Mucophagy: A medical practice of the future?

Before I begin this article I must make a confession: As a child I practiced Mucophagy[2], or to me and you, I was an avid nose-picker-bogey-eater kind of child. In my defence according to a BBC investigation 99%of younger children frequently delve into their nasal passage to retrieve their little friends. However, is this “grotesque” habit something the parents of today should embrace with wide arms?

Despite a taboo subject amongst society and often condemned in most cultures[2], healthcare professionals around the world are discussing the beneficial properties of the art of Mucophagy. (Yes, I would argue that there is a certain skill in this unique kind of practice thus making it an art.) The body’s first line of defence comprising of the skin, tears and mucus is vital in forming a physical barrier against the pathogens that may cause us harm. In fact a study of  “the body’s natural defences function to protect the oral cavity” [1] published in the journal of Applied  and Environmental Microbiology, suggest that the glycoproteins found in salivary mucins protect the teeth from the bacteria Streptococcus mutans that causes cavities.

The presence of the  Streptococcus mutans [3] bacteria result in the development of tooth decay by means of  metabolising the sucrose found on the teeth to lactic acid, with the help of the enzyme glucansucrase. This reaction leads to acidic conditions within the mouth that is the source for the deterioration of the tooth enamel. Furthermore the sucrose on the surface of the teeth allow the bacteria to produce a dextran-based polysacchride; this gives the ability for the bacteria to cohere to the surface of the tooth in a mesh-like formation known as a biofilm.

Researchers Ribbeck and Frenkel isolated MUC5B (a type of mucin, not a governmental spy agency) and grew with the  S. mutans  bacteria over a tooth model. To ensure their results were down to the MUC5B they used a control group without the mucin; the pair found that the bacteria had not binded to the tooth model with the mucin-filled wells. The pair concluded that the MUC5B encases the S. mutans in a “3-D spider’s web” trapping the acids they secrete.[4]

Biological engineers are now constructing synthetic mucins to further investigate their properties. What would you reply if your dentist told you to eat your own bodily fluid to prevent cavities? Or perhaps in 20 years down the line your local Tesco or Asda will no longer stock Colgate but tubes of synthetic mucas.

It doesn’t stop there. Mucins have been argued to be a better alternative to antibiotics. As they don’t kill bacteria, but merely prevent the damage bacteria cause, they seem a much safer substitute as they wont kill the “helpful bacteria’”. The medical use of mucins has the future prosperity of avoiding dangerous strains from taking place, MRSA for example. As assistant professor Katharina Ribbeck said; it is just as important to “not necessarily resolve infection but to stabilise or prevent infection.” [4] Bacitracin or bogeys? Which would you decide to treat an ear infection?

Those with Bogyphobia (the fear of bogeys or the bogeyman)[5], such as Dr William Schaffner might argue that “we as humans ingest our nasal mucus all the time- day and night”. As often the wet mucus at the internal end of the nasal passage can be passed into our throats via cilia [6],thus there would be no reason to manually search for those golden nuggets of snot with a finger. However Dr. Joseph Mercola notes that society’s desire for cleanliness weakens our body’s immune systems due to little exposure to pathogens[6] – what is known as the “Hygiene Hypothesis”[7], first proposed in 1989 by Professor David Strachan. These pathogens are often caught in the dried mucus, consequently eating them would provide children with the primary immune response of lymphatic production; That again ,when exposed, would result in a much quicker secondary response.

As noted by Sidney Tarachow in his report –  in the Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 1966[8] –  on Coprophagia (the compulsive eating of bodily secretions) he said; “persons do eat nasal debris, and find it tasty, too!” In addition studies propose the addictive nature of Mucophagy[2] is due to the sweet taste, leading to you doing it again and again, thus giving yourself increased exposure to bacteria.

Although there is not nearly enough evidence into the immunological properties of mucins, there is sufficient data in its dental hygiene benefits. While I’m not suggesting you all turn to Rhinotillexomania [9](compulsive nose picking) to defend yourself against a respiratory infection. I propose keeping an open mind to the weird and wacky medical practices to come in the future, can in no way harm you. Nonetheless, if I have swayed you to feasting on your own delicacies for the health benefits, bon appétit!

P.S I do not eat my own bogeys anymore!

  1. Frenkle E.S and Ribbeck K (2015) “Salivary mucins protect surfaces from colonization by cariogenic bacteria.” – journal of Applied  and Environmental Microbiology. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25344244
  2. Wikipedia “Mucophagy ” [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eating_mucus
  3. Wikipedia “Streptococcus mutans” [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streptococcus_mutans
  4. Pandika M (2015) “The Goo That’s Good for Teeth” [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/the-goo-thats-good-for-teeth/37243
  5. Bogyphobia” [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.phobia.depression-guide.com/bogyphobia.html or http://www.phobiasource.com/bogyphobia-fear-of-bogeys-or-the-bogeyman/
  6. Smallwood k (2014) “IS EATING YOUR BOOGERS GOOD FOR YOU?”  [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/03/eating-boogers-healthy/
  7. NHS (2013) “Are we too clean for our own good?” [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/homehygiene/pages/are-we-too-clean-for-our-own-good.aspx
  8. Akhtar S (2009) “Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis” 58-59 [ONLINE] Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=L4GJBYraqWcC&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=sidney+tarachow+Coprophagia&source=bl&ots=xgv3YlPVg5&sig=RfDoRV6XBTxImsx81Ew4cIxtlJE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=D-kzVdi4B8_6aLu2gYgF&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=sidney%20tarachow%20Coprophagia&f=false
  9. Wikipedia Rhinotillexomania” [ONLINE] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nose-picking

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