Five [PLUS] Senses Working Overtime. Are You Tuned In…?

Today is Celebration of the Senses Day – a time to consider your amazing sensory abilities and how they interrelate. We all learn as children humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Science has done a fantastic job describing the organs associated with each, how they send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us, and has gone even further to uncover how they uniquely cross-talk for heightened awareness.

Touch

Touch is thought to be the first sense humans develop, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Touch consists of several distinct sensations communicated to the brain through specialized neurons in the skin. Pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, pain and other sensations are all part of the touch sense and are all attributed to different receptors in the skin.

Touch isn’t just a sense used to interact with the world; it also seems to be very important to a human’s well-being. For example, touch has been found to convey compassion from one human to another.

Touch can also influence how humans make decisions. Texture can be associated with abstract concepts, and touching something with a texture can influence the decisions a person makes, according to six studies by psychologists at Harvard University and Yale University, published in the June 24, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

“Those tactile sensations are not just changing general orientation or putting people in a good mood,” said Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They have a specific tie to certain abstract meanings.”

Sight

Sight, or perceiving things through the eyes, is a complex process. First, light reflects off an object to the eye. The transparent outer layer of the eye – the cornea – bends the light that passes through the hole of the pupil. The iris (the colored part of the eye) works like the shutter of a camera, retracting to shut out light or opening wider to let in more light.

The cornea focuses most of the light. Then, it passes through the lens, which continues to focus the light.  The lens of the eye then bends the light and focuses it on the retina, which is full of nerve cells. These cells are shaped like rods and cones and are named for their shapes. Cones translate light into colors, central vision and details. The rods translate light into peripheral vision and motion. Rods also give humans vision when there is limited light available, like at night. The information translated from the light is sent as electrical impulses to the brain through the optic nerve.

People without sight may compensate with enhanced hearing, taste, touch and smell, according to numerous studies. Their memory and language skills may be better than those with sight, as well.

“Even in the case of being profoundly blind, the brain rewires itself in a manner to use the information at its disposal so that it can interact with the environment in a more effective manner.”  That’s according to Dr. Lotfi Merabet, senior author of a 2017 study and the director of the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

Hearing

This sense works via the complex labyrinth that is the human ear. Sound is funneled through the external ear and piped into the external auditory canal. Then, sound waves reach the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. This is a thin sheet of connective tissue that vibrates when sound waves strike it.

The vibrations travel to the middle ear. There, auditory ossicles — three tiny bones called the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup) — vibrate. The stapes bone, in turn, pushes a structure called the oval window in and out, sending vibrations to the organ of Corti.  This spiral organ is the receptor organ for hearing. Tiny hair cells in the organ of Corti translate the vibrations into electrical impulses. The impulses then travel to the brain via sensory nerves.

People retain their sense of balance because the Eustachian tube, or pharyngotympanic tube, in the middle ear equalizes the air pressure there with the air pressure in the atmosphere. The vestibular complex, in the inner ear, is also important for balance, because it contains receptors that regulate a sense of equilibrium. The inner ear is connected to the vestibulocochlear nerve, which carries sound and equilibrium information to the brain.

Smell

Humans may be able to smell over 1 trillion scents, according to researchers. They do this with the olfactory cleft, which is found on the roof of the nasal cavity, next to the “smelling” part of the brain – the olfactory bulb and fossa. Nerve endings in the olfactory cleft transmit scents to the brain, according to the American Rhinologic Society.

Dogs are known as great smellers, but research suggests humans are just as good as man’s best friend. Research published in the May 11, 2017, issue of the journal Science suggests humans can discriminate among 1 trillion different odors; it was once believed humans could discern only about 10,000 different smells.

“The fact is the sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs,” John McGann, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey and the author of the new review, said in a statement. The Rutgers study backs up a previous study at the Rockefeller University in New York, whose findings were published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Science.

Humans have 400 smelling receptors. While this isn’t as many as animals that are super smellers have, the much more complicated human brain makes the difference.  In fact, poor smelling ability in people may be a symptom of a medical condition or aging. For example, the distorted or decreased ability to smell is a symptom of schizophrenia and depression. Old age can also lessen the ability to smell properly. More than 75 percent of people over the age of 80 years may have major olfactory impairment, according to a 2006 paper published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Taste

The gustatory sense is usually broken down into the perception of four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. There is also a fifth taste, defined as umami or savory. There may be many other flavors not yet discovered. Also, spicy is not a taste. It is actually a pain signal, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The sense of taste aided in human evolution, according to the NLM, because taste helped people test the food they ate. A bitter or sour taste indicated that a plant might be poisonous or rotten. Something salty or sweet, however, often meant the food was rich in nutrients.

