Sunday, August 18, 2013

What I Learned From Mary Roach's Gulp

Last weekend, while sitting at Salt Creek Beach on Sunday afternoon with my lovely wife, drinking a subtly rum spiked adult beverage, watching the waves washing ashore, pelicans fishing in the shallows, tourists body boarding without wetsuits, and 100s of people passing by having a wonderful beach day, I finished reading Mary Roach's Gulp, Adventures on the Alimentary Canal.  (for reference ISBN 978-0-393-08157-2).  It was interesting, hilarious, informative, and amazing well written.

I read it in hard back - since electronic devices in beach sunlight often have glare issues, and besides, I read slowly and would consume massive amounts of battery life.  I've found that Roach is now one of my favorite authors.  Her writing style "suits me" very well as an intelligent reader, and I thorough enjoyed digesting (pun absolutely intended) her work.  Gulp will not be the last book I read penned by her.  Next I will read Bonk, and then maybe Stiff.

Now, remember when you were back in grade school, or middle school, and you had to do a "book report" and turn it in for a grade?  I liked doing some book reports, as the material was sometimes enjoyable, but I loathed doing book reports on subjects which did not interest me.  Eating (and what the body does with and to the food we put into ourselves) has always interested me, and has, in fact, been a life long passion of mine as well as a subject that warrants scientific study.  Mary's done that research, handily, and thoroughly.

So what follows here, are the notes I took while (and after) reading Gulp.  These were not a "chore" they were things that I found fascinating, interesting, or just very cool.  They are not intended to be any kind of copyright infringement, but rather, a quick way to "index" and 'key word search" on a hard back book, via blog.  They are also intended to get other people to go out and read Roach's work, not dissuade them from doing so.  The notes below are by far NOT comprehensive (and they're pretty disorganized) but they are what I liked and found noteworthy.  =)

Things I learned from Gulp:

Aerobacter & H.eutropha bacteria slurry is proven inedible by humans (1968)

Only 5 to 10% of the air we breathe reaches the olfactory epithelium at the roof of the nasal cavity.

5 tastes humans perceive:  sweet, bitter, salty, sour and (I did not know) umami (brothy). 

Bad Olive Oil tastes (from the tasting wheel) include:  baby diapers, manure, vomit, bad salami, sewer dregs, pig farm waste pond.  Yummy!

Cadaver sniffing dogs are sniffing for cadaverine.

Liver is the most appealing dog food palatant, to dogs (and some humans, as well!).

The Inuit Games have indoor competitions like Ear Lift, and Mouth Pull.

Inuit eat a natural diet of raw organs - they leave the muscle tissue alone for the most part - far too tough, and has little nutritional value.  

For fruits and vegetables in the Arctic, Inuits let the caribou eat the lichens & moss, and then eat the caribou's stomach and contents after it's been partially digested.  A caribou stomach can be considered as "two servings of fruits or vegetables". 

Clara Davis did a study in the 1930s with orphaned babies to see what they would eat given choices, before learning from any adult.  Most desired by babies:  bone marrow, followed by brains and sweetbreads.   Shunned by babies:  liver, kidneys, 10 different veggies, haddock, and pineapple. 

Raw Narwhale skin ("Muktuk") tastes like a combination of chicken skin and pork rinds.  

Meat Industry vernacular includes the following terms I had never heard of before:
plunks - thoracic viscera, heart, lungs, trachea
melts - spleens
paunch - rumens
slunks - unborn calves (play THOSE in Scrabble!   Ha!)

trichobezoars - human hair balls  (ew!) and April 27th is Hair Ball Awareness Day!

Babies prefer milk that smells like garlic over milk that doesn't. (in scientific studies)

Human hair, is Kosher  (but ew!) and contains up to 14% L-cysteine, which is also founding bird skin (chicken soup).

Horace Fletcher (creator of the mastication practice of "Fletcherism", was a tedious person and a bad scientist.

Dr William Beaumont took advantage of Canadian Alexis St.Martin and his fistulated stomach, for decades.

Italian saliva scientists (like Erika Silletti) can't stand Dutch food, and go grocery shopping in Germany where they can pick up ingredients for home cooked Italian meals.

There are two kinds of saliva - stimulated and unstimulated.  Stimulated makes up 70 to 90% of the saliva a person produced in a day.  Unstimulated keeps down bacteria and fights disease, creating long amino acid chains (mucins) as well as regulating pH.  

The parotid glands are our faithful servants, making saliva whenever we eat, no matter what it is, trying to help us get it down.  

People affected by Sjögren's syndrome have damaged salivary glands and don't make saliva, suffer from chronic dry mouth. Their teeth wind up becoming soft and rotting out.

Babies have salivary lipase to break down milk fat, but as they get older, the lipase moves into their gut and out of their saliva.  

At the American Cleaning Institute, there are actually a Dr Luis Spitz, and a consultant Keith Grime!

Fabric Softeners work by partially digesting the fibers of your clothes, to make them less rigid, rounder, seemingly "softer"  (ew!)

