Healthoween: 5 Spooky Facts About Your Body

We wouldn't recommend reading this in the dark...

Published: Friday 30 October 2020

a woman looking concerned

Halloween’s just around the corner, although it may not happen like we know it this year. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic - which has led to the cancellation of thousands of events in 2020 - questions have emerged as to whether children across the country will be allowed to don their scariest outfits and head out in search of spooky snacks on the 31st.

As it stands, the question as to whether trick or treating will be allowed depends on the level of COVID restrictions in your area[1]. Under the current guidelines, revellers in medium alert (Tier 1) areas are permitted to go out trick or treating as long as they do it in groups of six or less. Children in high alert (Tier 2) areas are also allowed to ask their neighbours for sweets so long as they abide by the ‘rule of six’ and remain outdoors. Children in very high alert (Tier 3) areas, however, aren’t permitted to do any form of indoor or outdoor household mixing - meaning that they may have to celebrate Halloween by simply carving pumpkins to put on the porch.

No matter what COVID restrictions are in place, Halloween for most will be an evening for sugary sweets, chocolate, candy apples, and mulled cider for the adults. That is a frightful amount of sugar - so we should be thankful Halloween only comes around once a year. Regardless of whether you’re indulging in toffee treats and pumpkin pie, the reality is that plenty of spooky things are already taking place in your body - right this second, in fact. So for Halloween this year, we’ve decided to list five of the spookiest facts about the human body. Be warned: you might want to sleep with the light on after reading this.

1. Your digestive tract is bigger than you. Much bigger

The average height of a human being is 1.7m (5ft 7in) for men and 1.6m (5ft 3in) for women[2]. In what is a relatively small amount of space, the human body contains vital organs, veins, arteries, muscle fibres and more. But one of the most impressive things about the human body is its ability to contain something many times longer than you are: the digestive system.

The digestive system is a chain of connected organs that runs all the way from your mouth to your anus. It consists of the oesophageal tract, stomach, small and large intestines, and all of these interlink to create a complex system through which food can be digested, nutrients can be absorbed and the waste excreted in your stools.

In order to cater for that level of complexity, however, the digestive system needs to be long. Very long. In fact, if you were to stretch out your digestive system with all its parts into a straight line it’d be approximately nine metres long[3]. That’s twice the height of the average adult giraffe, 1.07 times the height of a London double-decker bus, and more than five times the height of the average human being.

2. You have a brain in your stomach

Whenever you’ve felt nervous in the past, you’ll be able to recall the fluttery feeling you get in your belly at the time. Lots of people refer to this as having butterflies in their stomach. Now, we can conclusively say that you don’t really have butterflies in your stomach (unless you’ve been eating them, which we advise against). But scientific evidence gathered in recent years suggests there might be something almost as spooky living in your gut: a second brain.

The brain in your belly isn’t exactly the same as the one in your head. On the contrary, the term “little brain” is commonly used to describe more than 100 million neurons in your gut that work every day to digest your food and separate the good bits from the bad bits[4].

Naturally, having so many nerve cells in your stomach gives it a direct line to the brain in your head - which is why your stomach can often feel and respond differently to particular emotional states. When you feel your stomach ‘sink’ after receiving some bad news, that’s your gut understanding and reacting to the fact you’re stressed.

Your gut, however, doesn’t just receive messages from your brain. In fact, up to 90% of the neural network in your gut - also known as the enteric nervous system - actually sends messages to your brain as well[5]. This means that your gut influences your mood in a huge way - perhaps even more so than the brain in your head does.

3. Your belly button is probably filthy (and that’s a good thing)

A study carried out in 2012 found that there are more than 2,000 species of bacteria living in our umbilicus, which is the scientific term for the belly button. For reference, that’s almost as many forms of bacteria as there are species of ants and birds in the whole of the USA[6][7].

Don’t be alarmed, though. According to Dr. William Schaffner[8], the fact our belly buttons are essentially petri dishes for thousands of different kinds of bacteria could be useful in the search for new medicines, and helps to provide “greater insight into the source of pathogens and how the [bacteria on our body] changes with antimicrobial therapy and age”.

The cool part about all the germs in your belly button is that the combination of them is unique to you, and you alone. Every single person has a different mixture of bacteria in their umbilicus. So don’t worry if someone tries to tell you you’re not special in the future - you now have the perfect response to give them.

4. There’s a type of body fat that actually burns calories

If you’re concerned about that burger you’re planning to eat for dinner on the 31st, here’s a fact that might somewhat put your mind at ease: not only is one type of body fat good, but it could actually help you burn calories.

Some people might already be aware of what white adipose tissue, otherwise known as white fat, is. White fat stores energy around your body in large droplets of fat, which help keep you warm by providing your organs with insulation. The trouble with white fat is that too much of it causes human beings to become overweight, and increases our risk of heart disease, diabetes and a number of other serious illnesses.

Brown fat, on the other hand, stores energy in the body in smaller spaces than white fat. When brown fat burns, it creates heat without shivering - a process known as thermogenesis. The good thing about thermogenesis is that when brown fat burns, calories do too[9].

Before you do eat that burger, though, it’s still important to remember that a balanced diet is still required to lose weight effectively and healthily. If you’re looking to start your weight loss journey, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about weight loss in our ultimate guide here(link: weight loss uber).

5. You get a new skeleton every 10 years

By this, we don’t mean that you wake up once every 10 years with a brand new skeleton. Instead, your bones go through a lengthy process of regeneration that spans the course of a decade[10].

Bone regeneration can be observed in smaller ways when we experience fractures and bone breaks. Over time, a broken or fractured bone will heal thanks to protective blood clotting and the delivery of cells that help join the bones back together.

Your bones, however, don’t just regenerate when they break. They actually take part in a constant process of remodelling your whole life, and in adults it takes approximately 10 years for that process to complete - technically giving you a brand new skeleton every decade.

So this year, why not mark Halloween on your calendar as “New Skeleton Day”, as well? That way, you’ll have something else to celebrate when it rolls around again in 2030.

Harry Walker

Written by: Harry Walker

Patient Care Specialist

After graduating with a degree in Journalism at City, University of London, Harry joined the Pharmica team as a Patient Care Specialist and content writer.

In addition to helping in the dispensary, Harry consults with our in-house pharmacists to produce engaging, informative and expert content for our patients.

Find out more about how we ensure the accuracy of our content with our content guidelines.

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