In researching strange facts about the human body, I stumbled on one that I knew about but wasn’t sure it was widespread knowledge. Humans — you and I — actually shed our skin. Now, our shedding is not done in the same manner as a snake sheds its skin, which typically comes off in one large piece. Could you imagine how that would look on the streets?
No, our shedding is less obvious but has a great purpose. It is actually a protective measure against diseases. We shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour, which works out to be about 1.5 pounds of skin per year, or 105 pounds of skin by the time you reach age 70!
In brief, our skin is actually food to various fungi, bacteria, parasites and worms. If we didn’t shed it, we would succumb to a host of infections from these creatures. While the idea that we shed quite a bit of skin may sound a bit disgusting, that shedding really does provide a solid protection against a plethora of diseases.
Of course, there will always be unusual cases such as athlete’s foot, which is a skin problem related to a lack of shed particles. However, take comfort in knowing that because of the shedding activity over our entire body, we are not prone to acquiring “athlete’s foot” over our entire being.
Another health benefit of shed skin cells is that it helps reduce indoor air pollution. A study in Environmental Science and Technology found that the oil in those shed skin cells actually reduces levels of ozone, which is a pollutant that irritates the eyes, nose and throat. According to scientists from the American Chemical Society, the oils contain cholesterol and “squalene” — an element that plays a central role “in oxidation chemistry within indoor environments.” Basically, this means it removes toxins from our breathing environment. A recent study on the positive effects of squalene found that it had the potential to reduce indoor ozone levels by up to 15 percent.
For those suffering from asthma and other breathing disorders, this can be an amazing benefit for our dead skin cells. However, there may be greater uses for squalene as researchers continue their quest to find out the best clinical uses. Squalene is actually found in more places than just the human skin. It is widely known as a derivative of shark liver and has been known to relieve pain from arthritis and joint inflammation. Recent studies have found that it also helps fight disease by boosting the immune system.
Squalene is more common that you think as it is found in olive oil, palm oil, rice bran and wheat germ. The most common concentrations today are found in supplemental products, which are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration. Regardless, studies have found that, in some people, it can stimulate the immune system to work more effectively.
Before you think you have found a quick fix for combating diseases, do your research. Talk with your primary care physician before embarking on a daily regimen of squalene. Remember, more research is underway to determine its long-term effects and potential benefits for human beings.
Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.