There are few things in life that are as essential to our survival as eating and breathing. Most of us will have wondered how the human body functions at a very early age, but ‘Googling’ things was not an option back then, and we may not have spent most of our time in the company of medical specialists.
Think back to the times when you asked your parents why your stool is brown, or remember when your child asked why people can’t eat a spoonful of cinnamon without choking. You may have even come across a few Youtube ‘cinnamon challenges’ to prove that it can’t be done. These are perfect examples of things children learn on their own nowadays, because we never had the curiosity to ask strange questions like ‘Why is the sky blue?’, as they do.
We may be familiar with the structure of the digestive system, for instance. We know the gastrointestinal tract ranges across 9 metres or so, from the mouth to the anus. What you may not know is that the tongue, which constantly pushes saliva down your throat – even when you sleep – is one of the body’s strongest muscles, according to the Library of Congress. Another thing you may have been unaware of is that the human digestive system is swarming with bacteria, fungus, worms and other parasites. Apparently, humans can host over 150 types of colon, intestinal and organ parasites at any one time, and nearly 1.5 billion people across the world had giant roundworms in 1999, while 3 billion people had 26 other types of worm infections. In fact, parasites of the digestive system are so common these days that we could look at them as personal ‘pets’. Still, let’s adopt an ‘each to his own worm’ attitude and return to the issue of stool odour. It is due to bilirubin and biliverdin, two bile pigments which revert from one to the other through a confusing chemical process. Because bilirubin is red and biliverdin is green, the combination of the two complementary colours will result in brown.
When it comes to the respiratory system, we know that the trachea, bronchi, lungs and diaphragm are the most important components. The respiratory system is connected to the digestive system through the aerodigestive tract. These two systems share the oral cavity, the pharynx, the sinuses and the upper oesophagus. Breathing through the mouth, for instance, is detrimental to both systems, and so is snorting cinnamon. It’s near impossible to swallow cinnamon because of its drying effect, although apparently 88% of America’s calls to poison control centres in 2012 were people who were incredulous of the theory and decided to try it for themselves. Big Brother UK decided to try the stunt on its housemates in 2011, and luckily, they had ample supplies of saliva to gobble down the spice unaided.
So, eating and breathing are essential to our survival, but there’s another, more important bodily function, which is thinking. We can survive without much involvement from our nervous system, but I don’t think we’re ready to admit to our children and to future generations that we know next to nothing about our own bodies, are we? So let’s put our thinking caps on and try to find the answers to inconsequential but logical questions that, to our embarrassment, we couldn’t be bothered to look into for all this time.