Saturday, December 18, 2010

Why we get hiccups, goosebumps, backaches

Evolution, says this article, is the culprit. Our bodies retain the history, habits--and leftovers (think: male nipples)--of our ancestral beginnings.

We are full of the accumulated baggage of our idiosyncratic histories. The body is built on an old form, out of parts that once did very different things. So take a moment to pause and sit on your coccyx, the bone that was once a tail. Roll your ankles, each of which once connected a front leg to a paw...

Hiccups. The first air-breathing fish and amphibians extracted oxygen using gills when in the water and primitive lungs when on land—and to do so, they had to be able to close the glottis, or entryway to the lungs, when underwater. Importantly, the entryway (or glottis) to the lungs could be closed. When underwater, the animals pushed water past their gills while simultaneously pushing the glottis down. We descendants of these animals were left with vestiges of their history, including the hiccup. In hiccupping, we use ancient muscles to quickly close the glottis while sucking in (albeit air, not water). Hiccups no longer serve a function, but they persist without causing us harm—aside from frustration and occasional embarrassment. One of the reasons it is so difficult to stop hiccupping is that the entire process is controlled by a part of our brain that evolved long before consciousness, and so try as you might, you cannot think hiccups away.

Goosebumps. When our ancestors were covered in fur, muscles in their skin called “arrector pili” contracted when they were upset or cold, making their fur stand on end. When an angry or frightened dog barks at you, these are the muscles that raise its bristling hair. The same muscles puff up the feathers of birds and the fur of mammals on cold days to help keep them warm. Although we no longer have fur, we still have fur muscles just beneath our skin. They flex each time we are scared by a bristling dog or chilled by a wind, and in doing so give us goose bumps that make our thin hair stand uselessly on end.

The complete eye-opener here.

PLUS: I have to ask this--how do you control your hiccups? The answers seem to be as varied as the people I've asked. When I was a kid, my folks invariably directed me to drink water--glass after glass, if necessary, until the sinok had stopped. Others have recommended enclosing the nose and mouth in a plastic bag and breathing from there. A friend says getting surprised--as in have someone do “Bulaga!” on you--can scare the hiccups off. I know some who just sleep them off. I've tried that, but I wake up and, in a few minutes, the damn thing is back.

Here's what I've done for years--something I can swear to but can't explain scientifically. Whenever I get the hiccups, I press the pulse on my wrist. Left or right hand--doesn't matter. I find the throbbing point and press on it for a few minutes. After a while, more often than not, the fitful breathing stops. I'm not sure if there's a rational explanation--it might be nothing more than auto-suggestion--but it's been successful so many times for me that, whenever I get the condition, I automatically reach for my wrist. If nothing happens right away, I just press another point, still within vicinity of the pulse, and wait. Or I switch to the other hand. Ah, relief. Try it, and tell me if it works for you.

[hat tip: The Daily Dish]


Rody said...

Very interesting, Gibbs! Ganun pala pag tumitindig ang balahibo. e ano'ng hayop ba yung nagkaka-goosebumps pag najejerbs? hehehe.

come to think of it, matagal na akong hindi sinisinok! As in years! I can't remember the last time.

Ang kinakatakutan ko is madalas akong nasasamid. That means my glottis can't effectively close when I swallow. that's one "defect" of our evolution, e: Pareho ang daluyan ng paghinga at paglunok.

Dennis N. Marasigan said...


in a workshop a few years back, myra beltran shared with me the same thing about our bodies being able to retain vestiges of our past. it is so with animals, so it must be so with us. and not just from eons ago, but more so with our more immediate ascendants.

regarding hiccups, what i do is hold my breath while pressing on my nose, then swallow repeatedly until the air "bubble" is forced down back to the lungs and the hiccup is gone. works for me.

Désolé Boy said...

i deal with hiccups by swallowing a spoonful of sugar. someone told me about it years ago and it's been effective ever since, i guess.

Fickle Cattle said...

This is brilliant. Thanks for the referral.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it's normal but there are days when I hiccup non-stop, meaning for several hours. Sometimes, it can go on for two days. So just imagine the discomfort. Nothing's worked so far though when I drink hot choco, it stops for a while then it comes back again.

I've discovered a technique to stop the hiccups but it doesn't work all the time. What I usually do is try to meditate and imagine that the hiccups happen in my stomach so I direct my concentration there. Perhaps it's some sort of brain work because, again, it doesn't work all the time.


Anonymous said...

when we were kids, one way to stop the hiccups is to wet a small piece of paper by licking on it and sticking it on the forehead of the afflicted child. somehow it works


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