UC Irvine scientists discovered that they can prevent strokes in rats by stroking their whiskers:
The team discovered that mechanically stroking just one whisker for four minutes within the first two hours of the blockage caused the blood to quickly flow to other arteries – like cars exiting a gridlocked freeway to find detours.
But unlike freeway off-ramps, which can quickly clog, the alternate arteries expanded beyond their normal size, opening wide to allow critical blood flow to the brain. The technique was 100 percent effective in preventing strokes in rats with arterial obstruction.
This leads to an intriguing possibility that we can do the same in humans, despite of our lack of whiskers:
So should we be tickling our own whiskers? And what about women, who are less likely to have facial hair? While it’s too soon to tell if the findings will translate to humans, researchers say it’s possible, and stubble is not required. We have sensitive body parts wired to the same area of the brain as rodents’ fine-tuned whiskers.
In people, “stimulating the fingers, lips or face in general could all have a similar effect,” says UCI doctoral student Melissa Davis, co-author of the study, which appears in the June issue of PLoS One.