Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Helping The Medicine Go Down

Date:
August 21, 2008
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Children's refusal to swallow liquid medication is an important public health problem that means longer or more serious illness for thousands of kids each year. Researchers are reporting how knowledge from basic research on the chemical senses explains why a child's rejection of bitter medicine and nutritious but bitter-tasting foods like spinach and other green vegetables is a reflection of their basic biology.

Young girl refusing to take medicine.
Credit: iStockphoto/Paul Roux

Getting little Doug and Debbie to take a spoonful of medicine is more than just a rite of passage for frustrated parents. Children's refusal to swallow liquid medication — and their tendency to vomit it back up — is an important public health problem that means longer or more serious illness for thousands of kids each year. In the case of HIV and AIDS pediatrics, missing a dose can be a life or death scenario.

Related Articles


In a report presented today at the 236th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Julie A. Mennella, Ph.D., described how knowledge from basic research on the chemical senses explains why a child's rejection of bitter medicine and nutritious but bitter-tasting foods like spinach and other green vegetables is a reflection of their basic biology.

"Children's rejection of unpalatable medications and bitter-tasting foods is a complex product of maturing sensory systems, genetic variation, experiences and culture," says Mennella, a researcher with the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

She says that children are born with a much stronger preference for sweet flavors, naturally attracting infants to mother's milk. This heightened preference for sweets continues even in their teenage years. By late adolescence, kids start to outgrow their sugary predilection.

"A better understanding of the sensory world of the child – and the scientific basis for distaste and how to ameliorate it – is a public health priority," states Mennella.

Mennella investigates the role of early experience as a child develops their unique sense of taste and smell. In the process, she ultimately hopes to find ways of creating more palatable medicines and getting kids to eat their greens more readily.

"The number one reason for non-compliance among children when taking medicine or eating vegetables is that they don't like the taste," says Mennella. "Just look at a child's face when they're eating some of these things!"

The root of this bitter problem lies in human taste buds, or taste receptors. While there are only a few receptors for sweet flavors, evolution imbued man with about 27 for bitterness. In prehistoric times, this heightened sensitivity to bitterness prevented early humans from eating toxic plants or other unsavory and possibly poisonous fare. "Bitter taste is a sensation that evolved to make you not want to ingest something," says Mennella.

Unfortunately, most of the chemicals in the pharmacist's cookbook are plant-derived and therefore inherently bitter. Some of more potent drugs like certain AIDS medications for children are even less pleasant – they often smell bad and cause mouth irritation.

For some medications, masking the bitterness is possible by encapsulating the bitter chemical in pill or tablet form, or by using special "bitter blockers" that numb the tongue's receptors. But many children have trouble swallowing pills, so liquid formulations are needed. Adding sweet tastes and flavors that children like helps the medicine go down.

Unfortunately, Mennella says its extremely difficult to mask the flavors of some of the truly bitter liquid medicines. A better understanding of bitter taste receptors may yield new ways of overcoming these unpleasant flavors.

A recent explosion in taste and smell research led to the identification of genes that code for certain bitter taste receptors. Mennella's team showed that a variation in the TAS2R38 gene is linked to the perception of bitterness in children and their parents. The researchers found that while parents with this variation were sensitive to certain bitter compounds, their children were most sensitive of all.

"It is interesting because it may suggest that children have heightened bitter sensitivity compared to adults," states Mennella.

Babies begin developing their unique tasting profile while still in the womb. What a mother eats while pregnant and nursing enhances a newborn's acceptance of foods. "We find that the more a mother eats fruits when she's pregnant, the more a child will accept fruits and vegetables," says Mennella.

The culture that a child grows up in also plays a huge role in their development of taste and smell. For evidence, Mennella points to the flavorings found in children's medicine around the world. "In England, there is a lot of lemon flavor added to children's medicine. It's a cultural phenomenon. Bubblegum and cherry are popular in the United States," according to Mennella.

When children cannot or will not take medicines in encapsulated form, methods to reduce the bitterness in liquid medications become medically significant. Failure to consume medication may do the child harm, and in some cases, may be life threatening, according to Mennella. She says that pharmaceutical companies will benefit from more basic research on bitter taste and how to ameliorate it.

"It is one of the fundamental mysteries of human behavior – why do we grow to like these foods and flavors that we initially rejected?"


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Helping The Medicine Go Down." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080821163844.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2008, August 21). Helping The Medicine Go Down. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080821163844.htm
American Chemical Society. "Helping The Medicine Go Down." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080821163844.htm (accessed January 26, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, January 26, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

How Technology Is Ruining Snow Days For Students

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) — More schools are using online classes to keep from losing time to snow days, but it only works if students have Internet access at home. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

Weird Things Couples Do When They Lose Their Phone

BuzzFeed (Jan. 24, 2015) — Did you back it up? Do you even know how to do that? Video provided by BuzzFeed
Powered by NewsLook.com
Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Smart Wristband to Shock Away Bad Habits

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 23, 2015) — A Boston start-up is developing a wristband they say will help users break bad habits by jolting them with an electric shock. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

Amazing Technology Allows Blind Mother to See Her Newborn Son

RightThisMinute (Jan. 23, 2015) — Not only is Kathy seeing her newborn son for the first time, but this is actually the first time she has ever seen a baby. Kathy and her sister, Yvonne, have been legally blind since childhood, but thanks to an amazing new technology, eSight glasses, which gives those who are legally blind the ability to see, she got the chance to see the birth of her son. It&apos;s an incredible moment and an even better story. Video provided by RightThisMinute
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins