What comes to your mind when you think of mucus?
Let me guess… Phlegm? Catarrh? Blowing out your nostrils? Allergies?
Well, you aren’t wrong.
When mucus is produced in excess, it could be very unpleasant. A stuffy, runny nose is a classic example of how uncomfortable excess mucus could feel.
But the truth is this: Mucus is an essential part of your everyday life. As a matter of fact, without the special functions of mucus, your body would work less effectively. You would also definitely be down with one illness or the other.
To emphasize how important it is, your body actually produces about 1- 1.5 litres of this sticky, slimy fluid, every day. That’s a whole lot, right?
In this article, we would be looking at ways mucus helps our bodies stay healthy. But before we dive in, let me explain what makes up mucus.
What makes up mucus?
Mucus is made up of water, salts and a special protein called mucin. It is secreted by distinctive cells that are present in many parts of our bodies especially those lining the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems.
You may ask: Why then does your body produce this slippery fluid in high quantities every day?
The answer is simple: Many systems and organs need it carry out their functions properly.
Let’s look at 3 vital functions of mucus in our bodies.
3 special ways mucus helps our bodies stay healthy:
1. It acts as a defensive mechanical barrier.
Mucus serves as a barrier in certain organs in the body, protecting delicate structures from harm. A classic example can be found in the stomach.
If you never knew, your stomach secretes and contains a very strong acid, called Hydrochloric acid. It is actually very corrosive. This feature makes digestion relatively easy. The acid helps in breaking down several foods and protect against an invasion by germs.
When scientists ran some experiments, they found out that the Hydrochloric acid in our stomachs is able to dissolve razor blades.
The acid is well able to destroy and digest the stomach wall that secretes it, just as it does with the razor blades. But that’s where mucus comes in.
The stomach wall produces a thick mucus that serves as a mechanical barrier, protecting it from this very corrosive acid it also secretes. If this mucus layer is depleted, the acid may burn and damage the stomach wall, leading to what we call ‘ulcers’.
Sometimes if the mucus layer is chronically depleted and the ulcers are further burned up, blood vessels may be involved, leading to an internal bleed and many times bright red or black colored stools.
2. It helps in fighting infections.
Mucus helps us fight infections. It contains antibodies, vital proteins and enzymes that help protect the body from germs.
Mucus production is an important defensive system the body deploys when faced with an irritant or an infective micro-organism. The respiratory system is a classic example of this kind of protective protocol.
When faced with a viral infection, the body’s immune system makes the linings of the respiratory system secrete mucus which helps to fight off the effect of the infection and trap dangerous particles from going into the lungs.
3. It serves as a lubricant.
Just as oil helps engines stay efficient, mucus helps parts of our bodies stay efficient. It serves as a lubricant in many body systems by reducing friction and preventing the linings of many organs from drying out.
For example, mucus is produced in many parts of the digestive system. Mucus aids the passage of food we have eaten by coating it and ensuring it flows through with minimal friction and a high efficiency. This is why we have small amounts of mucus in our stools.
The mucus in the eyes lubricates the eyes when we blink. The average person blinks about 15,000 times every day. Imagine if we had to do that without any form of lubrication, blinking would be quite difficult.
When in excess, mucus can be quite annoying and uncomfortable. However, its presence is very necessary and helps the body stay healthy.
It serves as a lubricant, a mechanical defensive barrier and as a part of our immune system’s all-important fight against germs.