Taste is sensed in the taste buds. Adults have 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds. Most of them are on the tongue, but they also line the back of the throat, the epiglottis, the nasal cavity and the esophagus. Sensory cells on the buds form capsules shaped like flower buds or oranges. The tips of these capsules have pores that work like funnels with tiny taste hairs. Proteins on the hairs bind chemicals to the cells for tasting.

It is a myth that the tongue has specific zones for each flavor. The five tastes can be sensed on all parts of the tongue, although the sides are more sensitive than the middle. About half of the sensory cells in taste buds react to several of the five basic tastes. The cells differ in their level of sensitivity. Each has a specific palette of tastes with a fixed ranking, so some cells may be more sensitive to sweet, followed by bitter, sour and salty, while others have their own rankings. The full experience of a flavor is produced only after all of the information from various parts of the tongue is combined.

The other half of the sensory cells are specialized to react to only one taste. It’s their job to transmit information about the intensity — how salty or sweet something tastes.

Other factors help build the perception of taste in the brain. For example, the smell of the food greatly affects how the brain perceives the taste. Smells are sent to the mouth in a process called olfactory referral. This is why someone with a stuffy nose may have trouble tasting food properly. Texture, translated by the sense of touch, also contributes to taste, and recent studies even show color and shape can affect the way we perceive a properly attribute taste to a food.

The sense of space

In addition to the traditional big five, other senses help us translate a myriad of inputs into how we perceive and relate to the physical world.  One deals with how your brain understands where your body is in space. This sense is called proprioception.

Proprioception includes the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles. For example, proprioception enables a person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, even with their eyes closed. It enables a person to climb steps without looking at each one. People with poor proprioception may be clumsy and uncoordinated.

Researchers at the NIH found that people who have particularly poor proprioception through mechanosensation — the ability to sense force, such as feeling when someone presses down on your skin — may have a mutated gene that is passed down from generation to generation. That comes from a September 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The patient’s version of [the gene] PIEZO2 may not work, so their neurons cannot detect touch or limb movements,” said Alexander Chesler, a principal investigator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the lead author of the study.

Additional senses & variations

There are more-subtle senses that most people never really perceive. For example, there are neuron sensors that sense movement to control balance and the tilt of the head. Specific kinesthetic receptors exist for detecting stretching in muscles and tendons, helping people to keep track of their limbs. Other receptors detect levels of oxygen in certain arteries of the bloodstream.

While our five  basic sense seem to operate independently, as distinct modes of perceiving the world, in reality, they collaborate closely to enable the mind to better understand our surroundings. We can become keenly aware of this collaboration under special conditions.

In some cases, a sense may covertly influence another we think is dominant. When visual information clashes with that from sound, sensory crosstalk can cause what we see to alter what we hear. When one sense drops out, another can pick up the slack.  For instance, people who are blind can train their hearing to play double duty. Those who are both blind and deaf can train touch to step in—even to help them interpret speech.

Our senses must also regularly meet and greet in the brain to provide accurate impressions of the world. Our ability to perceive the emotions of others relies on combinations of cues from sounds, sights and even smells.  Perceptual systems, particularly smell, connect with memory and emotion centers to enable sensory cues to trigger feelings and recollections, and are incorporated within them.

The crosstalking of the senses provides some of the most magnificent material for interesting science, illusions, inventions and just plain art.  Here are a few of the best examples of the complex interactions – and extraordinary feats – of our cross-wired senses.

Calling to See

Bats and dolphins, among other animals, emit sounds into their surroundings —not to communicate with other bats and whales — but to “see” what is around them.  They read echoes of the sound waves, which bounce off objects, to identify and locate objects.

This sensory system is called echolocation. Although most of us can only imagine the pictures that form from sound, some sightless people have managed to master a form of echolocation. By uttering sounds and clicks, these individuals can use their ears to navigate. Some, such as Daniel Kish, have even taught others to use this form of human sonar. Kish once described human echolocation as “something like seeing the world in dim flashes of light.”

Fingers Do the Hearing 

People who are both deaf and blind are incredibly good at using other senses, such as touch, to navigate and understand the world. Some use the Tadoma Speechreading Method to perceive speech by touching the lips of another person as they talk. First taught in the 1920s, lip-reading by touch was a popular form of communication among the deafblind. Helen Keller was one of its early adopters.

