Stimulating the right nerve endings through a massage or listening to a song could prevent strokes,claim UC Irvine researchers after a study done on rats.
The study found that stimulating a single whisker could prevent the most common type of stroke in rats.
And researchers claim that the findings could be translated to humans, and stubble is not required, as 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," said UCI doctoral student Melissa Davis, co-author of the study,
"It's gender-neutral," added co-author Ron Frostig, professor of neurobiology and behavior.
He warned that the research is a first step, albeit an important one.
"This is just the beginning of the whole story, with the potential for maybe doing things before a victim even reaches the emergency room," he said.
A stroke usually happens when a main artery bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain either ruptures or is blocked by a clot, causing partial brain death.
The key to preventing strokes in rats whose main cerebral artery has been obstructed, UCI researchers found, is to stimulate the blood-starved brain area.
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.
People believed to be suffering a stroke are currently told to lie still and stay calm in a quiet environment.
And Frostig said that a good massage, listening to a song or otherwise stimulating the right nerve endings might work better.
Kleinfeld cautions that the rodent findings might not be relevant to humans.
But with such clear evidence that strokes in rats were prevented, "It would be criminal not to try" controlled human studies, he said.
The study appears in the June issue of PLoS One.