You are not going to believe this but, the more you sigh, the better – the surprising reason behind our sighs has been revealed by the scientists.
Yet another discovery has been made and this time it’s about the habit of sighing. One could say that, when in public, people always seem to think sighing is either rude or that something is wrong. But, according to the experts, the proven reason for the drawn-out exhalation we know as a sigh, is that it can be explained as a vital reflex that keeps us from suffocating.
So, sighing doesn’t just telegraph emotion? Well, you can discount that for now, because sighing’s actually a crucial reflex that keeps our lungs healthy. Not only they revealed that, but the researchers have also uncovered the switch in our brain that controls it.
The team identified two tiny clusters of neurons in the brain stem that automatically turn normal breaths into sighs when our lungs need some extra help. This happens usually every 5 minutes (or 12 times an hour), regardless of whether or not we are thinking about something depressing.
Published in the advance online edition of Nature, the discovery may hopefully one day allow physicians to treat patients who cannot breathe deeply on their own, or who suffer from disorders in which frequent sighing becomes debilitating.
One of the holy grails in neuroscience is figuring out how the brain controls behavior. Our finding gives us insights into mechanisms that may underlie much more complex behaviors.
explained Jack Feldman, a professor of neurobiology at UCLA.
Using a mouse model, professor Mark Krasnow from Stanford University School of Medicine, screened more than 19,000 gene-expression patterns in the animals’ brain cells. They found 200 neurons in the brain stem that manufacture and release one of two neuropeptides, which enable brain cells to talk to each other. Still, the scientists did not know which brain cells these neurons communicated with or why.
However, Feldman knew that the same family of peptides, also found in humans, was highly active in a part of the brain that influences breathing and plays an important role in sighing. What he had not identified were the genes or neurons that controlled them.
By joining their forces, Krasnow’s and Feldman’s labs discovered that the peptides triggered a second set of 200 neurons. These cells activate the mouse’s breathing muscles to produce a sigh, roughly 40 times an hour.
The experts also found that blocking one of the peptides cut the animals’ sighing rate in half. On the other hand, silencing both peptides halted the mice’s ability to sigh completely. Further research is needed to confirm that this same pathway exists in humans, but the similarities in the mouse and human systems suggest researchers are on the right track.
So, the next time you feel like sighing and you’re afraid that it may seem disrespectful, forget about the preconceptions. Remember this research and the scientific proof that sighing is vital for your health.
Image Source: giphy.com.