The benefits of digging for gold

Joshua Pickering

Long over the social faux-pas, Scott Napper teaches his students the health benefits of picking their nose.

Long over the social faux-pas, Scott Napper teaches his students the health benefits of picking their nose.

Have you ever seen someone pick their nose and eat it? Gross, right?

Maybe not. Digging for gold and treating yourself to the nose treasures may not be so bad after all.

According to Scott Napper, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan, there may be some legitimate health benefits to eating boogers.

In his biomedical sciences course, Napper explains that consuming nasal mucous, commonly known as boogers, may benefit the immune system.

“There is a theory that by consuming [boogers or snot] you may expose your immune system to microbes captured in the mucous,” Napper said.

“This opportunity for the immune system to encounter environmental microbes could enable better immune responses against potential pathogens.”

Mucophagy — consuming mucous — enables our immune responses to become accustomed to germs. For children with a developing immune system, this can be a great opportunity to strengthen the immune system against common pathogens.

Napper says there may also be a biological incentive to do it, since our mucous contains a lot of sugar, and therefore has a sweet taste.

“Don’t you pretend you don’t know,” he said, alluding to the fact that basically everyone — at some point — has tasted their own boogers.

That sweetness may be a retained evolutionary trait. When we suspend our cultural norms about nose etiquette, perhaps children are making the correct and possibly instinctual response.

Napper’s in-class comments were more tongue-in-cheek than finger-in-nose.

“I like to encourage my students to think about science from unconventional perspectives, to learn how to ask a scientific question then to seek out the answer.”

Although there may be health benefits to mucophagy, Napper warns that one should not be overly aggressive when digging for “nose nuggets.”

“If you start to smell burnt toast, or get in to the second knuckle, you’ve probably gone too far.”


Photo: Raisa Pezderic/Photo Editor