If taught early in development, the Tadoma Method can help a deaf-blind child learn to speak as well as to understand others. Those who lose their sight and hearing later in life can use it to read lips.

But because the method is extremely difficult and time consuming to learn, by the 1950s it began to lose ground to American Sign Language as the dominant teaching method. Today, only about 50 people in the world still use of the Tadoma Method.

Still, In ASL, the deaf-blind place their hands over another signer’s hands and follow the motions with their fingers—which is easier because the movements are far less subtle.

Beep Baseball

Blind baseball seems almost impossible to even imagine, but since 1975, when a few blind Minnesotans invented “beep baseball”, those who lack sight have taken part in America’s favorite pastime. Thanks to a one-pound beeping oversized softball and some tweaks to the game, players can hit a home run without ever seeing the ball. They use the sound the ball emits to orient themselves, make contact using a bat and to field.  Special bases make it possible to round the diamond. They might be particularly well-suited to this form of the game, as previous research suggests that blind individuals can more easily localize sounds than sighted people can.

Then there is synesthesia

For a few individuals with a condition called synesthesia, the senses collide dramatically and uniquely to form a kaleidoscope world in which chicken tastes like stars, a symphony smells of fresh baked bread or words are bathed in red, green or purple.

People with synesthesia have a particularly curious cross wiring of the senses in which activating one sense spontaneously triggers another. They see colors when they hear noises, associate particular personalities with days of the week, or hear sounds when they see moving dots.

Synesthesia is thought to be genetic, and recent research even suggests it may confer an evolutionary advantage.  Most synesthetes don’t notice anything strange about the way they perceive their environments until it is brought to their attention.

Given that, at any moment in time, we are bombarded by such a diverse combination of sensory experiences, our appreciation of the individual senses can become somewhat muddled. Our taste experience is affected by the smell, texture and temperature of our food. Similarly, our hearing is said to decrease after overeating, and our sight is affected by noises around us. Sight can also be hampered after eating fatty foods.

Here’s another interesting snippet – if a sad, depressed person tells you their world is dull and grey, and flowers have lost their smell, they’re not just speaking metaphorically. Research shows sensory perception can actually be diminished in depressed individuals.  So focussing on a renewed appreciation of your senses can actually help one get out of an emotional rut.

Five senses? More than ten!

The categorization of our five primary senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) is attributed to Aristotle. While this basic list is still valid, humans have a number of additional ‘sensory abilities’ not covered above. These secondary senses include:

  • Sense of balance and acceleration– the ability to sense body movement, direction and acceleration, and to maintain balance and equilibrium.
  • Temperature sense– the ability to sense heat and the absence of heat (cold).
  • Sense of Pain– the sense of pain was previously believed to be an overloading of pressure receptors, but it has since been identified as a distinct phenomenon that intertwines with the other senses, including touch.
  • Sense of Time– the ability to perceive the passage of time, both short passages as well as longer time cycles.

We are gifted with a complex system of basic and intertwined senses designed to help us take it all in….If any of these seem a little “off” for you, consider seeing a physician who can help you with a tune up….At HealthLynked, we work every day to get you connected with physicians who will really have a great “sense” for what is going on….

Take a brief moment to get a “taste” for how being at the center of your care using the first ever HealthCare social ecosystem will, well, make you “feel”.  Go to HealthLynked.com to get started for free!

Sources:

livescience.com

idahoptv.org

 

14 Injections of Fact and Folklore Surrounding the first “Killed” Vaccine

Just 60 years ago, polio was one of the most feared killers in the U.S.

Every year, as the warmer months approached, panic over polio intensified. Late summer was dubbed “polio season.” Public swimming pools were shut down. Movie theaters urged patrons not to sit too close together to avoid spreading the disease. Insurance companies started selling polio insurance for newborns.

The fear was well grounded. By the 1950s, polio had become one of the most serious communicable diseases among children in the United States. In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. Hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to keep polio victims alive.

Then in 1955, the U.S. began widespread vaccinations. By 1979, the virus had been completely eliminated across the country. Now polio is on the verge of being eliminated from the world. The virus remains endemic in only two parts of the globe: northern Nigeria and the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On this day, June 23rd, 1995, the creator of the first ever “killed” vaccine, which started the US down the path of eliminating the disease, died. Dr. Jonas Salk was 80 years old. Here are a few facts about the medical genius and the disease he and his colleagues worked to eradicate.

