Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mucous Membranes

So I've been working at Maxim for what is it... two months now. I think I could let you in on a little secret about me... I'm a bit of a nerd. If nerdiness could be quantified on a spectrum of mass, almost like the one shown below:

I think I would measure out as a beluga whale on the nerdiness scale.

Jerry Seinfeld is of course the equilibrium, because I doubt he plays World of Warcraft or live action role plays in his spare time, yet he definitely has the I-lock-myself-in-my-room-sometimes-to-read-Phillip-Pullman and the I-evaded-a-swirly-in-high-school-after-quoting-Camu vibe about him. I respect the guy, really.

I've never held a Magic card for more than 2 minutes, but my best friend was voted teacher's pet in the 12th grade superlatives and I am on a first name basis with a goodly number of librarians.

Point is: I took a clinical herbalism class and started caring about obscure things like home remedies for inflammation and chakras, but hey! Everybody's got to have their kicks in life right?

And another nerdy interest of mine is healing and understanding body systems.

So today, I present you with MUCOUS MEMBRANES! This post will be the first of two or three posts to introduce you to the functions and execution of mucous membranes in our bodies.

For those of you who think I'm talking about boogers, you're on the right track, but think deeper, think source and origins... Think:

Along the lining of the mouth (under your tongue, the back of your throat, behind your lower lip) there exists a constantly moist layer of mucous membranes. The interaction between the foreign particles and the membranes in your mouth will enable the activity of certain enzymes. For example, if you're munching on a pretzel, some carbohydrate and salt molecules will travel through the membranes in your mouth and signal the enzyme amylase to be released and begin the breakdown of carbohydrates into usable sugar particles that will eventually be converted to energy.

As you can see in this elegant photograph, your nose has hundreds of little hairs that capture bacteria and wayward particles that come into your nose. Your nose has a mucous membrane lining that will frequently release mucous to encase all of the foreign particles and make sure they don't pass through your mouth or your air track to your lungs.


Depicted above is a nice lady-eye that you may think is an expression of sadness, but this eye is actually utilizing an inherent defense system that cleanses the mucous membranes along your eyelids and releases stored toxins that would otherwise infiltrate the body and be processed by the immune system.

Windpipe + Lungs
Oxygen is one of the most necessary fuels for all of our metabolic systems. The way that it gets into our bloodstream is of course through our lungs, but I bet you didn't know that there was a mucous membrane working along the lining of your lungs to separate out the molecules that don't belong. The mucous that develops in your lungs during a cold is a result of your body's defense systems going a bit haywire and making sure that nothing harmful will get through into your blood system.

Stomach + Intestines

There is a mucous membrane lining in the stomach and intestines lined with cilia that will move nutrients and facilitate digestive processes.

The Ureters + Urethra + Urinary bladder
The uses of mucous membranes in this series of organs is complex and dynamic. See Mucous Membranes: Part II, for an explanation of mucous membrane function in the reproductive system.

What Do Mucous Membranes Do Exactly?

According to, "The moisture found in a mucous membrane acts to protect the body by creating a barrier and preventing the inside of the body from drying out. Mucus also traps pathogens, dirt, and particulate matter so that they can be sequestered and eliminated by the body. The nose is particularly famous for this, using mucus as a barrier between many harmful substances and the respiratory tract. Some sections of mucous membrane also have small hairs known as cilia which act as traps, and can move to push things across the surface of the membrane." When I consulted, they also had a concise explanation about the uses of mucous along the sensitive membranes in our bodies: "The nature of the cells forming a particular mucous membrane (or mucosa) reflects the specialized function at that site. All these functions are related in some way to interaction between the internal and external environments of the body: nutrition, gas exchange, excretion, or the intrusions and extrusions required for reproduction."

If you think about it, mucous membranes are really where all the magic happens. If your body doesn't roll out layers of protective mucous to protect your body or regulate what comes in from the outside world, we would be susceptible to any and all kinds of ailments and maladies. Our mucous membranes are semipermeable (think of them as filters) for a reason.

Sources Used

"What is a mucous membrane?" Wise Geek
"Internal Genital Organs" The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library
"Glossary" Diagnose Me


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