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Odd Body Quirks Explained: Why Do Spicy Foods Make Your Tongue Burn?

Mar 26, 2013 - 1 comments

Some people can’t get enough spiciness in food – they generously douse their food with hot sauce, savoring that burning of the tongue that follows. For others, even the subtlest hint of spice can set their mouth on fire and leave them guzzling water to put out the flames. Whether you love the sensation or hate it, what is it about spicy foods that triggers that burning sensation?

The answer: Capsaicin, a natural compound found in the seeds of certain plants, puts the heat in hot foods. Your mouth contains millions of receptors that make up your sense of taste, allowing you to distinguish between bitter, sweet, salty, sour and savory. But your tongue is home for thousands of pain receptors, as well.
When you eat something spicy, the capsaicin irritates those pain receptors, causing a burning sensation. While it may feel painful or uncomfortable, fear not – you’re not actually doing any physical damage to your tongue.

Fun fact: Those pain receptors that are sensitive to capsaicin aren’t just found in your mouth, but all over your body. If you were to stick a chili pepper up your nose, you might feel that hot burning sensation there as well!

So why do some people enjoy this pain, while others can’t stand it? Experts still aren’t really sure. It could just be that some just aren’t as sensitive to the heat sensation as others, either for biological reasons, or because they’ve eaten a lot of spicy foods in their lives. Another theory holds that some people are drawn to spicy foods like chili peppers because of the health benefits: Some studies have shown that spicy foods promote a healthy metabolism by reducing triglyceride and insulin levels, help your heart by calming inflammation and boost your weight loss efforts by curbing your appetite.  

Or could it be that spice-lovers are just masochists? Maybe. Dr. Paul Rozin from the University of Pennsylvania terms the love for spicy food “benign masochism”. In one study, he had participants eat chili peppers — each one gradually hotter, or more pungent, than the last. At the end, he asked the participants which chili they enjoyed the most, they said they enjoyed the highest level they could stand, just below the level of unbearable. However, this “hurts so good” theory is, so far, just a theory.

Even if you do enjoy the hottest of the hot — there are times when you may eat something spicier than you can handle. If you do accidently eat something too spicy, you don’t have to suffer the pain! Try not to go with your initial gut feeling to drink a glass of water, because water just spreads the capsaicin around your mouth, which makes it worse. Drinking milk (or any other dairy product) can help cool the tongue by coating it with fat, causing the pain to decrease. So next time you’re about to enjoy a plate full of Buffalo wings, have a glass of milk near by!

Odd Body Quirks Explained: Why Do I Blush?

Mar 14, 2013 - 0 comments









odd facts


body facts



We’ve all been there — you’re in the middle of a work presentation, and you suddenly draw a blank. You’re walking through a crowded shopping mall, and you trip down (or worse — up!) the escalator. That potential new love interest says hello, and you’re tongue-tied. In each situation, your efforts to save face and get back on track are betrayed by the heat rising in your cheeks: You’re blushing. For most of us, blushing is a natural, uncontrollable reaction to embarrassment or anger. Why is it that, in situations like those listed above, we wear our emotions on our cheeks?

You can blame your body’s flight-or-flight response. When you get emotionally riled up, your body plunges into a stress response to help you deal with the perceived threat. Your heart rate spikes, a jolt of sugar is released into your bloodstream, and your blood vessels expand — all strategies to prepare you to fight off a threat, or to run away. Your face has a lot of blood vessels close to the surface, so the blush shows up the most there, resulting in rosy cheeks and that flushed feeling.

The real question, however, is not how our body generates that rosy-red hue, but why humans need to blush in the first place. One theory holds that blushing is a useful social cue: If you’ve just done something embarrassing, it signals to others that you feel shame about your transgression; if you’re angry, red cheeks will send a signal to others that they should back off; if you’ve got a crush and are too shy to make a move, a blush might do your flirting for you.

While that’s a great theory, most experts in the field maintain that we don’t yet understand the purpose of the blush. Until that mystery is solved, we’ll just have to embrace the blush — and let our face do the talking for us.

Whether you enjoy the endearing nature of those rose-filled cheeks — or you find it to be terribly embarrassing — just remember that it’s natural and it happens to everyone!

What makes you blush? Share your most blush-worthy moment in the comments below!

Can Heartbreak Really Harm your Heart?

