If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll know all too well the temptation to reach for the biscuit jar.

But help could soon be at hand, thanks to a new study that has identified a way to ‘switch off’ sugar cravings.

Researchers from Columbia University discovered a way to remove cravings for sugar in mice, and say that the technique could one day be applied to humans.

The study builds upon previous research in which the researchers revealed that when the tongue encounters one of the five tastes – sweet, bitter, salty, sour or umami – cells on the tongue send signals to regions of the brain so as to identify the taste, and trigger the appropriate actions.

In this follow-up study, the researchers focused on sweet and bitter tastes and the amygdala – a brain region that is key for making judgements about sensory experience.

Dr Li Wang, who led the study, said: “Our earlier work revealed a clear divide between the sweet and bitter regions of the taste cortex.

“This new study showed that same division continued all the way into the amygdala.

“This segregation between sweet and bitter regions in both the taste cortex and amygdala meant we could independently manipulate these brain regions and monitor any resulting changes in behaviour.”

The team performed several experiments in which the sweet or bitter connections to the amygdala were artificially switched off.

When the sweet connections were turned off, the mice could still recognise and distinguish sweet from bitter, but lacked the basic emotional reactions, like preference for sugar or aversion to bitter.

Dr Wang said: “It would be like taking a bite of your favourite chocolate cake but not deriving any enjoyment from doing so. After a few bites, you may stop eating, whereas otherwise you would have scarfed it down.”

The researchers believe that the technique could one day be applied to humans, and could be used to treat people with obesity or eating disorders.

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