on sexuality in the 1960's.

"Back then it was barely considered a science, let alone a clinical enterprise," says Han, "but now it's a multibillion dollar industry."

The concept of Neurogastronomy wasn't on Han's radar until 2012, when a chance meeting in Montreal with chef Fred Morin at his internationally acclaimed restaurant Joe Beef.
"Fred was going from to table to table chatting with guests, and when he found out we were neuroscientists he sat right down," recalled Han. "It turns out he's a bioengineer by training and a big neuroscience fan. When we started talking about the need to bring disparate industries together to discuss neurogastronomy, he said, 'if you get the neuroscientists there, I'll bring the chefs.
And the International Society of Neurogastronomy was born.

The inaugural ISN Symposium will be November 7, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky. This is the first time the "four pillars" of neurogastronomy: chefs, bench neuroscientists, agriculture and food technologists, and clinical neuroscientists will meet to share their knowledge and begin a dialogue that, they hope, will ultimately lead to real changes in brain behavior as it relates to food.

The symposium will be a true culinary experience as well, with tasting breaks to help participants grasp the fundamentals of flavor perception (sweet, salty, umami, etc.) and chef-quality breakfast and lunch breaks.

The high point of the day will be the "Applied Neurogastronomy Challenge," where teams of chefs and scientists will prepare dishes judged by actual patients with neurologically-related taste impairments -- including Mullin.

"I am so excited about just getting to be a part of this," says Mullin about her role as a judge.

Han is anxious to begin the dialogue that might ultimately provide tangible improvement to quality of life for people with neurologically-related taste impairments.
"When the concept of neurogastronomy was introduced, people realized it was a need that had been there for a long time – ever since mammals started eating," Han said. "If we could get together and simply provide ways to help these patients enjoy a meal, break bread with family and friends and enjoy that process again, then I would be very proud of that contribution to clinical sciences."
Source Newswise

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