The Real Reason You Have A Gag Reflex

Have you ever wondered why the sight, smell, or taste of something makes you inherently want to gag, while your friend sitting next to you has no reaction at all. Like our personalities, our gag reflex is unique to us and reacts differently in certain situations. And the real reason behind our sudden urge to gag, from a physical or emotional response, has everything to do with our safety.

According to Healthline, a gag reflex happens in the back of our mouth to prevent something from being swallowed or ingested. When you gag, both the pharynx contracts and your larynx pushes up. It's our body's defense mechanism to keep whatever it is making us react from entering our system. The entire process is known as a neuromuscular action. As stated per Live Science, we are born with a gag reflex and it starts to diminish around 6 or 7 months, allowing us to start swallowing foods other than just breast milk and/or formula. As we grow up, the gag reflex usually happens only when an object, such as a piece of food, is too large to be comfortably swallowed. However, about 10 to 15 percent of the population have a hypersensitive gag reflex, which causes gagging to occur frequently with no relation to the object's size.

Gagging is a primitive action

We know that gagging often happens as a physical result to something in our mouths, but why does it also happen when we feel disgust? Just smelling or looking at something deemed disgusting can trigger a gag-reflex in many of us. Rachel Herz, Ph.D.,  a world-renowned expert on the psychological science of smell shares with PS Mag that it's because it's considered a primitive action. "The emotion response of disgust triggers a number of physiological responses," she says. "Serotonin gets suffused into the stomach, which is actually an adaptive measure to help initiate vomiting. From a primitive perspective, it's about protecting us from being contaminated from something on the outside getting into our bodies." Herz goes on to explain that people's personalities play a large part in deciding what disgusts them and how sensitive they are to it.

Additional physical reactions may also occur when our gag reflex is triggered, warns Healthline. You could experience tears, sweating, fainting, or panic attacks if your gag reflex has been set off. We admit, it all sounds very dramatic, but while gagging isn't necessarily a pleasant experience, we're happy our body's have a quick and natural response to keep us safe!