Dan Han, PsyD, clinical section chief of neuropsychology at UK HealthCare, works with patients who have brain injuries and neurodegenerative disorders, many of whom describe loss of smell and, in tandem, changes in the way food tastes.
These taste-related side effects piqued Han’s interest in neurogastronomy, a field of study that looks at how the brain influences a person’s perception of food. With the help of an internationally renowned chef, Han created the International Society of Neurogastronomy (ISN) and is hosting the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK HealthCare this Saturday, Dec. 5.
Enthusiastic about neurogastronomy
In 2012, Han met chef Fred Morin and discovered they shared a passion for neurogastronomy. Their conversation inspired Han to reconsider how this science could help patients with brain injuries or cancer.
Could foods be designed that adjusted for the flavor perception issues reported by these patients?
Two years later, Han, Morin and others co-founded the ISN with the intent to start answering this very question. Late last year, the ISN held its first symposium at UK HealthCare. Chefs, doctors, clinical psychologists, agriculturists, researchers and cancer patients gathered for the event, which included roundtable discussions and engaging presentations.
Second annual symposium
This Saturday, Han and company will host the second annual Neurogastronomy Symposium at UK, continuing their exploration of the concept of brain and behavior in the context of food. This year’s event will feature brief, TED talk-like presentations punctuated with breaks for tastings and a contest where the food from regional and national chefs will be judged by patients with taste impairments.
Han hopes that the ISN’s work can help clinicians better understand the importance of taste perception for a patient’s well-being. Indeed, he finds his own approach has been changed by his research.
“I ask every one of my patients now, ‘How’s your smell and taste? How is that aspect of your quality of life?’” Han said. “It wasn’t until I started asking that I noticed how many people will tell you that it has been compromised. But nobody’s asked about it and they never thought to bring it up because they never heard of mentioning that type of thing in the doctor’s office.”
“We’re trying to challenge that,” he adds, “so that patients undergoing treatment can recover their quality of life – a little bit at least.”