You already know that your taste buds enjoy a peanut butter cup sundae, but did you also know that your muscles can "taste" the sugar, too?
A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan took a closer look at the ways our bodies process sugar and found that our muscles can sense when glucose is in the body.
"We found that skeletal muscle cells have machinery to directly sense glucose — in a certain sense it's like the muscles can taste sugar, too," said Dr. Jiandie Lin, a biomedical researcher at the University of Michigan and a lead author of the study.
Here's how it works. We already knew that our taste buds can detect sugar. We also knew that certain cells in the pancreas are able to detect the presence of sugar and release the hormone insulin to help glucose enter the cells. What Lin and his team discovered is that our skeletal muscles also have a mechanism for detecting sugar, and that helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. The muscles' response is separate from the pancreas, but the two work together to keep glucose levels stable.
How did they figure this out? The research team suspected that a muscular gene called BAF60C was involved in the process of detecting glucose. Using lab mice, they silenced this gene and then fed the mice a diet intended to spur obesity. The researchers found that without this muscular gene, the mice were unable to process the extra glucose after they ate. In other words, the release of insulin by the pancreas was not enough to help the body stabilize sugar levels.
With this new understanding of how the body processes sugar, Lin and his team are hoping they can better understand the role of the muscles in the development of conditions such as obesity and diabetes. This could lead to new and more targeted medications and treatment methods for these and other conditions that develop in response to blood sugar levels.