Summer is in full swing, as exemplified by the rising temperatures and the rising hemlines. July, August, these are months that make you wish you lived under the sea where the water is always cool and little crabs orchestrated a calypso band (Little Mermaid reference for those not with me). So what is a young, health-conscious lady (or gent) to do to maintain their inner-cool?
As temperatures rise, we are all warned of the risk on the elderly and athletes about heat stroke and heat stress, but obviously this can affect anyone of any age. Heat stress occurs if physical activity during heat and humidity upsets the body’s fluid balance. The body must maintain it’s ability to dissipate heat through perspiration, and as air temperature and humidity increase, the body’s ability to do this is lowered. No to mention that higher temperatures result in a higher core temperature as the body absorbs heat from the sun.
The mildest form of heat-related illness is swelling. Blood pooling in the hands and feet occur when the blood vessels dilate in response to the heat. Another symptom is heat cramps, painful spasms of the skeletal muscles in the arms, legs, and abdomen. Heat syncope, or fainting, occurs with prolonged standing or upon sudden rising from a seated position. If too much sodium is removed from the body via sweat/perspiration, cramps occur. All of these are warning signs of heat exhaustion (so take heed of these symptoms and listen to your body). Heat exhaustion occurs is a person experiences excessive sweating in a hot, humid environment, and fluids become depleted. Profuse sweating can occur even after the person is moved to a cooler location, and there may be several hours to several days of appetite loss, chills, dizziness, hypotension, racing pulse, muscular weakness, nausea, vomiting and visual disturbances.
One herbal remedy to help milder cases of heat stress include bitter orange tea (Citrus aurantium), which helps maintain electrolyte balance. Avoid sport’s drinks which are loaded with sugar and actually place additional fluid stress on the body. Bitter orange tea (aka Bergamot orange, otherwise known as Earl Grey or Bergamot tea) can also help prevent heat stress in those individuals who suffer from hypertension. Drink the tea whenever heat stress is a possibility – if you can find the herb itself, though it’s more common to find it in capsule form at your local hippie-mart. And my personal favorite, cayenne powder. Now, the recommendation is to dissolve 1/2 tsp in 1 C boiling water, then take 1 TBSP of the mixture with 1 C hot water – drink slowly. Not everyone may find this enjoyable, so spicy food is acceptable too. This relieves headache and fever, and induces gustatory sweating. Of course, chili peppers only increase perspiration if it is hot outside, but have no effect on perspiration if it is cold out. Ergo, eating a spicy meal in Texas in July causes greater perspiration, but the same meal consumed in Alaska in January will have no effect on perspiration.
It’s important to sip cool, slightly salty liquids if you experience symptoms of heat stress. Do not try to force down large quantities of liquid. You also want to lie down in a shaded place, preferably with your feet elevated higher than your head.
You also want to drink plenty of fluids before work or exercise in heat, not to mention during and after. Before exercise, the amount of sodium can be obtained through consumption of salty foods – though this doesn’t mean greasy fries or potato chips, think lightly salted roasted veg and rice or add a some salt to a fruit smoothie. One teaspoon of salt added to one quart of water supplies enough sodium to avoid cramps.
Some medications can increase susceptibility to heat stress, such as alcohol, amphetamines, antidepressants, seizure meds, illicit drugs, allergy medication, and others. So check with your doctor if you are on any medication to find out if you are susceptible based on your medication.
*Of note: If the core temperature reaches 105°F (40.5°C) or more, this is considered heat stroke and is a medical emergency. At this point, internal production of heat exceeds the heat-relieving capacity of perspiration, and sweating ceases. Disorientation, irregular heartbeat, and seizures may occur, and there is an increased risk of heat attack and stroke. Heat stroke is more common in older individuals who stay indoors in buildings without air conditioning during heat waves, but is more severe if it is caused by athletic activity in extreme heat. If symptoms of heat stroke occur, seek immediate medical attention.
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