Effects of Bitter Substances on GI Function, Energy Intake and Glycaemia-Do Preclinical Findings Translate to Outcomes in Humans?

Nutrients. 2021 Apr 16;13(4):1317. doi: 10.3390/nu13041317.


Bitter substances are contained in many plants, are often toxic and can be present in spoiled food. Thus, the capacity to detect bitter taste has classically been viewed to have evolved primarily to signal the presence of toxins and thereby avoid their consumption. The recognition, based on preclinical studies (i.e., studies in cell cultures or experimental animals), that bitter substances may have potent effects to stimulate the secretion of gastrointestinal (GI) hormones and modulate gut motility, via activation of bitter taste receptors located in the GI tract, reduce food intake and lower postprandial blood glucose, has sparked considerable interest in their potential use in the management or prevention of obesity and/or type 2 diabetes. However, it remains to be established whether findings from preclinical studies can be translated to health outcomes, including weight loss and improved long-term glycaemic control. This review examines information relating to the effects of bitter substances on the secretion of key gut hormones, gastric motility, food intake and blood glucose in preclinical studies, as well as the evidence from clinical studies, as to whether findings from animal studies translate to humans. Finally, the evidence that bitter substances have the capacity to reduce body weight and/or improve glycaemic control in obesity and/or type 2 diabetes, and potentially represent a novel strategy for the management, or prevention, of obesity and type 2 diabetes, is explored.

Keywords: bitter substances; food intake; gastric emptying; gastric motor function; gut hormones; human studies; obesity; postprandial blood glucose; preclinical studies; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aversive Agents / pharmacology*
  • Blood Glucose / drug effects*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / metabolism
  • Digestion / drug effects
  • Energy Intake / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Hormones / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Motility / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Postprandial Period
  • Taste / physiology*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical
  • Weight Loss / drug effects


  • Aversive Agents
  • Blood Glucose
  • Gastrointestinal Hormones