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Eur J Nutr. 2018 Jul 6. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1772-4. [Epub ahead of print]

Bitter taste sensitivity, food intake, and risk of malignant cancer in the UK Women's Cohort Study.

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Department of Food Science, The Pennsylvania State University, 332 Food Science Building, University Park, PA, 16802, USA.
Center for Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, 16802, USA.
Nutritional Epidemiology Group, School of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.
School of Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.
Biostatistics Unit, Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.



There is variability in sensitivity to bitter tastes. Taste 2 Receptor (TAS2R)38 binds to bitter tastants including phenylthiocarbamide (PTC). Many foods with putative cancer preventive activity have bitter tastes. We examined the relationship between PTC sensitivity or TAS2R38 diplotype, food intake, and cancer risk in the UK Women's Cohort Study.


PTC taste phenotype (n = 5500) and TAS238 diplotype (n = 750) were determined in a subset of the cohort. Food intake was determined using a 217-item food-frequency questionnaire. Cancer incidence was obtained from the National Health Service Central Register. Hazard ratios (HR) were estimated using multivariable Cox proportional hazard models.


PTC tasters [HR 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04, 1.62], but not supertasters (HR 0.98, CI 0.76, 1.44), had increased cancer risk compared to nontasters. An interaction was found between phenotype and age for supertasters (p = 0.019) but not tasters (p = 0.54). Among women > 60 years, tasters (HR 1.40, CI 1.03, 1.90) and supertasters (HR 1.58, CI 1.06, 2.36) had increased cancer risk compared to nontasters, but no such association was observed among women ≤ 60 years (tasters HR 1.16, CI 0.84, 1.62; supertasters HR 0.54, CI 0.31, 0.94). We found no association between TAS2R38 diplotype and cancer risk. We observed no major differences in bitter fruit and vegetable intake.


These results suggest that the relationship between PTC taster phenotype and cancer risk may be mediated by factors other than fruit and vegetable intake.


Bitter taste perception; Cancer; Epidemiology; Food choice


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