British actress Julie Andrews' made bitter medicine sweet for her wards in 'Mary Poppins' in 1964. Now, over 40 years later, scientists have given the thumps-up to her recipe, by finding that adding sweet tastes and flavours indeed help kids swallow liquid medications.
Children often refuse take medicines due to its bitter flavour. Now, lead researcher Julie A. Mennella, Ph.D., from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia said that child's rejection of bitter medicine and bitter-tasting foods like spinach and other green vegetables is a reflection of their basic biology.
"Children's rejection of unpalatable medications and bitter-tasting foods is a complex product of maturing sensory systems, genetic variation, experiences and culture," said Mennella.
She said that children are born with a much stronger preference for sweet flavours, naturally attracting infants to mother's milk.
This heightened preference for sweets continues even in their teenage years. By late adolescence, kids start to outgrow their sugary predilection.
"The number one reason for non-compliance among children when taking medicine or eating vegetables is that they don't like the taste," she said.
"Just look at a child's face when they're eating some of these things!" she added.
Previous study led by Mennella showed that variation in TAS2R38 gene is linked to the perception of bitterness in children and their parents.
For some medications, masking the bitterness is possible by encapsulating the bitter chemical in pill or tablet form, or by using special "bitter blockers" that numb the tongue's receptors.
But many children have trouble swallowing pills, so liquid formulations are needed. Adding sweet tastes and flavours that children like helps the medicine go down.
Mennella said that babies begin developing their unique tasting profile while still in the womb. What a mother eats while pregnant and nursing enhances a newborn's acceptance of foods.
"We find that the more a mother eats fruits when she's pregnant, the more a child will accept fruits and vegetables," she added.
The study was presented at the 236th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.