What’s Inside Your Belly Button

October 9, 2019 0 By William Morgan


Near the turn of this century,
scientist Georg Steinhauser had a problem.
He was fascinated by the question:
Why do some belly buttons
collect more lint than others?
But no one knew the answer.
So for three years
he collected his own
belly-button lint to find out.
And after interviewing friends
and analyzing 503 of his own samples,
Steinhauser discovered
the culprit: stomach hair.
It scratches off tiny T-shirt fibers
and directs them towards the belly button.
So that might be one mystery solved,
but lint isn’t the only thing
inside these bizarre human crevices.
Your belly button is a
scar, your very first one.
It forms when a doctor
snips your umbilical cord,
and, depending on how it heals,
you could have an outie
or, more likely, an innie.
And innies are ripe for colonization,
not only by lint, hair,
and dead skin cells,
but also by bacteria.
In one study, 60 volunteers
swabbed their belly buttons.
Researchers then analyzed the samples
and found more than
2,300 kinds of bacteria.
That’s an average of 67
different kinds per belly button.
Now, many of those microbes
aren’t unique to belly buttons,
like staphylococcus, which
can lead to staph infections.
It shows up in noses, throats, hair,
and, yes, even belly buttons.
But the researchers also
discovered other bacteria
never before seen on human skin,
like marimonas, which scientists
had previously only seen in the ocean.
And they even found bacteria
that chefs use to make cheese,
and, yes, somebody did exactly that.
She grew the belly-button
bacteria in a petri dish
and then added it to milk.
Sure enough, after a few hours,
the milk curdled into cheese.
Belly-button Brie, anyone?
Now, for the most part,
the microbes in your navel are harmless.
In fact, recent studies suggest
that bacteria on your body may strengthen
your skin’s defense system,
but if you never clean your belly button,
they’ll grow unencumbered,
and that can be a problem.
The best-case scenario is that
your belly button will start to smell.
When common navel microbes,
like corynebacterium, build up,
they emit pungent odors,
similar to body odor.
But the worst case is that
your navel will get infected,
not just by staph but also by microbes
that cause strep throat
and yeast infections.
That’s right, you can
get a yeast infection
in your belly button, which can
lead to itching and redness,
and cause a clear or off-white
discharge to leak out,
which almost looks like cottage cheese.
So how does that cheese sound now?
While microbes colonize your
belly button from the outside,
there could also be an
invader from the inside.
We’re talking about belly-button hernias.
In the womb, the umbilical
cord runs from your mom to you,
passing through an opening
in your abdominal muscles.
Normally that opening
seals up after you’re born,
but, in some cases, it never
really closes all the way.
This can allow internal
organs to slip through,
creating a bulge behind your belly button.
Navel hernias affect as
many as one in five newborns
in the US, but they’re
rarely life-threatening,
and are far less common in adults.
In fact, as long as you
rinse your belly button
with warm, soapy water once a week,
the worst you’ll have to put
up with is a little fluff.