Spit, drool, dribble... Have you ever felt revulsion at a bubble of spittle?
It may be time to rethink your view of humble saliva.
Researchers from the Pasteur Institute of Paris have found that a compound in saliva, Opiorphin, is six times more effective at killing pain than morphine. Without the addictive side effects. Researchers also think opiorphin could work as an anti-depressant.
So, what else can saliva do?
You have probably noticed that wounds in your mouth heal much faster than those on the more arid parts of the body. In 2008, scientists from The Netherlands identified a compound found in human saliva, histatin, to be responsible for healing.
Beyond the previously known anti-bacterial properties of the compound, histatin was found to actually accelerate wound closure.
This may not make you as weird as you think.
The potential of this finding is enormous. The compounds can be mass produced: they could become commonplace. The cell regenerating ability of saliva can also be applied to every-day personal care to enhance your beauty. Anti-bacterial, anti-microbial agents contained in saliva can reduce the appearance of acne and scars.
It can even brighten your eyes.
Containing precious minerals such as bicarbonate and potassium, it acts as a lubricant for dry peepers. This particular use was reported by the Roman naturalist, author and philosopher, Pliny the Elder; he recommended the use of a fasting woman’s saliva as a cure for bloodshot eyes. Perhaps just wait a while after your vindaloo to try this one out though!
This is all very exciting, but care must be taken. Saliva also contains bacterium. While harmless in the mouth, they may lead to infection if applied elsewhere. A noteworthy case is that of a diabetic man who indulged in the licking of a bleeding thumb, following a bicycle accident.
Regrettably, the thumb became infected with the grisly sounding bacteria Eikenella corrodens, and had to be amputated. Those with autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, HIV and some cancers, must take extra care not to contaminate their blood.
Perhaps the most obvious use of this amazing liquid is its function in aiding digestion. It has been known since the 19th Century, at the latest, to contain Amylase and Proteases. These enzymes aid with digestion, breaking down most starches before they reach the belly! Saliva also binds food in a slippery suspension, aiding smooth passage down the oesophagus.
Taste differentiation essential to survival is enabled by the solubilisation of food particles. And, the constant flushing of the mouth by saliva results in reduced populations of bacteria.
An allure - and a vaccination?
Saliva can also play a part in the bedroom. Aside from its lubricative properties, it has a role in mate-selection and can be used to raise libido. Trace-levels of testosterone are present in male saliva.
According to evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup of the University of Albany, saliva exchange via frequent kissing may result in the gradual elevation of a female’s testosterone levels, increasing her libido.
His studies show that men prefer long, wet kisses, and use kissing to initiate sexual activity. Kissing is also used as an assessment of mate suitability; saliva can reveal a lot about general health and genetic make-up.
The intimate exchanging of saliva is not limited to lovers. Instead of washing a baby’s fallen dummy, some parents simply suck away any nastiness before popping it back into their infant’s mouths. But, hold your judgements right there!
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg have found that children receiving a sucked-clean dummy are less likely to suffer eczema, asthma and allergies.
Some people actually earn a living off an illegal saliva trade. It seems virtually anything can be traded in South Africa. Saliva is no exception. Tuberculosis-riddled spit dealers sneak into health clinics to snatch bottles intended for samples.
They spit inside the containers, selling their saliva for up to nearly $10 a bottle. Buyers hand in the contaminated samples at clinics to procure a false diagnosis which legitimises them for a monthly disability grant.
On the flip side, saliva can also aid in the resolution of crimes. It holds the secrets of your whole genetic blueprint: DNA. It can be frozen, with negligible molecular damage, which allows it to be easily transported for analysis.
Blown away by the power of your saliva?
One more thing about this painkilling, wound-healing, eye-brightening, lubricating, digestion-aiding, libido-raising, inoculating, crime-solving, life-saving liquid...
Introverts have been theorised to salivate more. The part of the brain responsible for social behaviour is more active in introverts. This same part of the brain is associated with quantity of saliva.
So, when your introverted friend slowly backs away, gently salivating, chances are their brain is just excited. They probably aren’t thinking of giving you a nibble. Much.
How Does Saliva Work?