The Odd Body Explained

Ankles that have lost a bit of definition over the years and appear to merge with the calf (hence the hybrid word) might actually improve your health profile, as long as you're not seriously overweight. Fat stored in the intra-abdominal region -- in and around the organs -- correlates highly with metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes; fat in the legs is least linked with these maladies.

Wendy Kohrt, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, found that postmenopausal women who had a relatively high level of leg fat (as opposed to abdominal fat) had lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Leg fat, she explains, may protect postmenopausal women by drawing triglycerides out of the bloodstream, where they constitute a risk factor, and into fat deposits in the legs and, possibly, cankles. Her findings suggest that removing lower-body fat cells -- by liposuction, say -- may not be a good idea: Women who do may begin to add weight to fat cells in the more dangerous midriff zone, she suspects.

12. How could chewing sugarless gum and eating cheese prevent cavities?

Every time you eat, bacteria in your mouth react chemically with the food and introduce an organic acid that can cause tooth decay. By dislodging food, rinsing teeth, and diluting acid, saliva counters this process. The key is to keep it flowing, which is where chewing gum -- or at least chewing -- comes in.

"We showed that the simple mechanical act of chewing stimulates salivary flow," says James Wefel, PhD, director of the Dows Institute for Dental Research.

As for cheese, its fats may act as a protective barrier for the teeth; it also contains calcium and phosphate, which may discourage decay and strengthen teeth. What this all means to you: Limit between-meal nibbles, thereby reducing the number of acid exposures. Chew sugarless gum after meals. Or do like the French and finish your meal with a few pieces of cheese.


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13. Why does your side hurt sometimes when you laugh really hard?

Two classic causes of a "side stitch" are running and prolonged laughter. Those activities have at least one thing in common: exertion of the diaphragm.

"When you laugh really hard, you're sucking in a lot of air, which fills the lungs and pushes down on the diaphragm while the abdominal muscles are also contracting and pushing up on the diaphragm," explains Robert Gotlin, DO, a sports physician at Beth Israel Medical Center and former director of orthopedic rehab with the New York Knicks. All of which, of course, happens scores of times each minute when you're howling. The repeated compression can produce a muscle spasm that we all know as a stitch.

"Sometimes when you laugh a lot, you get a pain in your right arm as well as the side stitch. That's because the nerve that supplies the diaphragm also goes to the right shoulder," he says.

So, in addition to busting your gut, a hearty laugh can mistakenly make you think you're having a heart attack. Try breaking the rapid cycle of diaphragm punishment that we call laughter by slow, deep breathing between fits of hysteria. And avoid eating big meals, which draw blood to the stomach, before settling in for an evening of 30 Rock reruns.


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Curious About Your Other Body Oddities?

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