This I Have Learned …

Mary Jo Bellner Swartzberg

The other day I was filling my pepper shaker, and all of a sudden, a series of sneezes derailed me. This, of course, prompted the need to find out just why we sneeze after sniffing pepper, which led to a series of “why we” ponderings. To-wit:

Ever Wonder Why We:

• Sneeze after smelling pepper?

Pepper, be it white, black, or green, contains an alkaloid of pyridine called piperine. Piperine acts as an irritant if it gets into the nose. It stimulates (or irritates) the nerve endings inside the mucous membrane. This stimulation will cause you to sneeze.

• Wrinkle as we age?

As you get older, your skin naturally becomes less elastic and more fragile. Decreased production of natural oils dries your skin and makes it appear more wrinkled. Fat in the deeper layers of your skin diminishes. This causes loose, saggy skin and more-pronounced lines and crevices.

• Are stiff when we wake up in the morning?

Scientists have discovered that we wake up stiff and achy because our body’s natural ibuprofen has not kicked in yet. As day darkens into night, the circadian clocks in joint tissue suppress inflammation and also the body’s production of anti-inflammatory proteins, our natural pain-dampeners.

• Lose our balance as we age?

Most adults don’t think about their balance until they fall. The fact is, balance decline begin somewhere between 40 to 50 years of age. The National Institutes of Health reports that one in three people older than 65 will experience a fall each year.

• Pucker our face when we taste a freshly cut lemon?

So, if sour foods are tasty and good for us, why do lemons make humans pucker up? “That wrinkling up of the face is some kind of a rejection response,” Paul Breslin, Ph.D., said, “or a signaling response to ourselves and others.” Scientists can speculate as to what that signal might be, but they don’t know for sure.

• Like to cut coupons?

For some people, couponing is a way of life. It’s a simple and easy way to save money on the grocery bill and put that hard-earned cash to use somewhere else—like saving up for your next family vacation. And for others, it’s just a great way to save a dollar or two on something they were already in the market for.

• Cry at a sad movie?

We cry during movies because the brain releases oxytocin, which heightens our responses to the things around us. Researchers at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands discovered that viewers who cried during a sad movie felt more relaxed afterward.

• Love the holidays?

Everyday life is stressful and full of uncertainty. Having a special time of the year when we know exactly what to do, the way we’ve always done it, provides a comfortable sense of structure, control, and stability. From reciting blessings to raising a glass to make a toast, holiday traditions are replete with rituals.

This I have learned …

Enjoy the holidays and have a Happy New Year!