That's Not Food. That's a Disease!
Cancer cells or coffee beans?
Thankfully, the Brenner tumor cells shown above are often benign. Scientists spot this rare ovarian tumor by the characteristic coffee bean nuclei of its cells. Afterwards, they grind the cells up, blend them with hot water, and guzzle them down with an apple danish. (Not really.)
The example illustrates one way how food analogies crop up in medical terminology. It's not the only one. There are dozens, in fact, if not hundreds!
Chocolate-colored blood occurs due to high concentrations of methemoglobin, not an infusion of cocoa. Blueberry muffin rash is a discoloration of a baby's skin resulting from blood formation outside of bone marrow. Disordered metabolism of an amino acid called methionine causes urine to smell like an oasthouse, a building where hops are dried. When the abdominal wall muscles are absent or underdeveloped, often due to a genetic birth defect, the stomach is described as a prune belly. Maple syrup urine might sound tasty, but you don't want to squirt it on your pancakes.
Gwinyai Masukume, a public health researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Lisa Kipersztok, a fourth-year medical student at Tufts University, recently described 38 food-related metaphors in a delectable, pun-laden paper published to the Malta Medical Journal.
"These terms have utility in broadening differential diagnoses when confronted with symptoms and signs of disease, and are easily memorable for rapid recognition in classic cases," they noted. "Food-related eponyms continue to be taught in medical school classrooms and physical diagnosis courses, and are likely to be retained in the ‘visual specialties’ of radiology and pathology."
"We follow in the footsteps of hungry giants," Masukume humbly wrote in Improbable. "In the late 1970s, Terry and Hanchard in their seminal paper, titled 'Gastrology: the use of culinary terms in medicine', appearing in the British Medical Journal, offered the real first course of food-related medical terms in medical literature.
Indeed, in their paper, Terry and Hanchard reviewed the scientific literature and noted 121 allusions to food and beverage items, a veritable "harvest." Within the cornucopia were references to strawberry tongues, spinach stools, onion skin, chicken fat clots, teapot stomachs, and honeycomb lungs, among other sumptuous offerings.
However, the duo warned that "Any new attempts to introduce culinary terminology in medicine should be done with caution and the terminology should be kept simple rather than exotic."
(Images: Nephron, Lisa Kipersztok)