(Top Posts - Science - 022608)

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February 25, 2008

The Best Cure for Hiccups: Remind Your Brain
You're Not a Fish
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One of the most perplexing and vexing of mild human
afflictions is the hiccup, or as it is medically known, the
singultus. Through the years, many (ineffective) remedies
have been suggested, from holding your breath to scaring
yourself. But a larger question remained unresolved: why
do humans have these involuntary spasms of the diaphragm,
which produce uncontrollable funny noises at irregular and
inconvenient times?

Now, University of Chicago anatomist, Neil Shubin, has
provided the world with an explanation in his book Your
Inner Fish. As described in the Guardian:

     Hiccups are triggered by electric signals generated
     in the brain stem. Amphibian brain stems emit simi-
     lar signals, which control the regular motion of their
     gills. Our brain stems, inherited from amphibian
     ancestors, still spurt out odd signals producing hic-
     cups that are, according to Shubin, essentially the
     same phenomenon as gill breathing.

This is atavism, or evolutionary throwback activity, at work.
Luckily, you do eventually stop trying to breathe through
your gills when it dawns on your brain that you are actually
a modern human, not a prehistoric fish.


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