You see your favourite food and exclaim – waah, mooh mein pani aa gaya! Ever wondered about this pani – what exactly it is and where does it come from? This very modest but extremely precious pani is nothing but the saliva inside the mouth, a thick, colourless liquid secreted by the salivary glands.
Before I jump onto the scientific information, let me share some basic facts about saliva, and what is the reason that actually makes it a wonder thing. Saliva is made up of 98% of water and the other 2% consists of components like electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds, other enzymes, proteins, salts and buffering agents that help keep apt pH levels. The water that forms a major part of saliva comes from the blood and it is due to the mucus that the saliva attains its glossy appearance and thick texture. It will be difficult to believe, but the truth is unless our food is mixed with saliva, it cannot be digested!
Some other useful and protective aspects of saliva are :
•Saliva, and not just the taste buds, helps us to taste and enjoy our food, and this is proved by scientists and researchers. It is said that if you keep a strong tasting substance like salt on a dry tongue, the taste buds alone will not be able to taste it. However, when a drop of saliva is added to it, salt gets dissolved and results in a taste sensation!
•It is due to the enzyme ‘ptyalin’, also called salivary amylase in the saliva, that the digestion of the starch into a sugar called maltose takes place. The maltose gets further broken into glucose molecules in the small intestine.
•Saliva keeps a check on the correct amount of water in our bodies. Drying of mouth when we are dehydrated happens due to less production of saliva, which is an automatic indication for us to drink more water!
•Chemicals like lysozyme, lactoferrin, peroxidase and immunoglobulin A are found in saliva which help fight bacteria.
•Saliva has sodium bicarbonate that helps to neutralize acids in foods and drinks, which are otherwise harmful to the tooth enamel.
•Saliva washes away food particles, dead cells and bacteria in the mouth and thus reduces tooth infections and decays.
•Keeping the mouth moist, to help the tongue and lips make speech sounds and lubricating the food, so it is easy to swallow, are also some of the things that fall in the everyday to-do list of saliva! In addition to this, preventing the swallowed food from damaging the wall of oesophagus, is also done by saliva.
Now, coming to the more scientific terms – ‘submandibular glands (submaxillary glands)’, ‘parotid glands’ and ‘sublingual glands’ are the three main pairs of salivary glands which help in the production of saliva. Out of these three, parotid glands are the largest. Besides these, there are also about 600-1000 minor salivary glands that are placed in the mouth, throat and lips alongwith tubes called the ‘salivary ducts’ that help the saliva to leave the glands.
Submandibular glands – two in number and are located under the floor of the mouth. Responsible for producing a liquid mixture that consists of water and mucus.
Parotid glands – one each located in each cheek, front of the ear. Responsible for producing a watery liquid containing proteins.
Sublingual glands – two in number and are located under the tongue, in front of the submandibular glands. Responsible for producing liquid containing more mucus than the secretions of other glands.
In a day, the average saliva production ranges from 500 ml to 1000 ml in which 70% is produced by the submandibular glands followed by parotid glands which produce 25% and the remaining 5% is produced by the sublingual glands. The salivary glands continuously keep on releasing saliva, but the amount can vary during the day. The highest volume of saliva is produced before, during and after meals, reaching a peak at about 12 a.m. The production lowers down when we go to sleep in the night. Also, the reason of bad breath early morning is due to the fact that less saliva is made while we sleep as compared to when we are awake. Various other reasons can also affect the quantity of saliva production like nature of the food (spicy, sour, acidic foods), smell of the food, chewing, drugs, hormonal status, age, hereditary, oral hygiene and physical exercises.
Have you ever thought that why is it advisable to drink water sip-by-sip? Well, it has a very salivacious answer – the reason is – saliva, when mixed with water and had, helps neutralising the acidity in the stomach. Thus, you drink water sip-by-sip, move it in the mouth so that it mixes with the saliva in the mouth and then gulp it down. This is the best way you can keep your digestion process under control – seen animals and birds doing the same, and being much healthier than humans? I am sure we all can learn these nitty-grittys to stay fit from the nature around us!
Also, saliva happens to be the world’s best medicine. Again, take a look at the nature around us – animals, when they are injured, they treat that injury with their saliva itself by licking that injured area. Such is the medicinal quality of saliva! Same is the case with human saliva. Infact, the early morning saliva is the most powerful. To test – spit the early morning saliva on an insect, and watch it die! It is also advised that we should swallow the early morning saliva with lukewarm water so that all its medicinal properties are taken by the human body.
Apart from these highly useful features of the human saliva, the nature has provided some animals with such saliva that act as defence mechanisms for them. For instance, take the venomous reptiles and insects possessing poisonous saliva that is potent to such an extent, that it can not only kill their preys but also become super medicines for humans and treat some deadly diseases! Surprisingly, some bird species have a sticky saliva that help them build their nests. Such a saliva acts like a glue and helps stick materials together. Then there are some species, which make their nests completely of saliva as it hardens when comes in contact with air. These types of nests form the main ingredient of the ‘Bird’s Nest Soup’ which is a popular delicacy in many Asian countries. For obvious reasons, this particular dish is a pretty expensive affair and is made by washing the bird’s nest first and then cooking it in chicken or other broths to give it a taste. The nest forms a gelatinous texture when added to water and is said to have many health benefits. Still haven’t had the opportunity to try one, but I would definitely want to give it a shot if given a chance sometime!
By now, all that I’m trying to zero down on to is to tell you about the helpful nature of our very own dear saliva. There lies a major concern in doing this – whichever corner of India I travel to, I see Indians spitting away to glory and wasting this valuable medicine. To put it in numbers, its totally devastating to know that 125 crore Indians indulge in spitting and they actually don’t know what they are throwing away! And this business of spitting relentlessly occurs more with people who chew on tobacco, guthka and other such products. Doctors also say that they are spitting life’s most precious thing. By spitting, such people are not only spoiling the roads and environment, but also spoiling themselves; and to be honest it is quite a shame! According to doctors, the only condition when one can spit is when one has extreme cough, and in no other circumstance. And while doing so as well, make sure that you do it in the wash basins and not anywhere on the roads or where you wish to! Spitting can also be checked by eating paans minus the kattha and consuming them only with chuna (calcium). This calcium not just saves us from spitting and wasting the worthy saliva but also has its own wonders for the body. I’ve already written at length about the benefits of paan as well as calcium in my previous blogs, you can always refer to them to get a connecting link…
Last but not the least, it is very rightly said that whatever is required by the human body for its survival is supplied free of cost by God! So, why not use it wisely and live a healthier and a happier life.
Let’s all of us together, SOS (Save Our Spits)!