Although polio was the most feared disease of the 20th century, it was hardly the top killer.
The first major polio epidemic in the United States hit Vermont in 1894 with 132 cases. A larger outbreak struck New York City in 1916, with more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. As the number of polio cases grew, the paralytic disease changed the way Americans looked at public health and disability.

Polio, while definitely on a meteoric rise in the 1950’s, was not the rampant killer it has been portrayed to be. During the 50s and 60s, 10 times as many children died in accidents and three times as many succumbed to cancer. Polio inspired such fear because it struck without warning, and researchers were unsure of how it spread from person to person. In the years following World War II, polls found the only thing Americans feared more than polio was nuclear war.

Salk was rejected by multiple laboratories after medical school.
After graduating from medical school at New York University and completing his residency training, Salk applied to laboratories to work in medical research. Rather than treat patients as a practicing physician, Salk hoped to work on the influenza vaccine, a research area he began studying in medical school.

Although he was rejected from multiple labs, perhaps due to quotas that discriminated against Jewish people, he didn’t get discouraged. “My attitude was always to keep open, to keep scanning. I think that’s how things work in nature. Many people are close-minded, rigid, and that’s not my inclination,” he revealed in his Academy of Achievement interview.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman proved instrumental in the vaccine’s development.
A year after his nomination as a Democratic vice presidential candidate, rising political star Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio while vacationing at his summer home on Campobello Island in 1921. The disease left the legs of the 39-year-old future president permanently paralyzed. In 1938, five years after entering the White House, Roosevelt helped to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, which became the primary funding source for Salk’s vaccine trials. Employing “poster children” and enlisting the star power of celebrities from Mickey Rooney to Mickey Mouse, the grassroots organization run by Roosevelt’s former Wall Street law partner Basil O’Connor was raising more than $20 million per year by the late 1940s.

In 1946, President Harry Truman declared polio a threat to the United States and called on Americans to do everything possible to combat it. “The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

Science initially failed
Early attempts to develop a vaccine ran into numerous hurdles. A vaccine tested on 10,000 children by two researchers at New York University provided no immunity and left nine children dead. Other vaccine trials used “volunteers” at mental institutions.

Salk challenged prevailing scientific orthodoxy in his vaccine development.
While most scientists believed that effective vaccines could only be developed with live viruses, Salk developed a “killed-virus” vaccine by growing samples of the virus and then deactivating them by adding formaldehyde so that they could no longer reproduce. By injecting the benign strains into the bloodstream, the vaccine tricked the immune system into manufacturing protective antibodies without the need to introduce a weakened form of the virus into healthy patients.

Many researchers, such as Polish-born virologist Albert Sabin, who was developing an oral “live-virus” polio vaccine, called Salk’s approach dangerous. Sabin even belittled Salk as “a mere kitchen chemist.” The hard-charging O’Connor, however, had grown impatient at the time-consuming process of developing a live-virus vaccine and put the resources of the March of Dimes behind Salk.

Since Sabin and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital couldn’t gain political support in the U.S. for what he viewed as his superior vaccine, he moved testing to the Soviet Union instead.

Salk tested the vaccine on himself and his family.
After successfully inoculating thousands of monkeys, Salk began the risky step of testing the vaccine on humans in 1952. In addition to administering the vaccine to children at two Pittsburgh-area institutions, Salk injected himself, his wife and his three sons in his kitchen after boiling the needles and syringes on his stovetop. Salk announced the success of the initial human tests to a national radio audience on March 26, 1953.

The clinical trial was the biggest public health experiment in American history.
On April 26, 1954, six-year-old Randy Kerr was injected with the Salk vaccine at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. By the end of June, an unprecedented 1.8 million people, including hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, joined him in becoming “polio pioneers.” For the first time, researchers used the double-blind method, now standard, in which neither the patient nor person administering the inoculation knew if it was a vaccine or placebo. Although no one was certain that the vaccine was perfectly safe—in fact, Sabin argued it would cause more cases of polio than it would prevent—there was no shortage of volunteers.

Salk did not patent his vaccine.
On April 12, 1955, the day the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow interviewed its creator and asked who owned the patent. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk in light of the millions of charitable donations raised by the March of Dimes that funded the vaccine’s research and field testing. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Lawyers for the foundation had investigated the possibility of patenting the vaccine but did not pursue it, in part because of Salk’s reluctance.

