A recent research project studied the relationship between obesity and reduction of the sense of taste. In this animal subject research trial, rats were fed a high-fat diet until they became obese. The researchers then measured their density of taste buds compared to control groups of rats fed a balanced, healthy diet. The obese rats suffered a significant reduction in taste bud abundance. As in humans, healthy rats regenerate and replace taste buds regularly. However, the obese rats had much slower rates of taste bud replication.

The researchers were able to identify a specific protein, the inflammatory cytokine labeled TNFa, which was elevated in the obese rats. The study linked this increased TNFa production with the reduction in the number of healthy taste buds, as well as the ability of taste buds to regenerate.

This study illustrates the well-established link between obesity and chronic, low-grade inflammatory responses in the body. The study further suggests a link between obesity and inhibited taste function. The research points to the increased production of specific inflammatory proteins as the cause of reduced abundance and inhibited replication of taste buds in obese patients.

Diminished Sense of Taste in Tibetan Medicine Theory

This modern scientific explanation compares well with the Traditional Tibetan Medicine understanding of our taste sense, and how factors such as obesity affect it. According to Tibetan Medicine theory, our sense of taste is a function of our Earth/Water Elemental physiology, known as Pekan. This Pekan is the expression of our bodily systems and functions corresponding to the Earth and Water Elements. Pekan expresses physiologically in various aspects of our body. One specific aspect of our Pekan is called the “Taste-experiencing Pekan” (Pekan Nyong Jyed).

The Pekan Nyong Jyed is located on the tongue. It enables the sensation of taste. Factors such as unhealthy diet and lifestyle contribute to imbalances of the Pekan Nyong Jyed. Such factors may include excessive consumption of heavy, oily, and cold-natured foods, sedentary lifestyle or living in a cold, damp environment. These kinds of cold and heavy-natured conditions match the qualities of the Earth and Water elements, causing the imbalance of our pekan function.

Common symptoms of Pekan physiological imbalance include lethargy, weight gain, dull mind, indigestion and loss of taste. The symptom of reduced taste sense relates directly to the imbalance of our Pekan Nyong Jyed, the “taste experiencing Pekan“.

Treatment of Obesity and Pekan Imbalance in Tibetan Medicine

Tibetan Medicine Practitioners use diet, lifestyle, herbal medicines and external therapies to help balance the Pekan functions. In very simple terms, Tibetan Medicine applies elemental qualities which antidote the imbalance. If the patient has an imbalance of the Earth/Water Pekan function, their symptoms will be cold, heavy and dull in nature. Thus we must apply interventions which are warm, light and sharp in nature. That is why treatments for Pekan imbalance, such as obesity, tend to be warm and firey. These may include vigorous exercise, spicy herbs, and dry heat therapies. In this way, the elemental functions are harmonized and optimal health restored. 

Adam Okerblom, LAc
Licensed Acupuncturist and Tibetan Medicine Practitioner | Sowa
Adam offers holistic healthcare consultations and treatments in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is fascinated by ancient healing sciences and spiritual traditions. He is greatly inspired by the opportunity to learn and benefit from millennia of knowledge from around the world.

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