The first benefit everyone notices from trying herbal bitters is improved digestion. You feel it right away– the tongue awakens, your brow furrows, and in a few minutes a familiar rumble begins in the belly. Bitters make themselves known. But as we keep finding, the injection of digestive prowess that follows a bitter taste stimulus is just the tip of the iceberg.
Bitter taste receptors (part of a group of cell-surface receptors known as G-protein- coupled receptors, specifically of the T2R subfamily) are found almost everywhere in the body, and we are developing a new understanding about their importance in a range of functions: digestion and liver function, to be sure, but also immunity, blood sugar balance, mood, and most recently, cardiovascular function.
Taken as a whole, the effects that come from stimulating bitter T2R receptors conspire to moderate and balance many physiologic processes, generally improving their efficiency and making us more resilient in the face of challenge. While we used to think this just meant challenging foods – like poisons, for example – we are now finding that T2R receptors are able to help us weather a range of other challenges, too. First and foremost is immunity1: in the airways and sinus passages, T2R receptor stimulation initiates a strong and effective immune response2, helping to guard against bacterial (and even viral) incursion. This is because many of the substances bacteria use to communicate taste quite bitter, and in response, we secrete a range of immune-active compounds (from nitric oxide to immunoglobulins) to neutralize the potential invaders. This happens even before the microbes enter our system: we […]