Anorexia human senses. The findings in this research

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Last updated: July 22, 2019

Anorexia is a psychological eating disorder that may cause severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors.

People with this disorder have a great fear of gaining weight, they are often not pleased with their body weight or shape, exercise excessively, and often avoid food in general. The National Institute of Mental Health states that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate than any other mental disorder, although it has been decreasing since the late 1980’s, according to the American Addiction Centers. Even though, it does have a high mortality rate it is not the most common eating disorder among adults over 18, it only occurs in less than 0.1 percent of adults, actually, The American Addiction Centers website states that eating disorders are common among both men and women but often much more common among young people.

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Symptoms range from mild-severity to life-threatening such as restricted eating which can require counting calories or eat very small portions. They are often very thin, hence the avoidance of food. The disorder not only affects their psychological well-being but as well as their physiological and physical well-being. Those who struggle with anorexia have dry and brittle hair and nails since because they are often not eating or eating very little they are not receiving nutrition, therefore, it produces an effect in their body. Their bones can thin out which leads to osteoporosis which eventually leads to feeling weak and exhausted all the time. They are often encountered by heart problems and low blood pressure as well as dealing with heart, brain, and organ failure.

Anorexia affects all parts of the body, brain, and mind which prompts many researchers to uncover the underlying factors that may begin the onset of the disorder and the effects it has on the human senses. The findings in this research may encourage other researchers to find more connections between the sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing, and see and anorexia so that hopefully it leads to the development of better treatment options for those who are struggling with eating disorders. Throughout this study, we look into each sense individually and discover the connection that it has with anorexia in hopes to gain a better understanding of how the disorder works.  In order to engage with the world around us, we must be able to monitor what is going on in our environment. We are able to do so by focusing on a particular stimulus and shift our eyes and attention to different objects or persons.

 The process of shifting our eyes to different stimuli is known as saccadic eye movement which according to Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), is defined as a “rapid jerky movement from one fixation to the next.” According to studies, analyzing saccadic eye movements has become an alternative tool in order to explore neurobiological differences between people who have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and healthy control groups (Phillipou, Rossell, Gurvich, Hughes, Castle, Nibbs, & Abel, 2016). Although there are not any significant saccadic eye abnormalities there a few differences between people with anorexia and those who do not struggle with it. One example of this difference that researchers have found is that anorexics actually had a difficult time pointing out something in their peripheral. According to Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), the peripheral retina contains both the cones and the rods, but the rods make up the majority of the peripheral retina considering that there are more than 120 million rods and only 6 million cones. The rods are the receptors that allow us to have night vision and the cones are responsible for functioning during the day.

We can hypothesize that there could be some issues with the development of the few cones that are in the retina, therefore, making it difficult for patients with anorexia to quickly spot objects in their peripheral. (Goldstein & Brockmole, 2017). They also have a difficult time quickly adjusting from one target to the next. In one activity that was used to measure the reaction time of the participants, researchers were able to suggest that there was a difference between anorexics and the healthy control group. Phillipou et al. (2016), have proposed that this could be a linked to a malfunction in the superior colliculus. The superior colliculus is the area in the brain that receives some signals from the eye to the brain and it plays an important role in controlling the movements of the eyes. Although the disorder does not cause life-threatening damages to the eyes, the subtle differences could develop issues in the day to day life.

For example, healthy people are able to see something from the corner of their eyes without really fixating on the issue itself without the help from our peripheral we are not really gathering a complete sense of our surroundings and we could potentially run into danger. Also, people are quick to react to the new object that appears in our line of vision whereas anorexics react much slower to novel stimuli making their reflexes slow down and exposes them to dangers as well.  Another sense that anorexia affects is the sense of hearing. The hearing sense is a vital aspect to obtain especially if any of our other senses are not functioning.

We are often able to hear things much faster than we can see them. We are able to detect when an ambulance is near us even if we don’t see it and we can hear the sound of a storm heading our direction even if we can’t see the storm itself. Hearing is a survival tool that keeps us safe and it even improves our quality of life.  A way that anorexia nervosa affects hearing is through the development of Autophonia, a rare disorder which is defined as the hyperpercption of one’s own voice and breathing, which is thought to be due to an abnormally patent Eustachian tube (Godbole & Key, 2010). This can occur from losing too much weight around the neck area which is one of the causes of autophonia along with pregnancy and estrogen therapy (Godbole & Key, 2010). This disorder causes much discomfort among the patients who have developed it because it causes a blocked ear sensation and often times they are misdiagnosed because the symptoms of autophonia quite resemble the symptoms of middle ear effusion (Godbole & Key, 2010). Patients have reported that their ears feel congested and that nasal decongestant is no help to them but when doctors were able to help anorexic patients get well then researchers noticed that the symptoms of the patient decreased which further hypothesized that the rapid weight loss was one of the primary causes for autophonia (Godbole & Key, 2010).

