The human body plays by its own set of rules. Sometimes, things that seem like they should be good for health are actually pretty risky; brushing your teeth too soon after a meal, for example, can damage your enamel. But the reverse can also be true. Take nose-picking, for instance.
“Nose-picking is not done in polite society; it is in a class with nail-biting, ear-picking, sniffling and other mannerisms that simply are not done by the well-bred person,” wrote otolaryngologist Albert Seltzer, MD, back in 1963. “The well-bred person does not pick his nose; perhaps it would be more correct to state that people, even the most well-bred, ought not to pick their noses, but do, far too often.”
Well, things have changed since the 1960s. A wave of newer theories suggest surprising health benefits to digging for gold…provided you’re sure to eat your findings.
That’s not all. It turns out that lots of health trends are so counterintuitive even researchers who uncover the evidence are shocked. Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Sleeping in could be good for your waistline.
American culture is not kind to late risers. When you get your jog and your yoga and your fresh breakfast smoothie in before 7 a.m., you post about it on social media. When you sleep until noon, you just have another shameful secret.
We might have things all wrong, though. We know that adequate sleep is crucial for key quality-of-life factors, from emotional processing to the accretion of amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent study from King’s College London suggests that an extra 90 minutes of sleep can also help you avoid sugary foods, of all things. The late risers, as it turns out, might eat healthier, slimming diets.
The researchers found 21 adults who sleep less than the minimum recommended seven hours per night as a general rule. Then they gave them counseling to boost their sleep time by an average of 90 minutes per night. The subjects kept food journals for the week of the study, and so did the short-sleeping control group. The folks who carved out an extra 90 minutes of sleep also ate an average of 10 grams of sugar less than the control group.
Of course, you don’t have to sleep until noon to see these dietary benefits. You could always go to sleep 90 minutes earlier per night. But who’s that kind of responsible?
2. Saying “Thanks!” is more than just polite; it’s also good for you.
Folks who learn their please-and-thank-yous aren’t just easier to introduce to your grandmother. They could be happier, too.
That’s according to a slew of psychology studies surrounding the hot topic of gratitude. Rather than being grateful for your health after the fact, it seems that a bit of thankfulness might be just what you need to get healthy in the first place. A study from the Journal for Psychosomatic Research found that people who express more gratitude sleep better. Earlier research published in Personality and Individual Difference associated gratitude with “psychological well-being” in general. And a piece in the journal Emotion notes that grateful people are less impatient.
Now there’s something to be thankful for.
3. Cinnamon is good for flavor and weight control.
We tend to associate cinnamon with unhealthy foods. Sure enough, cinnamon buns and Red Hots and snickerdoodles aren’t going to do much for your waistline.
But cinnamon itself—or at least, the natural oil that gives the herb its flavor—might be the next big thing in the fight against obesity. That’s because a cinnamon oil called cinnamaldehyde is associated with metabolic changes that shrink fat cells.
The conclusion of the latest study on the subject, published in the journal Metabolism, is unequivocal. Cinnamaldehyde stimulates thermogenesis, a process by which adipocytes—a fancy name for fat cells—convert fatty acids into heat energy. In short, the fiery flavor of cinnamon heats up your cells by encouraging them to burn fat.
This finding probably won’t replace your exercise regimen. And the authors of the latest paper only studied the effects of cinnamaldehyde on free-range adipocytes, not within a functioning human body, so we’ll need more research before we can produce fat-burning cinnamon pills. Still, this is an exciting line of inquiry.
“Given the wide usage of cinnamon in the food industry, the notion that this popular food additive, instead of a drug, may activate thermogenesis could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies against obesity that are much better adhered to by participants,” wrote the authors of the Metabolism piece.
In the meantime, we’ll feel just fine adding an extra shake of cinnamon into our next latte.
4. Eating boogers is good for you.
It’s strange. Even the doctors who’ve said that mucophagy (the tidy medical term for picking your nose and eating your winnings) can be good for you don’t want to talk about it anymore.
We reached out to Scott Napper, PhD, a University of Saskatchewan biochemist who popularized the theory that boogers operate as a kind of self-vaccination when they reach the human gut. Napper has not responded to repeated interview requests at the time of this writing (we’ll update if he does get back to us).
Same thing with Austrian pulmonologist Friedrich Bischinger, who was widely quoted in a 2005 Ananova article with the attention-grabbing headline, “Top doc backs picking your nose and eating it.”
“With the finger you can get to places you just can’t reach with a handkerchief, keeping your nose far cleaner,” Bischinger reportedly told Ananova. “And eating the dry remains of what you pull out is a great way of strengthening the body’s immune system. Medically, it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system, the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines, it works just like a medicine.”
But repeated attempts to reach Bischinger for comment ended in failure. Could it be that these doctors don’t want to be associated with eating boogers for their entire careers? That’d be our guess.
Anyway, Spanish food scholar María Jesús Portalatín pulled together the scant research on the subject of mucophagy for her chapter in the academic volume Consuming the Inedible: Neglected Dimensions of Food Choice. Portalatín is very much onboard with the self-vaccination-by-booger theory.
“By eating mucus, after repeated contact ‘memory cells’ are more intensely stimulated and reinforced, which increases their effectiveness in recognising antigens,” Portalatín wrote. “As a result, the immune response is improved and becomes increasingly faster. As a matter of fact, nasal mucus facilitates contact with weakened or dead microorganisms, increasing their exposure to a greater portion of the mucosae … and, consequently, of the non-specific and specific immune system.”
In other words, boogers could function like the flu shot. They introduce weakened versions of the bugs that could later make you sick. With this exposure, your immune system gets some “training” on how to handle a new pathogen in your environment. Eating boogers could be the immune system’s version of updating your anti-virus software.
Then again, who knows? As the scholars who have published their findings on mucophagy and health will tell you, there needs to be much more scientific research. Somehow, this subject isn’t winning all the big grants, and it remains understudied.
5. Antibacterial soap is bad for everyone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not weighed in on the issue of booger-eating. But they do recommend what they call a “‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine,” and it is remarkably non-gross after the last subject we covered. Here’s the secret: Wash your hands.
But skip the antibacterial stuff, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“There isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter … antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water,” reports an FDA consumer update.
Even worse, the once-common antibacterial ingredient triclosan has been shown to mess with hormones in animals. It may also contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant “super bugs.”
Doctors are starting to take action to reduce unnecessary exposure to antibiotic substances, says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician and a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
“We’re starting to improve in what we call antibiotic stewardship, where physicians are becoming much more cognizant of the fact that we do not want to give unnecessary antibiotics because of their impact on the microbiome and the occurrence of certain diseases, which basically are microbiome diseases …” Adalja tells Urbo. “You definitely are seeing physicians become much more cognizant of the microbiome than they were 10 years ago. However, there’s still a whole lot of antibiotic use that needs to be curtailed.”
The FDA is doing their part to get rid of triclosan-containing soaps, at least in over-the-counter products. In 2013, the agency proposed a rule banning the marketing of soaps that contain most common antibacterial ingredients, including triclosan and triclocarban. Manufacturers had a chance to prove that these ingredients were, in fact, safe and effective. By 2016, the FDA reported that it hadn’t seen convincing proof. They issued the rule, giving companies one full year to comply.
There are still antibiotic soaps available, of course—there are always more chemicals to try. But when regular soap and water will do the trick, why experiment with powerful antiseptics?
If you’re really worried about getting sick, you could always try eating your boogers. We hear that’s pretty good for your immune system.