Gross Body Functions and Why They are Important

September 27, 2019

"We are going to talk about some of the amazingly gross, but amazingly important functions and secretions of the body!"

Today’s live show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD is not for the faint of heart. Dr. Nancy will discuss everyday gross body functions and secretions from earwax to eye gunk, and more. Find out when these functions are normal and when they could be a sign of something more serious. Plus, learn about the serious dangers of some common over-the-counter products designed to address these. Stay with us, there is tons of really important health information in this episode. 

Video Highlights

  • 03:19: Interesting Facts And Trivia
  • 06:45: Earwax
  • 12:53: Mucus
  • 24:09: Eye Crust
  • 26:32: Vomit 
  • 30:25: Wrap-Up

It’s about to get real, today… real gross! We’ve covered some heavy health topics over the past week, so today and we’re going to lighten things up, but you will still leave with great health information as. We are going to talk about some of the amazingly gross, but amazingly important functions and secretions of the body! A lot of the things we’re talking about today are things we tend not to talk about very often.

Interesting Facts And Trivia 

  • Earwax is not actually wax! Stay tuned to find out what it really is — we’ll be covering that shortly.
  • Your mouth produces about one liter of spit every single day — actually, between 1 and 1.5 liters — that’s 4 to 6 cups of spit! In fact, the average person produces enough saliva in their lifetime to fill two swimming pools.
  • The average person has 67 different species of bacteria in their belly button and on average, you have about 4 pounds of bacteria around in your body.
  • Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour — that means you lose about 8 pounds of skin cells every year
  • The average  human body contains enough fat to make seven bars of soap. Crazy, right?

Okay, so let’s take a closer look at how some of these icky, but important substances actually do, how they protect us,  and how they keep us healthy.

Earwax

So, as we just established, earwax isn’t really wax. But if it’s not wax, what is it?

Earwax is actually a mixture of dead skin cells, hair, and the secretions of cerumen  or oil secreted by your ceruminous and sebaceous glands. It’s formed in your outer ear canal and slowly moves to your ear’s opening, where it eventually dries, flakes, and falls out. But what is its purpose? Earwax is actually really an important defense mechanism for your ears.

  • It’s a natural barrier that prevents dirt and bacteria from entering the innermost parts of your ears. If you’ve ever felt earwax, you know that it is sticky — it actually collects microscopic debris that finds its way into your ear canal, much like flypaper traps insects. Without earwax, your inner ear would be at risk. Tests have shown that earwax has antibacterial and antifungal properties, which is important because the dark, warm, and moist environment of the ear canal is perfect for hosting germs.
  • It’s also a moisturizer and protective coating for your ear canal. Without earwax, your outer ear would be itchy and flaky, which creates a greater risk of irritation and infection.
  • Believe it or not, earwax is also an insect repellant. The smell of earwax has been shown to keep bugs away, while the stickiness actually traps those that accidentally get inside of your ear!

Ear wax is typically light brown, orange,  or yellow, but can also be dark brown, black, or even white. Interestingly enough, the color of your earwax can also be an indication of whether you need to use deodorant or not!

  • White, flaky earwax indicates you lack a body-odor producing chemical. Dark-colored, sticky earwax indicates you should probably use deodorant. Don’t ask us why — that’s just one of those crazy connections that’s absolutely true!
  • Dark brown or black colored earwax is typically a sign of older earwax, so its color comes from the dirt and bacteria it has trapped. 
  • Light brown, orange or yellow earwax is healthy and normal. 
  • Adults tend to have darker, harder earwax, and children tend to have softer, lighter-colored earwax.

How many of you love to clean your ears with Q-tips or cotton swabs? If you do, we've got some bad news! Nearly every health expert will tell you to leave your earwax alone and never, ever use a Q-tip to remove it. In fact, using a Q-tip to clean your ears can push the wax deeper into the ear canal where it is unable to be sloughed off naturally, or you could even puncture your eardrum.

Healthy ears and ear canals are actually self-cleaning and will self-regulate the amount of earwax in your ears. The safest cleaning method is to leave your earwax alone. Put down the Q-tip, and simply wipe the outer lobe with a washcloth. If your ears feel stuffed with wax, see your doctor to make sure there isn’t a more serious issue!

Mucus

Did you know that without mucus, you wouldn’t be alive?  That’s right, you cannot survive without mucus — it’s that important!

Also, your boogers are actually dried mucus. And here’s another gross fact: 91% of people report picking their nose from time to time. 

Scientists have actually studied why people pick their nose, and while there isn’t a definitive answer, but it appears that most people pick because they derive pleasure from “cleaning up,” and don’t always have a tissue available. Did you also know there is actually a proper, scientific term for nose-picking? It’s known as rhinotillexis. But let’s get back to mucus.

Mucus is produced by our nose and sinuses, and our bodies make between 1.5 and 2 liters of it every day, or more when we are sick.  Most of the mucus that you produce is swallowed and digested, but it’s important for a number of reasons, including: 

  • Protecting the tissues that line your lungs, throat, and nasal and sinus passages, keeping it from drying out.
  • Trapping unwanted bacteria and allergens (such as dust or pollen), preventing them from spreading through your body and making you sick.
  • Mucus even contains antibodies, or enzymes, designed to kill or neutralize these harmful foreign invaders.

Mucus in normally clear, but it can also be grey, white, or yellow. This could simply be the result of dust, pollen, or other particles you've inhaled from the air around you, or these colors can be a sign of a more serious infection, as they can be caused by an excess of white blood cells or pus. 

Mucus is really pretty amazing. In fact, when you are sick or have a cold, you might think your body is producing more mucus, but it doesn’t. Your mucus actually changes in consistency in response to the situation.  

