Supertasters May Have Some Innate Protection Against COVID-19

One of the biggest mysteries of COVID-19 is why it affects some people more severely than others. People who experience a greater-than-average intensity of bitter taste are known as “supertasters.” Scientists have recently found that this group of supertasters was less likely to become infected with or become severely ill from COVID-19. The enhanced bitter taste is due to a gene called T2R38; when a person inherits a copy of this gene from both parents, that person becomes a supertaster. Apart from enhancing the bitter taste, this gene has also been linked to having a better innate immune response against several pathogens.


Supertasters tend to have more cilia in their nose and sinuses, which help to clear pathogens from the body. On activation, these two copies of genes also trigger the body to produce more mucus and nitric oxide to fight pathogens. In this new study, published in the journal JAMA, researchers wanted to see how supertasting affected the ability to fight COVID-19.


Researchers recruited 1,935 participants for the study. Taste strip tests were given to the participants and based on their rating on intensity of bitterness researchers classified people as supertasters, tasters (people with only one copy of the gene) or nontasters (those who don’t inherit any copy of the gene). Around 508 participants were supertasters, 917 were tasters, and 510 were non-tasters. During the study period, from the start of July to the end of September 2020, a total of 266 participants tested positive for COVID-19, and 55 of them required hospitalization.


Nontasters were “significantly more likely” than tasters and supertasters to test positive for COVID-19 to be hospitalized, and to be symptomatic longer. Of the 55 patients with COVID-19 admitted to the hospital, 47 (85%) were non tasters. Of the 266 people who tested positive for COVID-19, only 15 (6%) were supertasters. Overall, the ability to taste bitterness could accurately predict who would develop severe COVID-19 about 94.2% of the time. However, the study was small, and the researchers only discovered a potential link between this enhanced ability to taste bitterness and the risk of developing severe COVID-19.


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