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Preventing Osteoporosis

PHILADELPHIA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Next time you have a meal or snack, pay close attention to the taste. Food is sweet, sour, bitter, salty, astringent or pungent. Now, researchers believe they've found a new type of taste. It's a discovery that could help prevent osteoporosis.

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Despite America's love of milk and dairy, nutritionists say as many as 80 percent of us don't get enough calcium in our diets.

"It is a concern, because we have a family history of a possible calcium deficiency, so I worry about breaking bone," Laura Alarcon told Ivanhoe.

Among the hundreds of taste buds on the tongue, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Penn., say the taste of calcium is detected by two receptors -- called CASR and T1R3. For most, it's an unpleasant taste that is hard to describe.

"If you ask people, tell me is it sweet, salty, sour or bitter, they'll say it's sort of bitter, but something else too," Michael Tordoff, Ph.D., a chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Ivanhoe.

Calcium is present in most vegetables, but some have more, like collard greens. Unfortunately, these high- calcium veggies taste bitter. But if calcium has a bad taste, why does dairy taste so good? Chemists say the calcium is wrapped in fat, so it can't be tasted. Dr. Tordoff says in the future, researchers could tweak the taste of calcium to make it more palatable or find ways to bypass the receptors.

"We can make compounds that will block the calcium receptor, and if we can do tha,t then people will consume calcium without tasting it," Dr. Tordoff said.

Consuming more calcium over a lifetime could mean strong bones at time when people need them most.

Dr. Tordoff and his colleagues conducted their initial research on laboratory mice, but they say mice and humans share many of the same genes. Future human tests would confirm the calcium tongue receptors.

This report has been produced thanks to a generous grant from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.

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