Developing sweet tooth may signal risk for alcoholism

Last Updated: Jul 11, 2013, 12:57 PM IST

Washington: A new study has confirmed the relationship between preference for highly sweet tastes and alcohol use disorders.

The study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has found that recent drinking is related to the orbitofrontal-region brain response to an intensely sweet stimulus, a brain response that may serve as an important phenotype, or observable characteristic, of alcoholism risk.

"It has long-been known that animals bred to prefer alcohol also drink considerably greater quantities of sweetened water than do animals without this selective breeding for alcohol preference," David A. Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, a professor in the department of neurology at Indiana University School of Medicine, and corresponding author for the study, said.

"More recently, it has become clear that animals bred to prefer the artificial sweetener, saccharin, also drink more alcohol. Although the data in humans are somewhat more variable, some studies do show that alcoholics, or even non-alcoholics with a family history of alcoholism, have a preference for unusually sweet tastes.

"Thus, while the precise reasons remain unclear, there does seem to be significant evidence suggesting some link between the rewarding properties of both sweet tastes and alcohol," he said.

Kareken added that this is the first study to examine the extent to which regions of the brain`s reward system, as they respond to an intensely sweet taste, are related to human drinking patterns.

The findings are set to be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.