Did you ever think bodies decompose after dying? Why is it that they don’t decompose when they are alive? Of course, we humans are no exception. That is how it works because that’s the design of nature. In this article we are going to try and understand why bodies decompose after dying. In order to understand that, we need understand the very mechanism that is triggered after death.
So, what happens to our body when we die?
Death means that the heart stops beating. Once the heart stops pumping blood to all parts of the body, a shortage of oxygen occurs. Remember that it is our blood that is responsible for carrying oxygen to each and every part of our body. Immediately after the heart stops beating, whatever oxygen remains at disposal is used up by the body tissues and cells. The part of the body that takes the first hit is the brain because it is the only organ in our body which uses a large volume of oxygen we take in. It usually takes 3-7 minutes for the brain to use up all the oxygen at its disposal.
We need to understand that brain any other body part that is located above the heart will no longer get blood supply because the heart that was responsible for pumping the blood up is no longer functional. Blood will automatically start flowing down to low-lying areas of the body. As the blood starts retracting at lower parts of the body, certain parts of the body start taking a pale appearance. The other parts where the blood starts accumulating starts taking a darker appearance.
Once a human dies, a set of processes kick in. Oxygen scarcity and blood retraction are two of those processes but several other things happen as per the following time line:
Within 1 hour after death: At the very moment of death, a process called primary flaccidity sets in. This is the process where the entire body relaxes. Pupils dilate, tension in eyelids in lost, limbs and joints become flexible. Muscles lose tension, making skin saggy, which makes the major bones and joints starkly noticeable.
The blood starts draining downwards in a process called pallor mortis. This starts giving the pale appearance. The gravity comes to work and pulls the blood in the areas that are close to the ground. Those areas appear dark because of accumulated blood.
3 hours after death: Muscles start stiffening. This process is known as rigor mortis.
12 hours after death: This is when the rigor mortis reaches its peak, making it very difficult to maneuver the dead body. Toes and fingers appear unusually crooked at this point.
24 hours after death: The body loses all its internal heat. This is when the body becomes cold. However, depending on the atmospheric temperature as well as total fat content of the body, this complete loss of internal heat may take longer. This process of losing all internal heat is known as algor mortis.
36 hours after death: Muscles start losing stiffness.
72 hours after death: Body tissues become completely relaxed and rigor mortis ends. This is the state of secondary flaccidity.
Why does the body start losing temperature after death?
Because all cellular activities inside the body stop. As all activities stop, no heat is generated through chemical reactions. The normal temperature of the body when a person is alive is 37 degrees Celsius. The temperature of the body starts dropping in linear progression right after death. In the first hours after death, the body loses 2 degrees. Then 1 degree every one hour is lost until the ambient temperature and body temperature matches, thereby halting all heat transfer. This drop in temperature creates the perfect condition under which bodies decompose after dying.