Can sugar really cure the hiccups?

Now we know: Answering the foodie questions you did not know you had

Eating a spoonful of granulated sugar was found to be effective in curing hiccups in 19 out of 20 patients. Photograph: iStock

Eating a spoonful of granulated sugar was found to be effective in curing hiccups in 19 out of 20 patients. Photograph: iStock

 

Hic!. . . Hic! . . . Hic! . . . On a recent brisk walk through The Liberties in Dublin’s city centre, I was suddenly afflicted by involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle, otherwise known as the hiccups. Mere minutes before this attack, I had been wolfing down a pizza. It appeared my well-intentioned enthusiasm for stone-baked dough had had an unpleasant and adverse effect. Hic! . . . Hic! . . . Hic! . . .

How could I escape? I suddenly remembered a curious fact I had read online – that a teaspoon of sugar could cure the hiccups. I dashed into the nearest corner shop and grabbed a sachet of sugar from their hot drinks section. Hic! . . . Hic! . . . Hic! . . . I knocked the sugar back in one go and crunched on the sweet granules before they dissolved on my tongue.

Hic! . . . I took a deep breath. I waited. And waited some more. Then declared, in triumph, “I’m cured! It worked! A spoonful of sugar really does cure the hiccups!” My friend, a more cynical type than I, grumbled “a spoonful of distraction, more like”. Well, it turns out we’re both kind of right. According to Matt Soniak of Mental Floss, distraction is a key ingredient in curing the hiccups.

It basically tells the brain that something more important has come up and the hiccuping should probably be stopped

“The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that innervates the stomach and conveys sensory information about the body’s organs to the brain,” wrote Soniak in a 2012 article named What Causes Hiccups and Why Does Sugar Cure Them? (mentalfloss.com). “When distracted by overwhelming information of another sort, it basically tells the brain that something more important has come up and the hiccuping should probably be stopped.”

What could be more important and overriding than the sweet sensation of sugar granules on one’s tongue? In their 1971 study, granulated sugar as treatment for hiccups in conscious patients, Engleman, Lankton and Lankton found that eating a spoonful of granulated sugar was effective in curing hiccups in 19 out of 20 patients.

According to Mind The Science Gap, other food-related cures which prey upon our brain’s capacity to be easily distracted include plugging your ears while drinking a glass of water and eating a lemon soaked with bitters. A spoonful of sugar has a better ring to it though, doesn’t it? Though I wouldn’t go making a habit of knocking back sachets of sugar, except in a hiccup emergency.

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