Inter-museum Conservation Association conservators use spit when restoring clay works of art.  

Incubated Saliva smells worse than fishy amines (rank vaginal odor), dirty feet, or any other human by product that one can attempt to de-odorize.

Inuit parents and grand parents siphon nose snot from their children's and grand children's noses by oral suction - sucking the snot out of them.

Inuit nose rubbing is called "kunik"

When a Brahmin comes in contact with crow dropping, the ritual purification is "1000 and one baths".

The World Wide Web has far more mucilaginous strands that are not-safe-for-work (NSFW), compared to scientific references about the frothiness of protein.

Saliva kills more kinds and greater numbers of bacteria than does mouthwash.  Use mouthwash for the rinsing and taste, but don't fool yourself that it is killing more bacteria than your natural saliva.  It can't.  There are more strains of bacteria that live ON Other bacteria in your mouth, than the culture-able strains that live in most human mouths.  

In any crowd, approximately 20% of the people in that crowd will pick their nose.  Doctors, students, religious, managers…  it doesn't matter. (again, studied by scientists)

The medical perforative "quack" is derived from the German quacksalber which Merck used to promote as an antisyphilitic remedy.

In the New Testament of Mark, Jesus uses spittle to treat the blindness of a man, but in Luke and Matthew, they leave out that story entirely.  The spittle treatment was only partially effective, as Mark reported the man say "people who looked like trees" walking around.

There are three types of fingerprints:
loop - 65%, whorl (30%), and arch (5%)
There are 4 types of oral processing styles for semi solid foods like custard or yogurt:
simple (50%), taster (20%), manipulator (17%) and tongued (13%).  

A human's teeth can sense something as small as 10 microns.

When Tom Little was a child, he swallowed hot clam chowder in 1895 and burnt his throat shut, so that a doctor had to give him a fistula in his stomach into which pre chewed food was poured via a funnel. Beer however, was poured straight into the funnel, without chewing.  If he put the food straight into the funnel without chewing, Tom was not satisfied, and still felt hungry.  

A high-viscosity bolus travels down the esophagus at approximately the same speed as a fast tortoise; 0.22 mph.  

When patients suffer from dysphagia, and they have to chose between being able to talk, or being able to chew and eat, they usually opt to have their voice box (larynx) removed and become mute, rather than not being able to chew their food and swallow - so strong is the human desire to chew and taste and swallow!

The snapping of a chip sends sound waves at 300 meters per second. Humans prefer to hear it at 90 to 100 decibels as they chew.  (340 m/s = speed of sound at sea level)

An orca's fore-stomach has been measured to be 5 feet x 7 feet, unstretched.  A 24 ft killer whale was once dissected by E.J. Slijper, to reveal 14 seals & 13 porposies (presumably adolescents or very small young).  

Mary's wit shows clearly in sentences about seamen, sperm whales, suction and swallowing…  =)

An unrestrained 10 pound dog will impact your car's windshield with 500 lbs of force in a 50 mph head on collision. 500 lbs of force is also the compressive force exerted by a birds gizzard on what it swallows, as evidenced by René Réaumur in 1752.

Claude Bernard used to vivisection experiments on dogs in 1855, that were so horrific, bizarre, and unnecessary, that his wife Marie Françoise "Fanny" Bernard eventually left him in 1870 and founded an anti-vivisection society.

After a person dies, their stomach's acids continue to digest, and without the protective mucosal lining of the stomach being relined every three days, the stomach will begin to "digest itself".  In warmer climates, the heat accelerates the pace.  

Per anum and "per annum" are VERY different in meaning.  Just one little "n" in the middle  =)  "10% interest per anum" would be extremely hilarious!

pylorus = the stomach-to-intestine valve

A cow's rumen is the size of a 30 gallon trash can.

TLESR = transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation  (burp)

A Liverpool woman in 1984 died when her stomach ruptured, after she only ate
2 pounds of kidneys, 1.3 lbs of liver, 1/2 a pound of steak, 2 eggs, 1 lb of cheese, 1/2 pound of mushrooms, 2 lbs of carrots, head of cauliflower, two slices of bread, 10 peaches, 4 pears, 2 apples, 4 bananas, 2 lbs of plums, 2 lbs of grapes, and 2 glasses of mile; 19 lbs in all.

Takeru Kobayashi nearly beat her record (and lived) by eating 18 lbs of cow brains in 15 minutes, in an eating competition.  

Dyspepsia - stomach pains after eating (typical American weekend & buffet syndrome)

Bristol Stool Scale - actually used "type" excrement

Defecography - "as close to pornography as medicine will come" - gastroenterologist Mike Jones

If you refuse to take a meal on an international flight (especially from Columbia or Bolivia to the US) you will probably be interviewed by the DEA when you land in the US.  Drug smugglers who have swallowed balloons of narcotics avoid eating and drinking to slow down the movement of their cargo through their digestive tracts.

alvine - of or relating to bowel blockages, coined by orthopedist Dr Gregory Alvine.

