Sep. 16, 2008 at 7:17 PM ET
By Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg:
Is it true that our noses actually grow ever longer as we age?
Wouldn’t this be yet another depressing indignity heaped upon all the other depressing indignities that accompany getting older? Well, there’s good news and bad news.
The good news: No, our noses don’t grow longer. The bad news: Our noses DROOP.
Gravity is the villain here. As the collagen and elastin in our skin break down, our skin loses its strength and suppleness and the pull of gravity wreaks all manner of havoc upon our bodies. It causes the tips of our noses to droop, our eyelids to fall, our ears to elongate and our jowls to form. It causes our boobs and our scrotums to sag.
Gravity even causes those lovely, purplish varicose veins. Normal veins work against the force of gravity. Over time, as the vein walls weaken, the pressure of gravity causes veins, especially in the legs and calves, to enlarge and bulge.
Gravity is like the hand of fate. It’s like the hand that reaches out of the grave and grabs Amy Irving in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie.” It will grab you and pull and won’t let go.
A pox on gravity! Who wants a saggy scrotum? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have any? (We mean not have any gravity, not scrotums.)
Not really. First of all, without gravity, we’d all be unceremoniously flung off the earth – never mind the fact that Kobe’s 3-point jump shot at the buzzer would never come down, and those wonderful Olympic synchronized divers would plummet, not gracefully down towards the surface of the pool, but straight up into the infinite cosmos in perfect eternal bilateral symmetry.
Is there any way to elude gravity, to be weightless, to avoid the relentless downward pull on our bodies? Any respite from the Big G would help reverse such accelerated aging, no? The moon’s gravity is one-sixth that of the earth, but who the hell wants to vacation on the moon? For those of you considering space travel as an avocation, the gravitational force on Jupiter is 254 percent that of Earth. Imagine the pendulous ball-sack you’d have up there after a few months.
There are those Zero G flights – the ones where the pilots perform a series of parabolic flight maneuvers that counter the forces of gravity and enable passengers to float and flip through the cabin at zero gravity. But at about $5,000 a pop for a total of seven or eight minutes of reduced gravity, it doesn’t seem like a feasible way to prevent jowls or sagging boobs.
Let’s try to look at this calmly and from a medical perspective. We, as human beings on this planet, have evolved to accommodate and thrive in gravity, specifically, our planet’s gravity. The mechanical receptors in your muscles, tendons and joints and the vestibular apparatus in your inner ear have evolved so that you can maintain your orientation, your balance, agility and strength in this particular environment. Similarly, your body’s hydrostatic pressure has evolved to keep your fluids and your blood plasma evenly distributed in our environment’s specific gravity. Our anatomies and physiologies are as customized for our planet’s unique gravitational field as they are to digest proteins and carbohydrates or metabolize vitamin D from sunlight.
It’s easy to see why prolonged weightlessness – which is such an unnatural a condition for our bodies – would have all manner of deleterious effects. The sense organs in our inner ears begin to respond differently to motion and when altered sensory input confuses the brain, resulting in disorientation and nausea. Fluids migrate to the chest and head causing sinus and nasal congestion, a puffy face and bulging neck veins. Loss of blood plasma causes anemia. Weight-bearing bones and muscles deteriorate. Fluid redistribution shrinks your legs. Your kidney filtration rate increases resulting in kidney stones. It’s a mess!
Over the course of millennia and in our own brief lifetimes we are both formed and deformed by gravity. As we slide toward senescence, our complicated relationships with gravity – that most fundamental force of nature – goes distinctly south. Along with our noses and our boobs and our scrotums. It is, in the end, the price we pay for being Earthlings.