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Aristotle's Thoughts on the Thanksgiving Food Coma

Tomorrow, the vast majority of Americans will join with friends and family to sit around long, festively decorated tables -- landscapes beset with colorful mountains of sweet potatoes, cloudy lakes of gravy, hearty plateaus of turkey, and endless fields of green beans. Revelry will be had. Laughter will be shared. Food -- lots of food -- will be scarfed.

Afterwards, Thanksgiving partakers will retire to comfy sofas and padded chairs, perhaps watching football games or challenging relatives to rousing games of Scrabble or Parcheesi. The lively merriment will continue, for a time. But in scenes as sure as fridges stocked with feast leftovers, loud cheers will quiet to mutters, cheeky banter will diminish to soft pleasantries, and Uncle Bob will be soundly snoozing on the recliner, as postprandial somnolence, the condition more commonly known as "food coma," sets in over the gathering like a dense, dreary fog.

shutterstock_114972133.jpgYou are getting very, very sleepy.

Food coma may seem a recent phenomenon -- one brought on by the age of never-ending buffets and fast food -- but it didn't escape the observant gaze of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who theorized, "...while food is being digested, vapors rise

from the stomach because of their higher temperature and collect in

the head. As the brain cools, the vapors condense, flow downward

and then cool the heart, which causes sleep." The more food is consumed, the greater the effect.

That supposition didn't exactly prove correct, but we thank the sage Aristotle for his ancient wisdom anyhow!

When mounds of food are consumed, activity of the parasympathetic nervous system -- the system responsible for the body's "resting" activities -- increases, resulting in a state of low energy and a desire to relax. Additionally, the consumption of carbohydrates -- like potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, bread, etc. -- causes insulin levels to rise in order to mitigate blood glucose levels. Concurrently, muscles take in various amino acids, except for one called tryptophan. With the ratio of tryptophan elevated in the blood stream, the amino acid has an easier time getting into the brain. Once there, tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which is then converted to melatonin. Elevated levels of these two hormones make us very, very sleepy.

Happy Turkey Day!

(Image: Turkey Dinner via Shutterstock)