The Human Body: 35 Astonishing Human Body Facts – Part 6

21Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition

Humans are insanely good at seeing patterns. We see patterns in things we're not even supposed to, and we do it all the time. It's why we can see animals in clouds and faces of dead celebrities in malformed potato chips.

It's not just visual patterns we’re good at. One really interesting example of this is the ‘red flag’ phenomenon, where you just get a bad feeling about someone, even if you haven’t actually seen them do anything that warrants caution. In many cases, this red flag turns out to be right all along. That’s the pattern recognition in our brains going off. There may have been just something about the person that set off your internal alarms. Perhaps maybe you’ve subconsciously noticed similar expressions, speech patterns, behaviors, etc. in people who did actually turn out to be bad in the past. Your brain keeps extensive records of that sort of thing whether you're aware of it or not.

22Unconscious Decision Making

Unconscious Decision Making

Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, decision-making may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity. A team of scientists has unraveled how the brain actually unconsciously prepares our decisions. Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without the involvement of our consciousness. This prevents our minds from being overloaded by simple routine tasks.

23Strength Training

Strength Training

The need for resistance training for muscle growth is mostly a human trait. With appropriate genes, simply growing muscle without the training is not only possible, but takes fewer calories, so it is much more efficient and preferable by other species.

Exercise for the sake of exercise burns up a lot of calories which in other animals is best preserved for acquiring food, reproducing, etc. Humans engage in muscle building as a result of our societal evolution from that of hunter-gatherers where we were just like other animals of today. Division of labor has made food acquisition the least of our worries. So, we now have dedicated plenty of time and resources to working out to impress people (or most likely ourselves).

24Traveler’s Diarrhea

Traveler’s Diarrhea

In countries with poor access to clean water, a lot of people suffer from water-borne diseases, and this leads to substantial morbidity and mortality, especially in young children. Healthy adults, however, in these countries have higher resistance to some pathogens compared to people who grew up in countries that have easy access to clean water, which explains traveler’s diarrhea.

25Preventing Tooth Decay

Preventing Tooth Decay

Bacteria floating around in your mouth by and themselves are not strong enough to get through your enamel (hardest outer layer of the tooth), but when bacteria are left around long enough they begin to stick together to form a biofilm. This starts as a soft biofilm called plaque. Brushing your teeth or scraping it will remove this soft biofilm without much effort. In left untouched, this soft plaque begins to strengthen and hardens into tartar.

Tarter is solid and no matter how hard you brush, it will not come off. That’s why dentists scrape it off with special instruments. This is the reason why tooth decay can’t be prevented just chemically (mouthwash), it has to be addressed mechanically (brushing/flossing). Mouthwash is not a rip-off though, it’s just more supplemental. For an average person, fluoride mouthwash is best unless your dentist says otherwise.

26Cancer Cells

Cancer Cells

Cancer cells are the result of mutations that disable the mechanisms that keep cell growth in check. Those mutations come from incorrect repairs to cell DNA, and those errors happen more frequently the more repairs take place. If the body is forced to do repairs often and faster (e.g. for smokers), it will make more mistakes.

The human body already has a number of ways to deal with cancer though. Cancer cells are produced in the body all the time but those cells have mechanisms in place to kill themselves if they become cancerous or they are obliterated by the immune system. It needs to get past both of those things and start reproducing out of control to become an issue.

27Post-Workout Delayed Soreness

Post-Workout Delayed Soreness

Any intense activity that you are not used to can cause delayed onset muscle soreness. It does not hurt right after a workout but hurts usually a day later when you move the affected muscle. The current scientific consensus is that your nerves are actually responsible for this. Intense activity results in microscopic damage to the muscles, which is not intense enough to cause pain right away. The repair process of this damage involves some inflammation and immune cells, so to call them the muscle produces some signal chemicals and molecules that initiate repair. This also makes the neurons that innervate the muscles to become more sensitive to movement.

This does not happen that fast though (it takes time to make new proteins). Thus you are not sore right away because it’s not the neurons sensing damage but them becoming more sensitive to movement. This makes you move your muscles a bit less so that they can heal.

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28Bladder Control in Kids

Bladder Control in Kids

During the first three years of human life, bladder storage capacity increases disproportionately relative to body surface area. By four years of age, most children void five to six times per day. Development of bladder control appears to be a progressive maturation whereby the child first becomes aware of bladder filling, then develops the ability to suppress voiding involuntarily, and, finally, learns to coordinate muscles necessary to void voluntarily.

These skills usually are achieved, at least during the day, by approximately four years of age. Nighttime bladder control is achieved months to years after daytime control but is not expected until five to seven years of age.

29Involuntary Emotions

Involuntary Emotions

There’s a reason it is difficult to sometimes suppress laughter or a smile. Facial expressions are closely linked to emotions. It is thought that the purpose of facial expressions is to convey emotions within a social group. Studies have shown that the link goes both ways, i.e., being happy can make you smile, and forcing yourself to smile can make you happier, which reinforces the idea that feeling emotions and exhibiting their signs are closely linked.

Emotions aren't entirely involuntary, but strong emotional reactions that are triggered by an external stimulus can be hard to override, i.e., controlling the physical manifestations of your emotional responses partly involves controlling the emotions themselves.

To add to this, emotional smiling and voluntary smiling (controlling facial muscles) are controlled by different centers in your brain. Researchers have observed that some people who have lost the ability to smile voluntarily because of a brain lesion can still smile due to an emotional stimulus that is not voluntary.

30Why Do Humans Have Allergies?

Why Do Humans Have Allergies?

Allergies are caused by your immune system reacting to specific molecules. The human immune system has several varieties of antibodies (the parts that detect pathogens and cause immune reactions). There are five in fact: IgA, IgD, IgE, IgG, and IgM. IgE is the antibody that is associated with allergies (an overreaction by this antibody).

Interestingly, IgE is only found in mammals, making it ‘young’ (on the evolutionary timeline) compared to those found in fish, reptiles, and insects. Part of the theory behind allergies considers that IgE is ‘new’, its cutting edge, and could be considered a work-in-progress (in evolutionary terms).

Interestingly, IgE also fights intestinal worms, so some experts believe that parasitic worms (Helminths) are necessary for the immune system to properly regulate itself, as we humans evolved alongside them. The parasite reduces the amount of IgE in the body to stop the body from attacking itself. There are ongoing tests, where doctors are trying to treat immune disorders (such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and psoriasis), and common allergies (such as hayfever) with parasites. Results have been fairly hopeful.

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