It’s sad to say that I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but to be fair, I live with two cats and a dog. So, for those of you out there without animals, that’s like living with a two-headed baby version of the girl from The Exorcist. Head spins and everything. True story.
- Looks cute, but that’s a veritable shit storm waiting to happen
To be perfectly honest, I’m a little amazed that this has never crossed my mind before. Think of it this way: I’ve grown up around animals (that probably ralphed), I now have some of my own (that definitely ralph), I know I’ve had my own bouts (drunken and non-drunken ralph), I know the mister has, too (sorry, dude, but you can’t deny the ralph), and NOW I’m suddenly wondering how the magic happens?
Well I will live in ignorance no more, my friends. The magical mystery tour of the secrets of the body’s puke mechanism (I’m fairly certain that’s the scientific term) is boarding right… now.
First things first, it’s important to clarify exactly what I’m trying to understand. I want to know what basic mechanisms occur within a body that allow it remove a perceived threat from it’s system via the process of barfing. Oh, yeah, this is going to be real science-y, y’all. I’m not looking to understand the gag reflex in and of itself, nor am I looking to understand how emetics work (or bulimics for that matter). I want to know the basic, I consumed something icky and it didn’t agree with me and now it’s a-comin’ back up. Yeah, totally gross. But gross for science so it’s ok.
I wanted to make sure I got my facts straight so I, of course, went to Wikipedia first. Just to be super safe, I also checked some other websites and YouTube. This info’s gotta be sound as a pound, right?
Here’s what I learned:
Food/poison/shoes/whatever goes in (through the mouthal region, just in case you weren’t sure). The esophagus muscle contracts to force the food/poison/shoes/whatever towards the stomach. Stomach goes, “Ew.”
Here’s where things start to get fun: The 4th ventricle of the brain (a cerebrospinal fluid filled cavity located next to the medulla) contains receptors that, when tickled, act as a trigger zone for the process of vomiting.
The 4th ventricle sets off a series of reactions that include: increased salivation (to protect tooth enamel) and deep breath (to avoid aspirating vomit). Sounds nice, right? The 4th ventricle is trying to protect us, right? No! That B just makes you think it’s helping and then starts this shizz: retroperistalsis. That’s when the small intestine gets all contract-y and pushes all of the contents of the digestive tract into the stomach, through a “relaxed” pyloric sphincter. Gross!
The good times continue with the first actual phase of vomiting: retching! Abdominal muscles contract and intrathoracic (fancy word for “inside the chest”) pressure lowers causing stomach contents to propel, nay LAUNCH, into the esophagus (cause the esophagus just rolls over, plays dead, and relaxes it’s lower sphincter. Way to go, esophagus).
But wait, there’s more! The second (and luckily last) phase of vomiting is expulsion. Expulsion is when the upper esophageal sphincter relaxes and the stomach and intestinal contents are expelled. Did you catch that the esophagus has two sphincters (heh heh, sphincters), both of which just lame out at the first sign of stress? Bonus, the expulsion act causes horrible pig sweats and increased heart rate. On the flipside, though, once the ordeal is over, the relief of pressure and release of endorphins makes you think it wasn’t so bad after all. You’re wrong, but hey, at least your done puking.
- They may think that’s a demon coming out, but really it’s just lunch.
If you’d like to learn more (you probably don’t), here are the sites I used:
http://www.umm.edu/ency/article/003117.htm (same info as nlm.nih.gov)