The premise of this book seems like the answer to a really bad joke: what do you get when you cross a writer obsessed with medical oddities with a true medical doctor? The answer is a slim volume entitled Why Do Men Have Nipples?, an entertaining and (dare I say) educational compilation of those medical questions and answers that you may wish you had the nerve to ask your doctor. In addition, the authors appropriately point out that the information provided will also come in handy at a cocktail party begging for some interesting conversation starters.
This book has nine chapters, each of which contains questions relating to a particular category. For example, in “You Are What You Eat,” you learn that onions cause you to cry because the piercing of the vegetable releases an enzyme called lachrymatory-factor synthase (the answer to your inevitable follow up question is no, this element cannot be removed because it is responsible for the onion’s flavor). In “Body Oddities,” you learn the answer to the question posed in the book’s title - namely that men have nipples because the formation of men and women begin in the exact same manner in the embryo. “All You (N)ever Wanted To Know About Sex” discusses whether hot tubs cause infertility, concluding that while there is no direct link, since heat can damage sperm, tubs may have a slight impact. “Can I Treat It Myself” explains that parsley can cure bad breath, and “Drugs and Alcohol” traces the history of the common belief that alcohol cures a cold, concluding there is no strong evidence to support a direct link between the two - though the buzz may assist you in forgetting just how terrible you feel.
There is no medical answer as to whether placing the hand of a sleeping person in warm water will cause them to urinate; however, some studies do suggest that the increase in a person’s body temperature resulting from a warm bath may help patients who have trouble urinating. The authors note that this same principle may be at work in this practical joke, but to date, no medical researches have opted to study it within this context.
Seinfeld fans losing sleep over what would really happen if a Junior Mint fell inside you during surgery will learn, in the chapter on “Medicine from Movies and TV,” that an infection will likely result. It is unlikely you would benefit from this mishap, despite the fact that some reports do show that sugar and honey help cure wounds. The authors are quick to note that this is a particularly difficult question to study based on the ethical implications of intentionally leaving a foreign object in a person’s body, but there is some limited research from incidents surrounding sponges and instruments that have been mistakenly left behind.
To debunk an old wives’ tale, head directly to the chapter with the same name. There you will learn that sneezing involves many parts of your brains, expels air that may travel up to one hundred miles per hour, sends two to five thousand bacteria-filled droplets into the air, and will not cause your head to explode if you hold it in. However, you might still want to refrain from doing so since it can cause fractures to your nasal cartilage, nosebleeds, burst eardrums, hearing loss, vertigo, detached retinas or temporary facial swelling. And, finally, you will discover that the menopausal change of the ratio between male hormones (androgens) to estrogen is what causes some older women to grow beards. In addition, you will learn that not all women need to be concerned about this potential hair growth because its thickness is determined by heredity, and the actual distribution of the follicles is determined at birth.
The appeal of this book is that, despite the wide range of questions presented, it never fully comes to terms with its identity as a source of medical information or a source of pure entertainment. The answers alternate between offering reputable scientific data and posing plausible (yet often ludicrous) explanations as to why certain things occur. You will likely walk away from this book with some medical answers to questions you have always wanted to ask, but its doubtful you will ever be certain if this was the authors’ primary purpose or whether it was just an unintended consequence of their desire to entertain.