Since there is not much research on the topic of hearing and anorexia, the study that was conducted to highlight a link between anorexia nervosa and our auditory sense and hopes to encourage other researchers to dive further into the topic at hand. Next, anorexia affects our sense of touch. Often our sense of touch is placed on the back burner. We are quick to choose touch as one of our senses to lose rather than hearing or seeing. There is much value to our sense of touch, though. We are able to detect whether something is hot or cold or when something is giving us pain.

According to Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), without our ability to feel sensations through the skin it could result in constant bruises, burns, and broken bones. Similar to how our sense of hearing improves our way of life so does the sense of touch. We are able to feel soft blankets, the soft skin of a newborn baby, the warm hands of our significant others and amongst other things. Our sense of touch is actually crucial to carry out day to day tasks and for overall survival (Goldstein & Brockmole, 2010).  In a study conducted by D’Amour, Pritchett, & Harris (2014), they wanted to investigate how the role of body perception affected tactile sensations.

As mentioned previously, one of the criteria of anorexia nervosa is experiencing a disturbance in the way one’s body weight or shape. For example, someone may see themselves as fat when in reality they are actually underweight. Researchers in this study used bodily illusions to perceptually alter body size and they found that the illusory changes in the body had caused a decrease of tactile acuity and sensitivity (D’Amour et al., 2014). In order to accurately interpret tactile information, the brain needs to have an accurate representation of the body to which to refer the sensations. When there is a disturbance in how one views their body then the tactile sensitivity is disoriented and when it comes to feeling an object it may not be accurate. According to Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), “the map of the body on the brain is enlarged to provide the extra neural processing that enables us to accurately sense fine details with our fingers and other parts of the body.

”  People who struggle with anorexia have a difficult time with achieving an accurate view of how their body looks so this, in the end, affects how their ability to sense small details. With the research being done on sensory processing and abnormal body representation it may give insight to many researchers to develop other experiments to further explore the link between the two factors. Our sense of smell is another vital sense for survival. It is able to identify things that are expired, gross, and bad so we are able to avoid those objects but it also has the opposite effect such as able to identify things that are good and pleasant which we are able to consume (Goldstein & Brockmole, 2017). People who struggle with anorexia nervosa develop a reduced pleasure in eating all kinds of foods which has lead researchers to find out if there is a link between the changed eating patterns and impaired olfaction systems (Roessner, Bleich, Banaschewski, & Rothenberger, 2005). In the study conducted by Roessner et al., (2005), they experimented to see if there was deficient in olfaction systems between anorexic patients and healthy control groups and the results were quite surprising.

Even though many anorexics claimed that their sense of smell was relatively through testing, researchers were able to see that there was a difference not only in odor discrimination but odor threshold as well. According to Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), odor discrimination is the ability to tell the difference between different odors which could suggest that to anorexic patients all the food that they encountered all may have smelled the same therefore decreasing the desire to consume them, especially if unpleasant. Researchers have suggested that because anorexics are not receiving the nutrition they need then it could lead to reduced olfaction. Therefore, making it difficult for them to distinguish between the difference scents that they were exposed to as well as the intensity of the two.

Roessner et al. (2005), have proposed the idea that because there is a link between insufficient nutrition and the olfactory deficient then it can be reversed. So, if the person who is anorexic was to receive the nutrition and vitamins that they need then the effects of a deficient olfactory can be reversed.

They recommend that more research needs to be done on the topic since olfactory enhancements may be able to anorectic patients began eating again and help them get back to a stable state of well-being. Finally, anorexia affects the sense of taste. Goldstein & Brockmole (2017), stated that there are five basic taste sensations such as salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami.

Researchers have taken notice that patients with anorexia nervosa have an abnormal taste function concerning the five basic taste sensations (Nakai, Kinoshita, Koh, Tsuji, & Tsukada, 1987). While researching this connection they also noticed that many of the patients often complained about how they could not taste what they were eating. After experimenting with different patients who were diagnosed with anorexia, many who were tested showed hypogeusia which is the inability to taste things, with bitter and sour taste being the most affected. They also noticed that patients were not able to detect nor recognize the sensitivity of each of the four tastes.

Another interesting observation is that patients were also faced with confusion when asked to if they recognized some of the tastes, this confusion is called dysgeusia. Nakai et al (1987), have suggested that these abnormalities may develop from local neuroanatomical abnormality, although further research is needed to identify other factors that may contribute to the abnormal taste functions. Anorexia not only develops psychological side effects such as depression, guilt, and shame but as well as physiological effects. This disorder is able to affect every one of the human senses. Although the effects are not life-threatening they are discomforting to the patients and how they interact with their environment. Form the peripheral retina being disturbed to how they are able to smell things, anorexia nervosa affects it all.

Throughout the different research that was explored, more light needs to shed on the factors that cause anorexia and how we are able to combat them before the effects become life-threatening. When we began to understand the different connections between anorexia and the senses more treatment options become available to help those who struggle with anorexia by targeting those specific senses. 

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