Research: Hiccups Developed to Enable Babies, Mammals to Consume More Milk

Published on: 2012/03/06 - in News

New research authored by Kingston’s Daniel Howes explains the mysterious hiccup reflex as a burping mechanism to release swallowed air; allowing young, feeding mammals to consume more milk.

Researchers and Clinicians have until now had difficulty connecting the physical mechanisms of the hiccup to a feasible evolutionary advantage.

“We have a lot of explanations for how a hiccup happens, but no one until now has explained why hiccups happen only in mammals, or why they’re so much more frequent in newborns than infants and adults,” said Howes, an associate professor in the Emergency Medicine and Critical Care Program at Queen’s University and the director of the Regional Trauma Program at Kingston General Hospital. “We’re suggesting that hiccupping is actually triggered by the presence of air in the stomach.”

According to a release by Queen’s University, the hiccup reflex causes a forceful entry of air into the lungs, followed by an abrupt closure of the vocal cords and a loosening of the sphincter above the stomach. The result is a vacuum that pushes air from the stomach into the esophagus.

To explain why hiccups continue into adulthood, Howes reports the reflex aids us in knowing when we’ve eaten too much.

The results his study will be published in BioEssays, a monthly review-and-discussion scientific journal publishing insights, reviews and commentaries in the field of molecular and cellular biology.

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