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Are your sweatshirts and blankies keeping you warm?

Are your sweatshirts and blankies keeping you warm?

By Diana Montinola

Often overlooked is the body’s ability to maintain its healthy state through thermoregulation. Thermoregulation is the acclimation of the autonomous system in response cold and stress. Maintaining body core temperature at 37°C ± 2°C enables normal cellular function. Heat production and dissipation are the autonomous system to be regulated. Disorders that impair such pathways include autonomic neuropathy and ganglionopathy. Failure to regulate these mechanisms or being exposed to extreme temperatures may result and are often associated with hypothermia and hyperthermia. Hypothermia, characterized by a core temperature below 35°C, may result in the least severe cases in shivering, respiratory depression and cardiac dysrhythmias and in the more severe cases in impaired mental function, hypotension and muscle dysfunction. All of which can easily progress to cardiac arrest or coma depending on severity and time-exposure to conditions. Though not as frequent, deaths from hyperthermia also occur. Characterized by greater than 40.5°C, hyperthermia may progress from sweating to headache to nausea to confusion to coma.As a response to combat such differences in body temperature, our bodies fight cold through cutaneous vasoconstriction and heat through cutaneous vasodilation. A third response of the autonomous system to acclimate to changes in temperature is human behaviour. Though often overlooked, human behaviour responds to thermal sensory input by seeking warmth or coolness. Thermoregulatory disorders occur in cases where the autonomic system’s capacity to regulate is impaired.¹

Awareness of such disorders is as important as knowing that what we eat affects our bodies or that sleep deprivation has vast effects on our cognitive functions. Correlation between diabetes mellitus has been confirmed through a regulatory sweating test (TST). which proved that 48/51 (94%) of patients who were tested showed abnormalities. The TST provides information relating to the distribution of diabetic neuropathic involvement as distal loss of sweating associated with distal axonal neuropathy through abnormal electromyographic were detected.² What this states is that thermoregulation impairment can be manifested in several ways, including through means of other illnesses. In hopes of achieving thermal homeostasis, the body’s temperature is maintained through convection and evaporation. Hypothermia can be induced by environmental exposure, metabolic disorders, or therapeutic intervention. Similarly, hyperthermia can be induced by environmental factors through the impairment of the body to maintain a balance between heat production and heat loss.

Diverging from what it means to be too cold or too hot is the idea of what actually drives thermoregulation. In women for example, there are two unavoidable regulatory responses that their bodies undergo, menopause and the changes in body temperature within the menstrual cycle. Although thermoregulation seems most noticeable in extreme circumstances, the response of the autonomic system within the menstrual cycle aids in the prediction of ovulation. Thus, allowing us to see another of the wonders of the human body. In this process, estrogens promote lower body temperatures and evidence suggests its influence on skin blood flow, sweating and vasodilation through peripheral blood vessels.³ In a state of hyperthermia, skin blood flow can reach 6–8L/min thus implying the importance of maintaining homeostasis once more. As the sympathetic active vasodilator system projects onto the skin, less cardiac output is directed to other essential parts of the body thus leaving the individual at loss. During menopause, such high levels of blood flow to the skin result in what is known as hot flashes.⁴ As discussed, thermoregulation seems to be implicated in various stages of life, in many bodily processes and in serving as cues for what may be going wrong with our bodies. Temperature signaling serves as a monitoring system that allows us to explore our bodies from the inside out if we we so choose to listen.

References

Cheshire, William. Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical. Thermoregulatory disorders and illness related to heat and cold stress. 2015. ¹

Fealey, Robert et al. Mayo clinic Proceedings. Thermoregulatory Sweating Abnormalities in Diabetes Mellitus. 1989. ²

Charkoudian, Nisha. Autonomic Science. Sex hormone effects on autonomic mechanisms of thermoregulation in humans. 2016.³

Charkoudian, Nisha. Mayo Clinic Preceedings. Skin blood flow in adult human thermoregulation: How it works, where it does not, and why. 2003.⁴

Are your sweatshirts and blankies keeping you warm?

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