Human Saliva: How ‘Licking Your Wounds’ Aids The Healing Process


A new research has unravelled the role human saliva plays in the wound healing process and how ‘licking your wounds’ has become more than just an expression based on scientific facts.

Given the mystifying fact that injuries in the mouth heal faster and more efficiently than wounds elsewhere, scientists explain how a chemical in the saliva boosts the formation of blood vessels, a process medically known as angiogenesis which is critical in recovering from an injury.

The research published in the FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal revealed that the salivary peptide histatin-1 aids wound healing. Researchers found that histatin-1 promotes angiogenesis, as well as cell adhesion and migration.

Histatin-1 is an antimicrobial peptide, highly enriched in human saliva, which has been previously reported to promote the migration of oral skin cells in lab animals. However, the participation of histatin-1 in other crucial events required for wound healing, such as angiogenesis, is unknown.

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According to Prof Vicente Torres, of the Institute for Research in Dental Sciences at the University of Chile, Santiago: “These findings open new alternatives to better understand the biology underlying the differences between oral and skin wound healing.

“We believe the study could help the design of better approaches to improve wound healing in tissues other than the mouth.”

The study involved experiments at three levels: (1) endothelial, or blood vessel-forming, cells in culture, (2) chicken embryos as animal models, and (3) saliva samples obtained from healthy donors.

Using these three models, histatin-1 and saliva were found to increase blood vessel formation. Specifically, histatin-1 promoted skin cell contact and spreading as well as migration in the wound closure tests. The study showed that salivary histatin-1 is required for the promigratory effects of saliva on skin cells.

Researchers are now taking the next step in this line of study — using these molecules to generate materials and implants to aid in wound healing.

“Saliva is a key factor that contributes to the high efficiency of wound healing inside the mouth. This is not only attributed to physical cues but also to the presence of specific peptides in the saliva, such as histatin.

“In conclusion, we report that salivary histatin-1 is a novel proangiogenic factor that may contribute to oral wound healing,” Prof Torres said.

Journal editor Dr Thoru Pederson, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, welcomed the exciting discovery saying“The clear results of the present study open a wide door to a therapeutic advance. They also bring to mind the possible meaning of animals, and often children, ‘licking their wounds.”

Previously, scientists discovered that the human saliva is really powerful enough to cure extreme pains caused to the body.  Formed in salivary glands, anthropoid saliva is 99.5% water, but it comprises many vital constituents, like electrolytes, mucus, uncontaminated mixtures and several enzymes.

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But scientists held that the saliva opiorphin compound found in the human saliva is a painkiller stronger than morphine which can actually work as a medicine to treat the human body.