There are so many fascinating, unanswered questions about the human body. Researchers may have finally found one of the answers. Scientists now have a solid theory about hiccups. They seem to have no discernible purpose and are often embarrassing for those who experience them. The good news is that science may have just discovered why we hiccup and it may have to do with brain development.
The University College London recently conducted a study of 13 newborn babies. Some were preterm and some were full term, ranging from 30 to 42 weeks gestational age. Apparently, preterm babies hiccup for around 15 minutes every day. Though hiccups seem to be something that happens in the third trimester of pregnancy, hiccups have been found as early as nine weeks into a pregnancy.
Researchers attached electrodes to the babies’ scalps and put sensors on their bodies that detected the presence of hiccups. What they found was that when the babies hiccuped, they produce three different brainwaves. The first two correspond to the feeling of the hiccup and the third is likely a reaction to the sound and the contraction together.
Scientists theorize that the babies’ brains linking the sound of the hiccup to the actual physical contraction of their diaphragm means the babies’ developing brains get significant input from the sensation. This information may help them learn to regulate their breathing. It’s not hard to understand why that would be important.
So why do adults hiccup?
This still doesn’t really explain why grown adults sometimes get the hiccups. Researchers theorize that they could be something that our body simply does because it learned to do so early on in life. It could also be helpful for indigestion as it might prep the body for getting sick. On a personal note, NONE of this explains why I seem to get hiccups whenever I eat bread. Or why some unlucky people get perpetual hiccups.
These same researchers also examined why babies kick while developing in the womb. They believe it is because the baby is essentially mapping out its body, mentally. That and their research on hiccuping suggests that we may see other fascinating studies from this university in the future.