Effect of high altitude on sensitivity to the taste of phenylthiocarbamide
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Sensitivity to the taste of phenylthiocarbamide (PTC) was studied using the Harris-Kalmus method in healthy human volunteers at sea level and then subsequently at an altitude of 3500 m over a period of 3 weeks, after which they were brought back to sea level. Blood sugar, insulin and blood cortisol levels were estimated weekly. The results indicated that, out of 51 subjects studied, 26 (55%) were PTC tasters at sea level. Eight of those unable to taste PTC at sea level tested as tasters at high altitude, and 2 of them reverted to being non-tasters on return to sea level. In the blood, an increase in cortisol and blood insulin levels was seen without any significant change in sugar levels. All the changes recorded at high altitude tended to return to basal values after re-induction to sea level. The study suggests that high-altitude hypoxia in some way, possibly involving changes in hormonal profile among other factors, causes an alteration in sensitivity to the taste of PTC, resulting in some of the individuals shifting to lower PTC sensitivity.
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