By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
There is a strong psychological element to vomiting which is closely regulated by reflexes in the brain. This means that there is a social aspect to vomiting, with even just the smell, sight or thought of someone vomiting often triggering a response that, in turn, leads to that individual vomiting.
Some of the social implications of vomiting include:
Inducement of vomiting
Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa are associated with bouts of binge eating followed by anxiety, guilt and forceful retching or stimulation of the back of the throat to induce the gag reflex. People suffering from bulimia tend to conceal their vomiting to hide their condition.
Vomiting due to unpleasant thoughts, sights or smell
The sight, smell or even thought of someone vomiting may often be all that's needed to trigger nausea and sometimes vomiting. This phenomenon often occurs in groups and is thought to be a trait that has been handed down to humans from their primate ancestors as it served as a protective reflex in the wild. If one individual in a group reacted adversely to a particular berry or foliage, the rest of the group reacted in the same manner to prevent accidental poisoning.
Several rituals such as the ayahuasca ceremonies and certain yogic procedures and detox programmes focus on inducing forced vomiting in a person or in a group. The ancient Indian practice of yoga employs certain procedures to induce vomiting. Similarly, modern detox programmes and fad diets may also advise forceful purging of the contents of the stomach. The actual benefits obtained from these procedures is unknown but complications associated with vomiting may be seen with each of these procedures.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc