LOGAN — Identification of new sweet receptors in the gut only adds to the ammunition researchers have to help people cut back on the amount of sweets they take in.

And while there is no shortage of artificial sweeteners, Utah State University neurobiologist Tim Gilbertson says there is hope of finding one that registers better within the body.

"We've known for a number of years of a specific sweet receptor that allows us to taste sugars and artificial sweeteners," Gilbertson said. "But we've now confirmed additional sensors throughout our digestive and endocrine systems that allow our bodies to detect and absorb dietary sugars."

Taste cells on the tongue inform the rest of the body that something sweet is present, and then newly identified gut sensors determine whether the amounts are satisfying, according to Gilbertson.

"The more we know about how sugar is detected in our bodies, the more knowledge we have to come up with ways to reduce over-consumption," he said, adding that Americans are known throughout the world for their rampant over-consumption.

Gilbertson, a professor in USU's department of biology and director of the university's Center for Advanced Nutrition, contributed to a recent study that confirms the body's ability to taste sweets is "delectably complex and involves more taste sensors than originally thought."

"Our research findings are revealing more information about the role these sensors play in controlling our food intake," he said.

Led by Robert Margolskee of the Philadelphia-based Monell Chemical Senses Center, the study's findings will appear in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific journals.

Over-consumption of sugary foods and drinks is a public health concern, as too much of the sweet stuff can contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and other health problems, according to researchers. They believe they can now begin to better understand the way the digestive system handles such intake.

"Detecting the sweetness of nutritive sugars is one of the most important tasks of our taste cells," Margolskee said. "Many of us eat too much sugar, and to help limit over-consumption, we need to better understand how a sweet taste cell 'knows' something is sweet."

The researchers speculate that one of the body's sugar sensors — known as the KATP channel — modulates taste cell sensitivity to sugars according to metabolic needs. For example, it may respond to hormonal signals from the intestines or pancreas to make taste cells less responsive to sweets after we've eaten a sugary treat and do not need additional energy.

"Understanding this better is the beginning of knowing how humans can reduce carbohydrate and sweet intake," Gilbertson said. He said the new information will help in future research to draw further helpful parallels between our mouths and our stomachs.

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