Melichar and Donaldson gave healthy volunteers a tiny dab of faint flavor on the tongue and asked if they could taste it. The sample was so diluted that they couldn't. The researchers then gave the volunteers pills that boosted brain levels of one of two neurotransmitters, serotonin or noradrenaline. To boost serotonin, for example, patients took a Prozac-like drug known as a selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor. When volunteers got a serotonin jump, they were suddenly able to taste the feeble flavor if it was bitter or sweet. With noradrenaline boosted, the volunteers were able to taste the dab if it was bitter or sour. Donaldson and Melichar suspected that depressed people had blunted taste buds--the illness is often tied to a lack of either neurotransmitter--and that the right antidepressant would allow depressed people to experience the true vibrancy of flavors.Experiments are being planned to determine the validity of a taste test for depression:
If those results validate the flavor test, it could become the equivalent of the cholesterol test that persuades someone to take action against heart disease. "The patient has no objective marker" that tells them they're depressed, says Melichar. As a result, he notes, a lot of people end up not taking their medication.
Moreover, given that the researchers have found that serotonin is linked to sweet and noradrenaline is linked to sour, the taste test could be a useful way to determine which drug to use, a big plus because antidepressants can take several weeks or more to have an effect. And with this disease, time is of the essence--if treated within 3 months of becoming depressed, a person has a very good chance of getting better.