Saliva, or spit as it’s known colloquially, has pretty incredible healing powers that the medical and scientific communities have known about for a long time. They just never knew exactly the reason why — until now.
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have provided some clarity after conducting a study that was published in the medical journal Blood, according to the online news source Slate.com.
Most people learn of the body’s innate healing abilities via saliva through very unscientific methods.
For instance, although your gums might be ravaged when you go to the dentist, they start healing soon after. You might also instinctively shove your finger into your mouth if it gets cut, and that might seem gross, but it’s actually a proven healing method that’s probably been ingrained in your DNA thanks to evolution.
The new study, which was led by Ole Sorensen, found that the white blood cells in saliva, especially morning saliva, have sticky, viscous “nets” that they can in essence lasso bacteria with and beat them into submission. In order to run the test they collected donations of morning saliva.
More saliva is produced during meals than any other time, the presence of which helps counteract the acid produced by bacteria. Yet morning saliva was required because it accumulates at night and builds up a large amount of these “nets” rather than getting instinctively swallowed.
The saliva that builds up overnight contains white blood cells, water, salt, dead cells, and the carbohydrate-coated protein mucin, which creates that extra sticky, stringy stuff you might be familiar with. When they separated the rest of the saliva from the protein-containing mucus and added white blood cells, they immediately released the nets.
They weren’t normal nets, though. In this case they were made through different steps than normal saliva production, which basically resulted in making them better protected against enzymes that would otherwise destroy them.
“The discovery that neutrophils release nets upon exposure to salivary mucins is novel and exciting,” says Jeremy Barr, a researcher at San Diego State University who discovered a separate immune system in human mucus and was not involved in the research. “This discovery suggests that the oral cavity is better adapted to protect against infection than we previously thought and may provide us new ways of combating oral diseases.”
Sure it’s a little sticky, a little gross, and maybe overall unpleasant, but the next time you wake up with a mouthful of your body’s miracle substance, appreciate it for what it’s really worth.