What Really Happens When We Die?

Nature isn’t kind to the human body after death.

According to a study published in an issue of PLoS Biology, death in organisms, including humans, spreads like a domino effect from each cell in our body until the whole of our parts is dead. Just minutes after death, the human body begins decomposing.

When the heart stops beating, the first thing the body experiences is algor mortis, or the “death chill,” when the temperature of the body falls to about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. As carbon dioxide builds up in the blood it becomes more acidic, causing our cells to split open and empty enzymes throughout the tissues.

What happens next? Our tissues and organs begin to digest themselves from within.

On a lighter note, this study has scientists convinced that they may be able to stop the biochemical process that initiates this death wave and actually revive an individual.

Since there weren’t crowds of volunteers eager to take part in a study that ended in death, researchers focused their analysis on worms, which possess mechanisms similar to those active in mammals.

What they discovered is that when worms die, the spread of death throughout their bodies can be seen under magnification as a fluorescent blue light, which is caused by a molecule called anthranillic acid.

David Gems from the Institute of Health Aging at University College London, who led the study, explained:

“We’ve identified a chemical pathway of self-destruction that propagates cell death in worms, which we see as this glowing blue fluorescence traveling through the body. It’s like a blue grim reaper, tracking death as it spreads throughout the organism until all life is extinguished.”

When an individual dies, it doesn’t happen as quickly as you may think.

These individual cell deaths actually trigger a chemical reaction that lead to the breakdown of cell components and a build-up of molecular debris. When this progression continues, it leads to cellular shock and ultimately death.

As a person ages, this type of damage happens, but in a much slower way.

Unfortunately, once an aged cell is out of commission, it cannot be revived.

But researchers may be able to stop the calcium signaling biochemical spread of death under non-aging-related circumstances.

“We found that when we blocked this pathway, we could delay death induced by a stress such as infection, but we couldn’t slow death from old-age,” Gems said. “This suggests that aging causes death by a number of processes acting in parallel. The findings cast doubt on the theory that aging is simply a consequence of an accumulation of molecular damage. We need to focus on the biological events that occur during aging and death to properly understand how we might be able to interrupt these processes.”