Mucus, is it better to spit or swallow?
October 18, 2006 11:39 AM   Subscribe

When engaging in a high aerobic activity that causes mucus to build up, is it better to swallow the mucus or spit it out?

When I am doing things like mountain biking or running and I reach a certain point I start to generate a lot of mucus in my nose and throat. I generally just cough it up and spit it out. However, during my run yesterday it came to me that they may be some benefit to digesting it rather than disposing it.

I know mucus is primarily made up of mucin, water, cells, and inorganic salts. Knowing that, it seems it can't be worse to swallow it.

I was wondering if anyone had any opinions either way...other than the obvious gross factor.

Also, if anyone has an opinion to why I might be producing mucus only when I reach a higher anabolic state, I would appreciate it.

posted by birdlips to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Either is fine in my opinion. But if you have copious amounts, better to spit it out. Too much mucous in your belly might make you feel sick. Yuck. Mucous.
posted by LoriFLA at 12:06 PM on October 18, 2006

Interesting question. I am a distance runner and almost always spit.
posted by dead_ at 12:07 PM on October 18, 2006

I spit it out for the reason LoriFLA cites...
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on October 18, 2006

I have a similar problem. When I exercise strenuously, the mucus really starts going. I personally find it to be rude and gross to spit, so I swallow it. I have yet to die (or feel sick, or anything). What constitutes "a lot" of mucus in your nose and throat is completely different from what's "a lot" in your stomach. If you're seriously close to consuming a meal, you have something really wrong with you.
posted by Humanzee at 12:32 PM on October 18, 2006

Regardless, Humanzee, what's above is right - too much mucus in your stomach can make you sick. I vote for spit. Although please try and do it discretely.
posted by agregoli at 12:38 PM on October 18, 2006

I vote for spit. Another distance runner here and I find it takes a few breaths to catch up if I swallow the nastiness because the act of swallowing messes up my breathing rhythm. As an aside, when I do spit, it's while I am breathing out.
posted by toomuch at 1:54 PM on October 18, 2006

Spit. When you swallow mucus it coats the airway on the way down and is more likely to impair breathing and be coughed up again. When I was a kid my allergies were so bad that I had a perpetual sore throat from swallowing mucus and coughing it up again, until a doctor told me to start spitting.
posted by Manjusri at 2:17 PM on October 18, 2006

Mucus traps external antigens, like pollen, fungal spores and bacteria. The enzymes in mucus nutralize these threats. There is some evidence that our immune system learns what not to become sensitive to by exposure in the gut - i.e. by swallowing these potential antigens, you lessen the risk of becoming allergic to them. So swallow.
posted by gregor-e at 2:57 PM on October 18, 2006

too much mucus in your stomach can make you sick

Who says? In The Nose: A Profile of Sex, Beauty, and Survival by Gabrielle Glaser the claim is made that the average, healthy nose generates a quart of mucas every day -- and most of it goes down your throat, the back way.
posted by Rash at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2006

What Manjusri said. I'm also a distance runner and I spit / blow my nose 99% of the time. When you swallow mucus you coat your throat with it and don't get as good of an air-flow as you do with a clear throat.

But for health reasons, its probably not bad to swallow, I just do it for the most comfortable run.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:22 PM on October 18, 2006

Oh and BTW, I would imagine we produce more mucus when running b/c we're forcing a lot more air in and out, and that causes you to naturally produce additional mucus for the reasons gregor-e mentioned. I also find that when I do have a throat/mouthful of mucus, I'm more likely to catch a gnat or something like that in the back of my throat and have a chance at horking it up, whereas when I've just spit to clear the throat, chances are he's going down and I'm left to fight my gag reflex.

But I still spit.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:24 PM on October 18, 2006

It's not going to kill you, but I spit it out. If I don't my stomach eventually gets upset.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:51 PM on October 18, 2006

When you swallow mucus it coats the airway on the way down and is more likely to impair breathing and be coughed up again.

but it doesn't go down the airway, and you don't cough from your stomach. It comes up from the respiratory tract, and goes down the digestive tract.
And you swallow mucus constantly - every time you "swallow" when you're just sitting around, that is partly the immune system at work.

IME, it is less gross to swallow when exercising - spitting is rude to the people around you, esp if you are spitting onto the ground rather than into a sink or something. And I do not believe there are any potential health risks, or reasons you would feel sick (if you do I think you're just psyching yourself out).
posted by mdn at 7:34 PM on October 18, 2006

I was referring to upset stomach, not contracting a virus or bacterial infection
posted by LoriFLA at 8:48 AM on October 20, 2006

Who says?

Me, because I had bad allergies as a child and excess amounts of mucus in my stomach would make me throw up for hours at a time every few weeks. My allergist gave me this explanation. Sorry you're skeptical, but it happens.

And yes to LoriFLA.
posted by agregoli at 12:57 PM on October 20, 2006

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