Yawning Because Your Brain Needs Oxygen? Think Again

Cooling the brain and making you more attentive is the role of yawning, not increasing oxygen to the brain, according to recent research.

[P]eople do not yawn because they need oxygen, since experiments show that raising or lowering oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood fails to produce the reaction. Rather, yawning acts as a brain-cooling mechanism. The brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, and as a consequence generates heat.

Yawning a lot is an indication that I have a migraine on the way. I knew that frequent yawning is a symptom of migraine, but didn’t know its function. I’m not sure if the brain heats up before or during a migraine, but it certainly gets excited. Assuming the increased activity raises the brain’s temperature, yawning to cool it makes sense.

Yes, I did yawn about 30 times when I was looking for a good yawning picture.


Worldwide Initiative to Better Understand the Brain

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Global Science Forum has launched a project to promote international collaboration among scientists to better understand how the human brain works. Such cooperation would lay the foundation for research into the treatment and prevention of neurological and mental health diseases.

Read more in OECD’s press release: Global Scientific Research Project Launched to Improve Understanding of the Human Brain

For those of you who, like me, have no idea what the OECD is, it’s a collection of “…30 market democracies [that] work together to address the economic, social, environmental and governance challenges of the globalizing world economy.”

Wouldn’t it be great to know the neurological intricacies of headache?


Critical Thinking: Assessing Health Claims in the News

Posting links to news reports related to headaches and pain has made me increasingly uncomfortable. It is important to stay on top of what’s happening with our disease, but reading headlines and brief, one-sided reports isn’t enough.

Media outlets do serve the important role of messenger, but the primary goal of newspapers and radio and TV stations is financial gain. Hailing the miracle cure, shocking study results or any extreme position gets attention, which in turn brings in money. I don’t say this to be critical, but to point out the inherent contradictions in reporting.

Reporters and news sources do have a responsibility to improve the quality of medical reporting, but we’re doing ourselves a disservice waiting for the industry to change. Patients have a responsibility to digest information critically. As I wrote in yesterday’s post about nerve stimulators, we have to question what we learn – no matter if we learn it from the media, doctors or alternative health care providers.

These are some questions I ask when I evaluate news.

  • Is the proclamation in the headline supported by the findings described in the article?
  • Is only one point-of-view presented? Who else may provide a valuable perspective?
  • If it’s about a study, is it the first one to have these results? If not, are the findings consistent with those in other studies?
  • Is cause and effect stated or implied in the article? If so, does the information in the article support this conclusion?
  • Are the side effects covered adequately? Could there be side effects or complications that aren’t addressed?

While writing this post, I found Health Compass, an excellent resource on how to evaluate the reliability of health information. Although the focus of the site is aging, the lessons apply to anyone seeking medical knowledge.

As for The Daily Headache, I sometimes blog about news that doesn’t hold up to these standards. I actively decide if it’s worth sharing even if it doesn’t fit, but I don’t always tell you why or even that I’m doing this. I’ll try to be clearer in the future.


A Willing Guinea Pig

Desperation makes ignoring pitfalls easy. Choosing a treatment without much clinical research to back it up or expose its shortcomings, like nerve stimulation, shouldn’t be done lightly.

The downsides that aren’t covered in the media? Just as the body tends to “outsmart” meds after a while, a nerve stimulator may stop working over time. Also, the surgery itself, or having a device implanted in your body over the long haul, may complicate or increase your pain. Notice that both of these sentences contain the word “may.” Studies on nerve stimulation for chronic headache are underway, but these are among the many questions yet to be answered.

The first of the occipital nerve stimulators are being tested now. One may prove to be better than another or all of them may need to be modified to work effectively in the future. Stimulators available five years from now will almost certainly be better equipped for this particular application. Or they may be abandoned altogether as a nonviable option.

Any doctor researching nerve stimulation, no matter how pure his or her intentions may be, would love to be the one to find The Answer for chronic headache. Of course they are excited about implanting a nerve stimulator. Not only do they have a chance to help you, they can also learn more about the device. This isn’t necessarily bad; just make sure your reason isn’t lost in their enthusiasm.

Docs aren’t all-knowing, particularly in an area that’s so new. Ask questions and make sure the answers are satisfactory. “We don’t know that yet” is an acceptable response only if you’re willing to take that risk. I was and I’m glad for that, but I do wonder if I will have regrets in the future.


New Findings on Brain Cell Communication in Migraineurs

Research examining how gene mutations influence brain cell communications of migraineurs has been published in the Canadian journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers Make Headway in Mystery of Migraines