Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pickin' Yer Nose an' Eatin' It! EW!!!!

"I've got two beautiful daughters, and they spend an amazing amount of time with their fingers up their nose."
"And without fail, it goes right into their mouth afterwards. Could they just be fulfilling what we're truly meant to do?"
"By consuming those pathogens caught within the mucus, could that be a way to teach your immune system about what it's surrounded with?"
"From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved under very dirty conditions and maybe this desire to keep our environment and our behaviours sterile isn't actually working to our advantage."
"All you would need is a group of volunteers. You would put some sort of molecule in all their noses, and for half of the group they would go about their normal business and for the other half of the group, they would pick their nose and eat it. Then you could look for immune responses against that molecule and if they're higher in the booger-eaters, then that would validate the idea."
Scott Napper, protein biochemist, researcher, University of Saskatchewan
Nose picking studied at University of Saskatchewan
Box of Boogers Photo: Flix Candy

Exhalations of disgust aside, there's reason to this apparent madness, and it isn't the kidproof joy of discovering that what your habit has always been described as hideously disgusting is now turning out to be biologically determined, that drives this story. It's that the mucus that exudes from our bodies has a distinct and useful purpose in protecting us as an antiseptic would, from dangerously adventurous bacteria that strive to infect us.

That mucus has a partnership with our immune system, both charged by nature with the vital task of keeping us in good health. Mucus is a viscous secretion (primarily water intermingled with glycoproteins and other molecules) produced by and covering our body's organs and cavities. So the 'snot' that erupts from our nasal cavities is not a disgusting byproduct of invading germs, but a bodily product meant to protect against invading germs.

Mucus has the vital task of protecting our stomach lining from corrosion by acid. It is a lubricant for our esophagus, that aids the passage of food to its smooth journey on through to our stomach. And the mucus in our nose operates efficiently to filter air, to trap dust particles, bacteria and other threatening substances before they can enter our lungs.

"It's the initial defensive system of your body to the outside world", explained rhinologist Aaron Pearlman of the Weill Cornell Medical College. According to those medical personnel for whom this kind of data is essential, the nose produces roughly four cups of mucus daily. Really! That nasal slime we all shrink at the presence of, is primarily water, with modest elements of mucin, a lubricating protein helping prevent bacteria from clumping in biofilms, and associated particles.

The mucus strands are in a meshlike form, small pores whose job it is to trap most bacteria, allergens and pollutants and it does an outstanding job of what its purpose is meant to achieve. The defences of mucus are proficient to the point where only the most minuscule of viruses are able to make their way through, to harm us.

That nasal mucus is comprised of two elements; a thin, fluid layer called sol, and a thick, sticky layer called gel, which evolution has designed to trap invaders. Cilia are microscopic tentacles existing on the nasal passage surface which beat against the sol and in tandem with the gel layer flush out of the nose. A virus is known to have produced damage to your cilia when you sneeze and cough incessantly.

And the best treatment for a stuffed-up nose, according to David King -- whose specialty is evidence-based medicine, teaching at the University of Queensland, Australia -- is saline solution which is capable of improving cilia's beat frequency. The cilia pushes most of the mucus to the back of your nose and throat, and it is then swallowed.

Scientists at MIT have theorized that coating medical lab equipment with mucin would act as a powerful antibacterial. And Canadian researcher Scott Napper feels that we should be deliberately consuming the slime that is emitted from our nostrils to familiarize our immune system with potential pathogens.

Uh, most of us would just prefer to pass on that one, but not his little daughters, or yours.

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