key. Asthma is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that causes the airways to tighten up. Current medications, such as inhalers, have less than desirable side effects that often include a racing heart and shakiness. Recent research showed that introducing a bitter taste could relax the airways much like current treatments, and now they understand why.

A recent study published in the journal PLoS Biology showed that researchers examined airway tissues to learn why a bitter taste would relax the muscles of the airway. They learned that when an asthma attack occurs, calcium flows into the cells of the airway, causing the muscle contraction. Bitter substances block the channels that allow calcium to pass into the cells. With a lack of calcium, the tightened tissue relaxes.

While it will be some time before we see medications being developed and tested to determine if a bitter tasting substance is as effective on humans, it certainly provides an interesting insight into the working of asthma attacks. The question will remain, if people would rather take a bitter pill, or deal with the side effects of traditional asthma medications.

Ramie Tritt, M.D., President, Atlanta ENT