Bitter Taste Receptors on your Heart?

Are you a chocolate craver? Is it because you have a sweet tooth or perhaps a bitter tooth? In Chinese Medicine chocolate is classified as having a bitter taste and this taste corresponds to the heart. The heart governs emotions, so perhaps it makes sense you crave the comfort of chocolate when you‘re in a sad mood. When you crave bitter food in TCM it signifies your heart may have a weakness.

By eating small amounts of bitter food we can harmonize our heart energy.

As we know, the heart in Chinese Medicine controls the emotions. It is also said to be the emperor of the body. Without circulation of the blood to nourish the organs and provide nutrients and oxygen to the extremities, the body would not function. Blood and body fluids share a similar origin, therefore the heart is also said to control perspiration.

The heart is the fire organ and the bitter taste can clear heat from the body, particularly from the heart. Somebody with excess heat that is affecting their heart will manifest with signs such as heart palpitations, dark urine, insomnia, excessive or lack of perspiration, nightmares, emotional disturbances and a red face.

‘The Liver opens into the eyes, the kidney into the ears, the spleen into the mouth and the lung into the nose’ But where does the heart manifest itself? In 5 element theory the heart opens onto the tongue. Therefore a red tip on your tongue and ulcers are a common symptom of a heart disharmony

This ancient concept of the ‘heart opening on to the tongue’ and ‘corresponding to the bitter flavor’ has taken on a new meaning in a recent study performed by the University of Queensland (FASEB J, 2014).

The genetics of the human body contain 25 bitter taste receptors; this recent study has located half of these receptors in an odd location; that location is the human heart!

So why are these bitter receptors on the heart? – Nobody knows. However , like a lot of mysteries in modern medicine, TCM has a theory. This is seen in the hearts 5 element relationship and how the heart can benefit from the bitter taste and opens into the tongue.

Tip: Eating bitter foods can help calm your body, benefit your heart and clear excess heat. Try eating bitter vegetables such as kale, milk thistle and dandelion. Radish, bitter melon and mustards are also helpful.

So next time you are feeling down and notice a chocolate craving coming on; perhaps this is one time you can justify your sneaky habit! However, foods and flavours in excess will cause damage, moderation is key. Perhaps next time; try swapping milk chocolate to dark chocolate and limit it to just a few pieces.


1. "Bitter taste receptor agonists elicit G-protein-dependent negative inotropy in the murine heart." FASEB J. 2014 Oct;28(10):4497-508. DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-256305

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