Although a tainted batch of the Salk vaccine killed 11 people, Americans continued vaccinating their children.
Just weeks after the Salk vaccine had been declared safe, more than 200 polio cases were traced to lots contaminated with virulent live polio strains manufactured by the Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California. Most taken ill became severely paralyzed. Eleven died. In the haste to rush the vaccine to the public, the federal government had not provided proper supervision of the major drug companies contracted by the March of Dimes to produce 9 million doses of vaccine for 1955. Although the United States surgeon general ordered all inoculations temporarily halted, Americans continued to vaccinate themselves and their children. Outside of the “Cutter Incident,” not a single case of polio attributed to the Salk vaccine was ever contracted in the United States.

A rival vaccine supplanted Salk’s in the 1960s.
Once Sabin’s oral vaccine finally became available in 1962, it quickly supplanted Salk’s injected vaccine because it was cheaper to produce and easier to administer. Ultimately, both vaccines produced by the bitter rivals nearly eradicated the disease from the planet. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were only 416 reported cases of polio worldwide in 2013, mostly confined to a handful of Asian and African countries. Since Sabin’s live-virus vaccine, which is responsible for about a dozen cases of polio each year, is seen as the final obstacle to eliminating the disease in most of the world, the WHO has urged polio-free countries to return to Salk’s killed-virus vaccine.

Salk was the stepfather of Pablo Picasso’s Children
In 1970, Salk married Françoise Gilot, a French artist who had two children, Claude and Paloma, with Pablo Picasso. In an interview in 1980, Paloma remembered the fear people had of polio, and that as a child, she didn’t visit her father’s house in the South of France due to a polio outbreak. She also revealed that she got along well with her stepfather: “He’s very cute. He’s a wonderful person,” she said. After his death in 1995, Gilot continued her late husband’s legacy by working at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Salk worked on cures for cancer and AIDS
After Salk developed the polio vaccine, he tried to develop vaccines for cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Although he wasn’t ultimately successful, he did patent Remune, a vaccine for AIDS to delay the progression of HIV into AIDS. In 2001, six years after Salk died, Pfizer stopped funding clinical trials for Remune due to a lack of evidence that it worked.

Salk was much maligned by the medical community
At the University of Pittsburgh, Salk launched what was then the largest human trial in history and introduced new scientific rigor now used as the gold standard in development of new treatments and tests for pathology. When it was announced that his vaccine worked, Salk was hailed as a humanitarian hero. By 1957, new polio cases had fallen below 6,000.

While heads of state around the globe rushed to celebrate him, many in the medical community derided his efforts. According to Dr. Charlene Jacobs in a interview with the Oxford Press, this was for many reasons:

  1. He preferred the “killed” vaccine, which most in medicine feared would be too weak.
  2. He worked in secret and with a small team.
  3. They claimed he grabbed the limelight and failed to share credit with others.
  4. It appeared he pandered to the press, crossing an imaginary line medicine had set up between science and the media.

Salk won few awards for what is still considered one of the greatest medical breakthroughs
While nominated several times, he did not win the Nobel Peace prize, and he was blackballed from the Academy of Sciences. He won a great deal of social celebrity, for sure, but his insistence on using intuition as much as rigor left many wondering what he really was doing. His dismissal in actual scientific communities is attributed to envy by many who review the history of the time.

Over the years, polio was found to be a highly contagious disease that spread, not in movie theaters or swimming pools, but from contact with water or food contaminated from the stool of an infected person. Along with the vaccine, much was done to improve hygiene in the Americas, The U.S. recorded its last case of polio in 1979, among isolated Amish communities in several states. Then the effort to eradicate polio globally began in earnest. The Western Hemisphere reported its last case, in Peru, in 1991.

Both Salk’s and Sabin’s vaccines are still used today. Although Jonas Salk is credited with ending the scourge of polio because his killed-virus vaccine was first to market, Albert Sabin’s sweet-tasting and inexpensive oral vaccine continues to prevent the spread of poliomyelitis in remote corners of the world. While the later version, which requires just two drops in a child’s mouth, proved much easier to use in mass immunization campaigns, today, it is being marked as the final barrier to truly eliminating polio – it does occasionally infect patients. The complete return to Salk’s vaccine has been promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2000.

Advances in medicine sometimes come from great intuition complimented with heavy doses of experience and meaningful development. These three make a powerful elixir. HealthLynked could be that kind of breakthrough – a good mix of real world wisdom, a touch of intuition and a love of professional rigor.

At HealthLynked, we are all working to clean up the errors created by missing information and put the patient back at the center of the medical relationship. Ready to get Lynked with medical professionals advancing wellness in New and exciting ways?

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sources:

npr.org

pbs.org

Nytimes.com

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