CH4 and H2 are explosive in concentrations higher than 4 to 5 percent.  Liquid Manure pits can be naturally topped with as much as much as 60% frothy methane.

Up to 80% of flatus is hydrogen (not methane).  Only 1/3 of humans harbor gut bacteria that makes methane.

NASA space suits recirculate the air inside of them 3 times each minute, including an astronaut's flatus  =P

Grumous = clotted or lumpy
glabrous = smooth and hairless
periblepsis = wild look of delirium
maculate = spotted

People (usually women) who hold in their flatus re-absorb a great deal of that 80% hydrogen into their blood, which they then breathe out through their mouths.

Pythons and Boas have cecums, just as horses, rabbits, and koalas do.  The constrictors use it to digest the remnants of their prey's vegetarian diets, using bacteria to break down the vegetable matter into nutrients, and…   hydrogen.  Daenerys Stormborn exaggerates her motherhood  =)

Beano gives away wind breakers as promotional items…  sponsors a hot air balloon in races, and has cans of beans in their break room at AkPharma.   

Michael Levitt has published 34 papers on flatus.  He's identified that it is trapped methane that makes floaters (not fiber or fat), he invented the hydrogen breath analyzer, and identified the 3 main chemicals that make flatus smell:  hydrogen sulfide, methanethiol, and dimethyl sulfide, in most all humans (he reversed engineered them with chemical supply house gases, until the gas chromatograph signatures matched).  

Devrom's active ingredient is bismuth subgallate - and it does not irritate the gut, unlike the irritating bismuth that Pepto-bismol uses. Devrom absorbs flatus odor.  I think I may be giving out Devrom to my extended family in Chicago next Christmas!!!

Rural Sudanese eat fermented (decomposing) caterpillar, frog, and heifer urine.  mmmmm yummy!  Can we vacation in the Sudan, please!?!?

Hydrogen sulfide is detectable by the human nose from <1 ppm to 150 ppm.  Above 150 ppm it paralyzes the olfactory nerves, and can kill you.   Human flatus is generally 1 to 3 ppm H2S.

Rats who eat their own feces (autocoprophagy) grow 3x as fast as rats who are restarted from eating their own feces (collars and corsets had to be employed to keep the rats from eating it as it came out, before it could fall through a grated floor.).  Vitamins B5, B7, B12, K, thiamine, riboflavin, and essential fatty acids made in the lower GI tract of the rats.  

Cows can re-swallow their food as much as 40 times - Cecotrophy, pseudo-rumination.

Indonesian civets eat coffee beans that are then excreted, and gathered by Indonesian humans, to see for exotic coffees that are $200/ lb.  (another reason to switch to tea)

Only cnidarians (sea anemones and jelly fish) eat and defecate out of the same orifice.  (pronounced "nidarians").  

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia has a colon that is 28 inches around (a normal colon is 3 inches around)

Elvis did not die of an overdoes of anything.  Elvis died of constipation.  The drugs in his system were not fatal…  they did however, help to slow down the natural colon motility (peristalses). Johnny Cash, Kurt Cobain and Tammy Wynette also struggled with "obstinate constipation" (as Mary called it).

Human papillomavirus causes anal cancer (ew) - it is what killed Farrah Fawcett.  (another reason Not to "go there")

The strains of bacteria in your gut that you're born with pretty much stay with you the rest of your life.  You get them from your mother, mostly, when you're being born.  

Having Clostridium difficile in your gut can be miserable, and cause chronic, severe diarrhea (like 10x a day, wearing diapers severity) in adults. It kills around 16000 Americans a year (4X as many as 9-11)  A fecal matter transplant, from a donor who does not have Clostridium difficile can make your life much more pleasant.   Two weeks after the transplant, the donor & recipient's colon microbial profiles are synchronized.   Fecal transplants have been being done since 1958, have proven to be very effective, but Insurance companies think they are too "icky" and won't cover them.  (better to let 16000 people die annually instead).  Drug companies don't make any money off of them, and have actually lobbied AGAINST such transplants.  

Toxoplasmosis infects rats guts, but needs to be inside of a cat's digest tract to reproduce.  So toxoplasmosis alters the rat's behavior to make it attracted to cat urine, so that the rat can be eaten.   Ingenious, that evolution is!

Hilarious near homophone:  "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" line "the girl with kaleidoscope eyes" ~ "the girl with colitis goes by"  (akin to Jimi H's "excuse me, while kiss this guy!")  

Probiotics - unless they are shipped in oxygen-free packaging and administered directly to the gut without any oxygen - are not probiotic.  Natural human gut microbes are anaerobic, and exposing them to oxygen kills them.  

Most people eat about 30 different things in their diet - humans are creatures of habit.  While some of us have wily varying food stuffs that we eat and drink, most Americans have about 30 different foods that are their "go to" choices.

[and if Mary Roach or her publicist are visiting this web page and reading this...  please let me know if 
a) I got anything wrong
b) you'd like me to redact any of the information
c) you thought what I gleaned from the vast information presented by Gulp was 'weird']

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