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Modern Science Sheds Light on TCM Theory of the Heart and Bitter Taste

An interesting study came out of Australia this past year that investigated G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), which are usually found in the oral & nasal cavities, and associated with bitter taste receptors (Tas2r).

In this ongoing study, researchers discovered the presence of 12 taste receptors that respond to bitter compounds (Tas2r) in both mouse and human heart tissue. Dr. Foster, who originally discovered the receptors as a Phd student at the university of Queensland stated, "This is quite remarkable, as the human genome only has 25 of these bitter taste receptors, and we wanted to find out why half of them were located in the heart." This new research has the potential for developing new therapies for cardiovascular disease.

​What does this have to do with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?

In TCM theory, there is a specific taste associated with each organ. The sweet taste goes with the spleen, pungent is paired with the Lungs, salty with the kidneys, sour with the Liver, and you guessed it, bitter goes with the Heart.

To make this even more interesting, the Chinese character for bitter is kŭ (苦) and is often translated as; misery, miserable, suffering, pain, painful, hard, bitter or bitterness. According to Giovanni Maciocia, the Chinese character has an emotional implication related to “bitter” life experiences. He goes on to say that, frequently a Chinese patient complaining of a bitter taste hides some deep emotional scar related to a “bitter” life experience . . .

In the clinic, when a bitter taste in the mouth is associated with the heart, the patient often experiences this in the morning after a sleepless night. They will often have a red tongue tip (area of the tongue related to the heart), a midline crack that extends towards the tip of the tongue, thin yellow coating or a dry tongue coating that may be peeling in areas; rapid and forceful pulse or one that is rapid and thready.

These patients often report suffering from insomnia, restlessness and anxiety. This pattern represents Heart fire and is usually seen in patients with emotional problems such as: resentment, jealousy, guilt, and frustration.

Slowly, but surely, Western medicine is catching up with the hundreds of years of clinical experience of TCM. This study highlights just one of a plethora of secrets that TCM has to reveal through modern day technological advancements that allow us to gain a better understanding of how the amazing human organism functions.