13 strange body facts you’ve always wondered about
We asked experts for true stories and odd human body facts. What they told us might surprise you. By Teresa Dumain. All images: Getty Images
1. Do feet really get bigger with age?
Some strange facts end up being debunked, but this is certainly possible: After years of wear and tear, tendons and ligaments in your feet may weaken.
This can cause arches to flatten, which means feet get wider and longer.
It won’t happen to everyone, people who are overweight, who get swollen feet or ankles, or who have certain medical conditions, like diabetes, are more prone.
If it does happen, the average gain is about one shoe size by age 70 or 80.—Cary M. Zinkin, DPM, podiatric sports physician and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.
Having issues with your shoes? So did Jackie Kennedy – check out her shoe hack here.
2. The stomach-in-your-throat feeling on roller coasters
Your insides are actually shifting! When a coaster comes over its crest, slows for a second for added torture, and then plummets downward, the seat belt keeps your rear in place, but some loosely connected internal organs—like your stomach and intestines—get a little “airtime.”
But don’t get concerned in light of these strange facts.
You’re not damaging your innards by riding even the craziest of coasters (everything returns to its proper place), but your nerves detect the movement, which registers as though your stomach has jumped into your throat.—Maged Rizk, MD, gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute
Love amusement park rides but get thrown off-kilter by dizziness or vertigo? Following this guide to treat these conditions may help.
3. How come women always seem colder than men?
The fairer sex has a higher percentage of body fat and conserves more heat around the core.
That helps keep vital organs nice and toasty but not the extremities—and when your hands and feet feel cold, so does the rest of your body.
Plus, research suggests that women have a lower threshold for cold than men.
When exposed to the same freezing temperature, the blood vessels in women’s fingers constrict more than men’s do, which is why they turn white more quickly.—Kathryn Sandberg, director of the Center for the Study of Sex Differences in Health, Aging and Disease at Georgetown University.
While a certain amount of body fat may be a good thing, too much certainly isn’t. Good thing though that this “sunshine” vitamin may help you shed it.
4. Is “old-person smell” real?
Yes, and get ready for these strange facts: There’s also a distinctive middle-aged-person smell and a young-person smell, according to a recent study.
The research found that older people have a less intense—and more pleasant—scent than the middle-aged folk and young whippersnappers.
Not what you expected, right? —PLoS ONE.
Best ignore some smells if you want to keep on good terms. Don’t, however, ignore these household smells!
5. Why does room temperature coffee taste so bad?
The temperature affects flavour, even if you brew the perfect coffee.
Researchers in Belgium found that certain taste bud receptors are most sensitive to food molecules that are at or just above room temperature.
So hot coffee may seem less bitter (and, in turn, taste better) because our bitter-detecting taste buds aren’t as sensitive when coffee is hot.
Odours influence flavour as well, so even the most bitter hot coffee may taste delicious because of its pleasant aroma; room temperature coffee doesn’t smell the same. —Paul Breslin, PhD, professor at Rutgers University department of nutritional sciences.
Love coffee? This is the scientific secret behind the perfect cup of coffee.
6. How come you wake up at night only to urinate
We’re often too embarrassed to inquire about the strange facts of our internal plumbing, but the answer is just plain biology.
The sophisticated, intelligent neurons in your gut that control colon contractions, which push out waste, are also influenced by your body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock that wakes you when it’s light out and makes you feel sleepy at night.
So most people don’t have the urge to empty their colon in the middle of the night.
On the other hand, the bladder, which acts a reservoir for the continuous flow of urine produced in the kidneys, can stretch only up to a certain volume before you gotta go.
Normally, you can sleep six to eight hours without having to urinate, but certain medical conditions or drinking too much water before bed can wake you to use the bathroom at night. —Pankaj J. Pasricha, MD, director of neurogastroenterology at Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology.
Struggling to get a good night’s sleep? Here’s how to cope with an ‘overactive’ bladder.
7. Why do we have fingerprints?
Many experts think it’s to improve grip, but a British study from a few years back suggests otherwise.
Researchers found that a fingerprint’s ridges actually made it harder to hold flat, smooth surfaces, like Plexiglas, because they reduced the skin’s contact area.
Instead, they think our prints might help wick water off our fingertips or allow our skin to stretch more easily, which can protect it from damage and help prevent blisters.
Other scientists have suggested fingerprints could improve our sense of touch.
What we do know for sure is that no two people’s fingerprints are the same, even among identical twins. —V. Patteson Lombardi, PhD, research assistant professor of biology at the University of Oregon.
Your hands can reveal about your health – sweaty palms or shaky digits could be an early warning of certain conditions.
8. Can achy joints really forecast the weather?
A change in barometric readings may be part of the reason why weather can predict our health: Atmospheric pressure often drops right before bad weather sets in; this shift could cause body tissue to expand, which can lead to swelling and pain.
The effect is slight, but people who have arthritic or inflamed joints may detect the difference.
Temperature may have an impact too: In 2007, researchers at Tufts University found that every ten-degree drop in temperature corresponded with a small increase in osteoarthritic knee pain. —Leon Benson, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Back aching? Here’s the best advice and breakthrough treatments from the world’s leading experts on back complaints.
9. Why does holding your breath help with hiccups?
Of all the quick cures for hiccups, this one is the most talked about.
It’s thought that if you build up carbon dioxide in your body (by not exhaling), it will help stop your diaphragm from spasming, which is what causes the hiccups.
When your diaphragm contracts involuntarily, it forces a quick intake of breath that’s suddenly stopped by the epiglottis—a flap of cartilage located in the throat behind the tongue.
That closure is what causes the hiccup sound. —MD advisers from The Doctors.
Holding your breath is a classic technique for geting rid of hiccups, but did you know it is also a trick to diffusing anger?
10. Why do your teeth shift, even if you had braces?
Every smile is different, but a lot of this has to do with loss of the bone behind the gums that occurs with aging. If you lose enough bone—which can be exacerbated by such factors as smoking or gum disease—your teeth can shift.—MD advisers from The Doctors.
Take extra care with your teeth as an adult by following these tips.
11. What makes my stomach growl?
It can be the sound of your digestive juices churning and stomach muscles contracting as they get prepped for food.
To avoid those often poorly timed and embarrassing sounds, eat smaller meals more frequently.
Bonus health benefit: This will also jumpstart your metabolism. —MD advisers from The Doctors.
Tummy giving you grief? Check out the 12 reasons it may be bloated.
12. Why do I sometimes get side stitches when I run?
Your diaphragm gets stretched, pulled, and pounded during a run, which can cause that sharp, stabbing pain at the lower edge of your rib cage, usually on the right side of your body.
To help the pain pass, slow down and take more controlled, easy breaths. —MD advisers from The Doctors.
While we are on the sibject, do you think running is a great way to shape up or a pathway to trouble?
13. Why does armpit sweat smell worse than other sweat?
Your body has two kinds of sweat glands.
Most of those on your arms and legs secrete a mix of water and salt.
But the glands in your armpits (as well as your groin) release an oily substance, which bacteria love.
It’s actually the bacteria eating the oil that releases the telltale stench. —MD advisers from The Doctors.
Still curious about the many mysteries of the human body? Take a look at the mysteries surrounding the human body that are more fiction than fact.