Most people rarely give the belly button a second thought even when taking a bath. This is in spite of the navel being one of the most unique human body parts. According to research findings presented at the Ecological Society of America’s 96th Annual Meeting in Austin, TX, the navel is home to one of the largest biodiversity of microorganisms on the surface of the body. Here is some more information on this topic:
The Navel’s Complex Biodiversity
Rob Dunn, an assistant professor at the North Carolina State University says that the average person’s navel is home to about 60 to 70 fungal species, yeast, and myriad bacterial species. In total, Dunn and his colleagues have identified more than 1,400 microorganism species that reside in human belly buttons. Another group of researchers in North Carolina found 2,368 bacteria species residing in the navels of 60 people while carrying out a study dubbed “Belly Button Biodiversity Project.” Out of these, researchers counted 1,458 new and unidentified bacteria strains. This means there are probably hundreds of thousands or even millions of unidentified naval microorganism species worldwide. Dunn and colleagues have found that some of these species are unique to individuals while others are common across multiple individuals. For instance, the North Carolina researchers found a bacteria strain that is unique to Japanese soil even though the subject had never been to Japan. Belly buttons are microorganism species-friendly because they provide a safe haven from the ravages of soaps, body cleansers, lotions and the sun’s ultraviolet rays among others.
The Role of Navel Microorganisms
Medical experts and researchers are yet to uncover the entirety of the navel’s biodiversity iceberg meaning they know very little about the role of these microorganisms. Nevertheless, some are beneficial while others are harmful to human health. Dunn says that some belly button microorganisms act as a first line of defense against pathogens that land on the human skin. For bacteriophobes, Dunn warns that scrubbing all bacteria strains from the skin surface could make one susceptible to deadly skin infections.
Given the large number of microorganisms that inhabit the belly button, it is inevitable that some end up causing infections. This happens because the public exhibits surprising lack of awareness in belly button hygiene, according to Dr. Claire Cronin, a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society. As a result, most people’s navels have accumulated huge amounts of bacterial and fungal gunk. Frighteningly, the volume of navel gunk typically increases and hardens as a person ages. Unsurprisingly, such gunk increases one’s likelihood of developing belly button infections. This likelihood of infection increases significantly if one undergoes navel piercing in unhygienic surroundings or fails to observe good hygiene practices after piercing.
An article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians cites the case of a 13-year old girl admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit suffering from serious medical complications after piercing her navel at home using a sewing needle. Blood cultures showed presence of the coccal bacterium staphylococcus aureus, which is the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). S. aureus can also cause serious bone, joint, pneumonia, and bloodstream infections. The Navel is also the perfect location for bacteria and other harmful microorganisms to hide inside hard to reach nooks and crannies. Once again, this increases one’s susceptibility to belly button infections. To avoid infections, Cronin recommends keeping the navel clean using only soap, water and gentle probing.
Medical experts have identified several factors linked to belly button infections. Chief among these is the large number of bacteria, fungi, and yeast species that inhabit most people’s navels. Closely tied to this factor is poor navel hygiene, which allows harmful bacteria strains to thrive.