Feb 25, 2013 - 6 comments





Heart Health


broken heart syndrome


Broken heart



Had “Romeo and Juliet” been written by a cardiologist, Juliet’s life probably would have ended with a heart attack instead of a bloody dagger. Every year, nearly a million Americans rush to the emergency room with symptoms of a heart attack — but about 2 percent of these patients suffer from a different problem entirely: a broken heart. Broken heart syndrome, also known as stress cardiomyopathy, bears strong resemblance to a heart attack. Symptoms include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

Yet whereas a heart attack is the culmination of many years of dietary wear and tear on the arteries, broken heart syndrome is caused by a flood of emotion. An extreme life stressor – the unexpected death of a loved one, a car accident, a traumatic break-up — releases a surge of adrenaline and other stress hormones. This revs the heart into overdrive, which can harm the heart cells, causing the body to sends signals to slow the heart down. In rare cases, this defense response goes haywire and causes the heart muscle to weaken suddenly; as a result, a large section of the heart bulges and can no longer pump blood efficiently.

Luckily, broken heart syndrome is much easier to recover from than a heart attack is. Heart attacks kill heart cells, which are starved of oxygen-rich blood when a clot blocks an artery; recovery takes months, and patients usually need to make major improvements in their diet and exercise regime, and many will need to start taking medication. Broken heart syndrome, on the other hand, is less likely to be fatal and does not result in permanent heart damage. Broken heart syndrome often occurs in perfectly healthy patients, who can recover fully in a matter of days.

So while it’s rare, beware: unrequited love can actually break your heart.

Mythbusters: Does cold weather make you sick?

Feb 21, 2013 - 3 comments








The peak of flu season is behind us, but you may still be feeling its effects. In between your residual sniffles and lingering cough, you might be cursing the winter weather for making you sick. But does cold weather really cause colds (and flu)?

It’s no secret that flu season is worse during the coldest months of the year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, flu epidemics strike from November through March; in the Southern Hemisphere, where seasons are reversed relative to the North, sickness peaks from May to September . Something about winter, it seems, is to blame.

But it’s not as simple as pointing the blame toward the thermostat. You need to be infected with a virus or a strain of bacteria to come down with the flu or a cold. It might be possible, however, that low temperatures make you more likely to get sick if you’ve already been exposed to a pathogen. Some scientists believe that being cold weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection.

Researchers have been looking into this question for decades. Hundreds of self-sacrificing volunteers have spent hours in walk-in freezers, have walked around in wet clothing and have allowed researchers to drip infected mucus into their nostrils – all in the name of science. (Their dedication goes above and beyond what this writer would do in the name of science!)

But as it turns out, cold, wet and miserable volunteers are no more likely to get sick than their warm comrades. Being cold doesn’t make you sick – it just makes you shiver.

So why do so many people get sick during the winter?

One theory: It’s something in the air. Summer is hot and humid, whereas winter is cold and dry – and a growing body of scientists is trying to understand whether this affects flu transmission.

To test this theory, scientists at the University of California, Davis, infected a number of guinea pigs (real ones – not just the metaphorical kind). The scientists then exposed healthy guinea pigs to the sick guinea pigs under a range of temperatures and humidities. They found that the virus was most infectious in cold and dry conditions; something about the winter air made the healthy guinea pigs get sicker, faster.

Low humidity, the researchers suggest, allows the virus particles from a sneeze or cough to linger longer in mid-air; conversely, the high humidity of summer causes the droplets in a sneeze to condense and settle out of the air too fast for infection to occur . Studies show that warmer temperatures also kill pathogens quickly, sterilizing the sneeze.  

The studies weren’t limited to guinea pigs; researchers studying at New York City’s weather data and public health records from 1975-2002 found that the death rate from pneumonia and influenza, while high all winter, spiked most prominently immediately after particularly cold, dry periods . So the cold, dry conditions of winter do seem to make it easier to get sick – not by weakening your immune system, but by making it easier for the virus to linger and spread.

Plus, let’s face it: when it’s cold outside, we all want to stay inside. People spend much more time indoors during the winter, putting us (and our germs) in close proximity to one another – perfect conditions for spreading sickness.

The conclusion? If you’re trying to avoid catching a cold this winter, a sneeze guard may be more important than a warm winter coat.