NEW YORK (CBS NEWS) – Parents, next time you see your child picking his or her nose, you may want to fight the urge to scream “stop!”
A Canadian biochemist is making waves with a new theory that picking your nose — and eating it — may be an evolutionarily-backed way to boost your immune system’s protective powers. And he hopes to conduct a study to prove it, CBC News in Canada reported.
Scott Napper, an associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, told CTV News in Saskatoon that he proposed this theory one day while teaching a classroom full of bored college students. He said that almost all kids try to taste things that come out of their noses, and its possible that nature is trying to push them to adopt this behavior. “I got their attention by saying that’s why snot tastes so sweet. And a lot of them were nodding along like they agreed, but not really realizing what they had acknowledged,” he told the station, laughing.
Napper said that snot’s sugary taste may signal the body that it should be eaten, and the immune system may obtain information from its contents. “By consuming those pathogens caught within the mucus,” Napper wondered aloud, “could that be a way to teach your immune system about what it’s surrounded with?”
Mucus is secreted by tissues that line the mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tracts. It acts similar to flypaper, trapping bacteria, dust and other unwanted substances before they can enter the body. When mucus and its trappings dry out, a “booger” comes to be.
Napper said that his theory may fit in with other evolutionary theories that suggest people’s improved hygiene over the years has led to increases in allergies and immune diseases. The so-called “hygiene hypothesis” is a theory that says early exposure to germs and certain infections could boost the development of the immune system, according to Dr. James T.C. Li of the Mayo Clinic.
“From an evolutionary perspective, we evolved under very dirty conditions and maybe this desire to keep our environment and our behaviors sterile isn’t actually working to our advantage,” Napper said. He wants to put this theory to the test.
But Dr. William Schaffner, past president of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases and chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News that he doesn’t buy this theory — because people are eating their own boogers quite frequently as it stands. “Because it’s part of your own body fluids, you swallow nasal secretions all the time during the day and while you’re asleep,” he said.
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