Eating Miracle Fruit During Cancer Treatment: Add Miraculin

2011-09-28 11:59

Eating Miracle Fruit during cancer treatment is a potential solution for chemo-induced loss of taste sensation. Recent research shows that scientists now know exactly what is happening with our taste receptors when the Miracle Fruit is eaten. The Miracle Fruit is proposed by some doctors as having potential as a new food sweetener for people who are undergoing cancer treatment and can be added to a list of suggested foods for cancer patients who need a little added zest to their compromised palates.

Miracle Fruit History

The “Miracle Fruit” (Synsepalum dulcificum) is a small, cranberry-appearing West African berry commonly known by many as a miracle food that can turn the sour into the sweet. During popular “food tripping” parties, people with curious palates and a craving for new gastronomical experiences partake of the miracle fruit followed by sour foods such as lemons, limes, beer, vinegar and pickles. What they experience is described by some as the equivalent of a type of food-related psychedelic experience in which a lemon will taste like a sweet orange and a beer like a sweetened beverage. The taste of the Miracle Fruit itself is relatively “not there,” but when followed by a sour food - and to paraphrase an old commercial slogan - “It’s like your tongue is throwing a party and everyone is welcome.”

Previously what was known about the Miracle Fruit was very little. Today, however, in a recent issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers have uncovered the secret behind the Miracle Fruit. What they found was that its active ingredient is a protein called “Miraculin” that binds strongly to the sweet taste receptor on the tongue. When acidic foods make contact with the miraculin protein, the shape of the protein changes and activates the sweet receptors creating a strong sensation of a super-sweet food in spite of its sour origin. The effects of the protein last approximately one hour.

The potential for using the Miracle Fruit to help cancer patients who experience a loss of appetite due to a lack of taste sensation resulting from their chemotherapy treatments made the news last year.

According to Dr. Mike Cusnir, a researcher and oncologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, "What happens in patients is the food tastes so metallic and bland, it becomes repulsive," he says. "Most of the patients undergoing chemotherapy have weight loss. Then they cut further into their diet and then this furthers the weight loss. It causes malnutrition, decreased function of the body and electrolyte imbalance."

Dr. Cusnir heard about the taste-altering effects of the Miracle Fruit and filed for an investigational new drug application, which is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "The majority have given good feedback that it did improve taste," Cusnir said. "A few patients felt there wasn't much change. The feedback is mixed as it usually is in any situation. It's been encouraging, but we haven't analyzed the data so far."

Cancer Treatment Food Tips

The hope is that the results from the recent PNAS study will soon lead to using a synthetic form of miraculin as a food sweetener or before-meal pill to help people with difficulty in tasting foods. For now, however, the Mayo Clinic provides a list of foods that may help cancer patients with their diet when chemotherapy interferes with their tongue’s taste bud receptors. A sample summary of the tips is listed below:

1. If your food lacks flavor try a variety of marinades, seasonings, sauces or extras:

• Barbecue sauce
• Extracts or other flavorings
• Ketchup
• Meat marinades
• Mustards
• Soy sauce
• Spices and herbs
• Teriyaki sauce
• Vinegar
• Wine
• Bacon bits
• Chopped green or red bell peppers
• Chopped onion or garlic
• Ham strips
• Nuts

2. If food tastes too sweet try to tone down the sweetness with some sour or more neutral tasting food items:

• Add a little salt or lemon juice.
• Add plain yogurt, buttermilk, instant coffee powder or extra milk to milkshakes, instant beverage mixes or commercially prepared nutritional drinks.
• Drink beverages such as diluted fruit juice, milk, buttermilk, lemonade, ginger ale or sports drinks.
• Choose less-sweet-tasting desserts, such as yogurt, custard, pumpkin pie, fruit or fruit with cottage cheese, plain doughnuts, or graham crackers.
• Chips or pretzels with dip
• Cottage cheese
• Crackers and cheese
• Deviled eggs
• Nuts
• Peanut butter

3. If your food tastes too salty, put away the salt shaker and exchange processed foods that possess excessive amounts of sodium with their lower-salt alternatives. Also, try foods that you previously found to be naturally bland or mild-flavored to you.

4. If meat dishes taste off and are unappealing, go for other sources of protein:

• Beans or peas in soups, salads or side dishes or as a dip
• Cheese
• Cottage cheese
• Custard
• Egg dishes
• Eggnog
• Macaroni and cheese
• Malts
• Milkshakes
• Nuts
• Peanut butter
• Poultry
• Pudding
• Tofu or tempeh
• Yogurt

Source: “Human sweet taste receptor mediates acid-induced sweetness of miraculin”; PNAS September 26, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1016644108 P

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