For example, when you have a runny nose, your mucus has thinned out in response to the presence of histamines. Histamines also cause your nasal passages to swell, and you might sneeze more too — it’s all part of your body trying to get the irritants out of your system!  So, when people say they are “stuffed up,” that’s actually a misconception. They aren’t stuffed up with mucus, the nasal passages are actually swollen, which prevents the normal flow of mucus and give the perception of being congested.

You might be tempted to turn to the over-the-counter decongestants when you are stuffed up, but the best remedy is hot, moist air. This is why taking a hot shower often opens up a clogged nose, and why hot washcloths and steam are also effective treatments.  Next time you are feeling congested or stuffed up, take a hot shower or fill a bowl with steaming hot water and some eucalyptus essential oil and breath it in for 5 minutes. You’ll notice almost immediate relief!

On the other hand, when you have a head or chest cold, you might notice that the mucus in your throat and chest becomes thicker or stickier, and it becomes more difficult to even swallow it or to get it to slide down your throat.  

When you have a cold and your mucus becomes thicker, it’s an immune system response and an attempt to trap and prevent bacteria, viruses, and allergens from entering your lungs — it’s like your body’s flypaper.  Germs stick to it, you swallow it, they are destroyed in your digestive system, and the infection or irritant is prevented from entering your lungs and respiratory system.  It’s pretty amazing, and just another example of the connection between your immune system and digestive system and a reason why we really need to make sure we are taking steps to keep both our immune system and digestive system healthy.  

We’ve talked about some steps for making sure your immune and digestive system are healthy in the past, including: eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, exercising every day, drinking plenty of water, and taking your Smarter Probiotics and Smarter Multivitamin every day — all essential steps to keep your body healthy and to ensure your immune and digestive systems continue to work together as they’re designed to do.

Having a cold isn’t the only reason you may notice thick mucus. It can also be a sign of dehydration, a side effect of certain prescription medications, or a result of smoking or being in a dry indoor environment. These often contribute to other issues, like post nasal drip.

Avoid Over the Counter Decongestants

We touched on this already, but it’s important for you to be aware of the dangers of over-the-counter and prescription nasal decongestants. They can be effective for a quick fix , but they also really dangerous and really addicting. 

These products contain the active ingredient oxymetazoline and are often really effective at relieving congestion — they do that by reducing blood flow to your nasal cavity, which reduces swelling and opens up your airways, making it easier for you to breath. However, as soon as it wears off, your nasal passage swells again, and often worse than before. This causes people to use more nasal spray, until over time the lining of the nasal passages actually becomes dependent on the medication. So please if you’re experiencing nasal congestion, avoid nasal decongestants — use steam, essential oils, and a neti pot to naturally relieve your nasal congestion.

Eye Crust

You know the crusty, sticky goo around your eyes when you wake up in the morning — eye crust, or eye gunk — do you know what that really is?

Eye crust is actually an accumulation of dried tears, and is the result of your body’s natural defense system washing away irritants and dead skin cells

When we are awake, we blink 15-20 times a minute, which spreads tears around our eyes and drains through a tear duct that leads to your nose.  However, when we are sleeping, you don’t blink — the excess fluid from your tears collects in the corners of your eyes, and so does any irritants, dust, or debris, which then dries — leading to the crust in the corner of your eyes when you wake up. You can just use a nice hot washcloth to wash your eye crust away.

However, if you wake up and your eyes are so caked shut that you can’t open them, or the eye crust is yellow or green or smells bad, you most likely have an infection and need to see a doctor for proper medical treatment.

Vomit

It goes by many names: vomiting, throwing up, puking, upchucking, ralphing, or barfing. Call it whatever you want, it’s gross and we all hate doing it. But have you ever wondered what vomit actually is and what makes our body decide it’s time to toss our cookies?  

People throw up for all different reasons: stomach illness, flu, motion sickness, and food poisoning. While vomiting is gross, its relatively harmless, and ultimately is a defense mechanism. It’s your body’s way of trying to get rid of something that it considers to be an irritant, like a virus, bacteria, or something like that. So taking a pill to prevent throwing up is usually not a good idea; there’s a reason you need to get something out of you — listen to your body.

Vomit is almost always highly acidic, because it’s your stomach acid. That’s why your throat and nasal passage burn after throwing up. If you’ve just eaten and throw up, you’ll see partially digested bits of food. If you’re throwing up on an empty stomach, it’s most likely mucus that’s been swallowed throughout the day.

When you have an illness or are throwing up for an extended period of time, you might notice vomit turning green or yellow — that’s bile from the liver and gallbladder. Bile helps your stomach with digestion. If you see bile when throwing up, don’t panic; it’s not a cause for immediate concern, but really the result of throwing up on an empty stomach.  

While we never like to puke, it usually doesn’t last long and goes away within a day. If it doesn’t, you need to see your doctor.  

And, make sure you sip plenty of water after throwing up to avoid getting dehydrated. When you are feeling better and can keep food and liquid down, make sure you replenish nutrients you lost during your purge! 

Wrap-Up  

We didn’t even get to pus, urine, diarrhea, gas, or sweat; so many gross, but amazing functions that happen in our bodies! Maybe we’ll cover those in another show. 

Today we covered the grossest of the gross bodily functions and secretions: earwax, mucus, eye crust, and vomit. We learned that they are all really important functions of our immune system. They all keep harmful irritants, allergens, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and other harmful substances from getting into our bodies and making us sick.

They also provide important clues to your overall health — the color or smell of your earwax, mucus, eye gunk, and vomit yield important clues to what's going on in your body and whether you have an infection or maybe even a more serious health condition. Remember, your immune system is incredibly important. You want to make sure you are supporting it by eating right, drinking water, exercising, and supplementing with essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and nutrients that keep you healthy and safe!

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