Anorexia May Affect Taste Sensations

Women Who've Had Anorexia Nervosa May Process Taste Differently Than Others

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 26, 2007

Sept. 26, 2007 -- The eating disorder anorexia nervosa may affect women's taste sensations, researchers report.

The finding comes from a small study of 16 women who had recovered from anorexia nervosa for an average of nearly four years.

Those women currently had normal eating habits and normal BMI (body mass index), though their BMI was at the low end of the normal range.

They got brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they drank plain water or sugary water that was about as sweet as a soft drink.

The women -- who all had the same breakfast of milk, juice, and bread with butter and marmalade before the experiment -- also rated the drinks' pleasantness and whether they felt anxious after drinking the beverages.

For comparison, the researchers -- who included Angela Wagner, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh's medical school -- repeated the experiment with 16 women of similar backgrounds who had never had anorexia.

Wagner's team focused on a brain area called the insula, which is involved in taste.

The brain scans showed that the women who had had anorexia had less activity in their insula when drinking the plain water and the sugary water than women who hadn't had anorexia.

The brain scans also showed that in women who had never had anorexia, the insula was especially active in those who liked the taste of the sugary water.

But in the women who had had anorexia, the insula wasn't particularly active when they liked the drinks' taste.

The researchers conclude that there may be taste differences in women with and without a history of anorexia.

It's not clear which came first: decreased insula activity or anorexia. The study is due to appear in an upcoming edition of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology and currently appears online on the journal's web site.