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  • Writer's pictureAtlantic Naturopathic

The Sizzling Truth: The Effects of Heat on the Human Body

We’ve all been experiencing these hotter-than-normal temperatures this summer. We know it’s uncomfortable and makes us sweat more, but what other effects is the heat having on our bodies? And is there anything we can do to prevent heat-related health issues?

Today, we delve into the fascinating (and somewhat scary) topic of how heat affects the human body. Understanding these effects can empower us to make informed decisions to maintain optimal health during hot weather or when engaging in activities that expose us to high temperatures.


The Regulation of Body Temperature

Before we dive into the effects of heat, let's first understand how our body regulates temperature. The human body is remarkably adept at maintaining a stable core temperature of around 98.6°F (37°C). The hypothalamus, our body's internal thermostat, plays a critical role in this process. When external temperatures rise, the hypothalamus triggers various cooling mechanisms to dissipate excess heat and vice versa in colder conditions.


Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion

Heat can cause rapid fluid loss through sweating, leading to dehydration. Dehydration, if not addressed promptly, can progress to heat exhaustion, characterized by symptoms like heavy sweating, weakness, nausea, and headaches. In severe cases, it may even lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition where the body's temperature regulation system fails. The key to preventing heat exhaustion is staying hydrated and taking regular breaks in cool and shaded areas during hot spells.


The Impact of Heat on Cardiovascular Health

When the body is subjected to high temperatures, blood vessels dilate, causing a drop in blood pressure. This can lead to issues like dizziness, lightheadedness, and even fainting, especially for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions. It is essential to stay well-hydrated and avoid prolonged exposure to extreme heat to reduce these risks.


Excessive heat exposure can also lead to the phenomenon of hypercoagulability, a condition where the blood becomes more prone to clotting. Hypercoagulability occurs as a result of several factors, including dehydration and alterations in blood flow patterns due to the body's response to heat. Increased clotting can lead to a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or other cardiovascular issues. It's crucial to be aware of this potential risk, especially for individuals with a history of clotting disorders or those predisposed to cardiovascular complications.


Impacts on Physical Performance

High temperatures can significantly impact physical performance, making even routine tasks challenging. Heat-induced fatigue is mainly due to the increased strain placed on the cardiovascular system and the body's efforts to maintain an optimal temperature. Athletes and outdoor enthusiasts should take precautions like training during cooler hours, wearing appropriate clothing, and consuming sufficient fluids to mitigate these effects.


Skin Health and Sun Protection

The sun's heat and UV radiation can have damaging effects on our skin. Prolonged exposure to the sun can cause sunburns, premature aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer. It is crucial to protect our skin by using broad-spectrum sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and seeking shade during peak sun hours. Natural remedies such as aloe vera gel can also soothe sun-damaged skin.


The Importance of Acclimatization

Our bodies can gradually adapt to hot environments through a process called acclimatization. Acclimatization enables improved heat tolerance, reduced heart rate, and increased sweat production, making it easier to cope with heat stress.


Allow your body time to adjust by starting with shorter exposures to heat and gradually increasing the duration. This practice will help you better cope with heat stress and reduce the risk of heat-related health issues.


Preventative Measures

Heat is a natural element of our environment, and understanding its effects on the human body empowers us to take proactive steps in safeguarding our health during hot weather conditions. Being aware of the following tips can help us stay healthy and happy in the beautiful, hot summer months:


a) Stay Hydrated: Maintaining adequate hydration is vital to replacing lost fluid and preventing hypercoagulability. Drink plenty of water, and consider incorporating hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables into your diet. You will also want to add in electrolytes which are also lost in sweat.

b) Wear Appropriate Clothing: You likely know about wearing sun-protective clothing, but did you know it’s more beneficial if that clothing is on the baggier side? Avoiding tight-fitting clothing that may impede blood flow which can influence the hypercoagulable state that can occur in heat. Loose and breathable fabrics are ideal for staying comfortable during hot weather.

c) Maintain Movement: Regular, moderate physical activity can help improve blood circulation and reduce the risk of clot formation. However, avoid intense workouts during peak heat hours.

d) Seek Shade and Rest: When the sun is at its peak, seek shade and take breaks to cool down. This reduces the body's stress response to heat and helps maintain normal blood flow.

e) Acclimate: If you’re going to be traveling somewhere hotter, or are gearing up for a heat wave and will still be spending time outside, get outside for short bursts of time to help your body adjust.


As summer unfolds before us, it's essential to embrace the sun responsibly and prioritize our well-being. The effects of heat on the human body can be profound, impacting cardiovascular health, causing heat-related illnesses, and leading to dehydration. However, armed with knowledge, we can make informed decisions to protect ourselves. At Atlantic Naturopathic, we advocate for holistic wellness, where harmony with nature and self-awareness leads to a vibrant life.


References:

  1. Desai, Y., Khraishah, H., & Alahmad, B. (2023). Heat and the Heart. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 96(2), 197–203. https://doi.org/10.59249/HGAL4894

  2. Meade, R. D., Akerman, A. P., Notley, S. R., McGinn, R., Poirier, P., Gosselin, P., & Kenny, G. P. (2020). Physiological factors characterizing heat-vulnerable older adults: A narrative review. Environment international, 144, 105909. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.105909

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