"Sometimes it's stinky. Sometimes it's crusty. And sometimes it's slimy.
But hey, it's your body," writes Sylvia Branzei, author of the book,
Grossology: The Science of Really Gross Things.
The book has become a cultural phenomenon, translated into Japanese, Korean,
Bulgarian, Spanish, and French. A Grossology museum exhibition is also
touring; it's an interactive biology lesson featuring boogers, burps, poop,
snot, scabs, spit, farts, and body odors.
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"I realized a long time ago that you have to get kids' attention, and
children have an affinity for disgusting stuff," says Branzei, who spent
many years as a science teacher (kindergarten through high school) in
"The goal is really to teach science, not gross anybody out,"
Branzei tells WebMD. "But the grossness is definitely the hook."
Farts, after all, are cool to kids. "So is poop," Branzei notes.
"I think I'm normal, but maybe not -- I always look at my poop. Yet one
woman told me she never looks at hers. The take-home lesson is that
what you excrete tells you whole lot about yourself and your diet. The color of
what you excrete is super important. My poop and snot probably look
different from other people's. People need a baseline ... they need to look at
their stuff, so they can tell when it changes."
The exhibit and book focus on "the everyday disgusting stuff," she
explains. "So it's the 'eeewww' factor combined with the 'this-is-familiar'
factor - so we can teach anatomy and physiology and health science. The hope is
that if they learn more about their bodies, then they'll be inclined to take
better care of themselves."
"It's totally like the Fear Factor TV show, but with biology
behind it," says Sharon Horesh, MD, instructor of clinical medicine at
Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "The best biology teacher
teaches you things you remember, and always answers the 'why' questions ... the
questions about biology that most people don't know the answers to."
"Puking is pretty important for your body," writes Branzei. "It
gets rid of the stuff that your body thinks could be dangerous to you. In fact,
throwing up is so important that there is part of the brain called the vomit
center that causes this uncontrollable act. Once the vomit center goes into
action, you cannot help but let loose."
Indeed, the act of vomiting has many triggers. It eliminates anything that
bothers the stomach's lining - excess food or drink, poisonous substances,
bacteria, or viruses. If your inner ear canal is unbalanced, as happens during
sailing and driving, the brain's vomit center gets an alert. Hormone changes
during early pregnancy trigger the vomit response. Anything unpleasant can
prompt you to vomit.
"Those are the natural reactions," Horesh says. "They're either
protective functions or body quirks."