Cold Weather, Winter and Hypothermia.

Hypothermia can Occur Even in the Tropics.

The following information has been gathered and compiled through personal experience while traveling, teaching T’ai Chi, Qi Gong, Chinese Herbal medicine, martial arts and other health related subjects.  The article also contains feedback from students and anecdotal information from readers of my columns.  The following are my opinions and deductions from those sources.

Every winter we hear stories about people dying during periods of cold weather.  It’s believed that many die with the cause being diagnosed as heart or lung related, particularly among older persons, when the actual cause is hypothermia.  Over 80% of the cold stress deaths are people over 65 years of age. 

Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature below 95 degrees F.  Hypothermia can occur in homes where the temperature is 65 degrees and in the tropics if the person is wet and even at high temperatures if the body core drops below 95 degrees for some reason.  When we shiver, tiny muscles below the skin quiver, or contract, causing calories to be burnt and heat to be produced.  If the body’s ability to shiver is impaired, no calories are consumed and no heat is generated.  Various medications can impair the shiver response.  When the body core temperature is lowered below a certain point, around 95 degrees, the individual becomes confused and disoriented and if the body temperature isn’t raised, they will usually experience heart failure.  After the fact, heart failure is easier to diagnose as the cause of death, than hypothermia.

Many drugs, OTC, prescription and recreational, can fool the body into believing it’s warm.  Many can also impair the body’s ability to shiver and upset the body’s thermostat, which leaves you feeling warm even though your body core temperature is at or below the hypothermia threshold.

Many drugs prescribed for high blood pressure (hypertension) contain methydopa or methyldopa.  Methydopa and methyldopa are generics that can fool your body’s thermostat.  Drugs that are prescribed for depression, aggressive behavior, psychotic disorders, nervous disorders, vomiting, nausea, motion sickness, skin allergies and mild anxiety and contain phenothiazine or a phenothiazine derivative, can inhibit or stop the body’s shiver reflex.  Drugs for tension, stress, alcohol withdrawal and depression that contain diazepan or meprobamate can also cause problems with lack of feeling cold.  Anyone on prescription drugs and over the age of 65 should check with their health care provider to see if the drug contains ingredients that may upset the body’s thermostat.  Like when shopping for healthful foods, it’s a good idea to check the labels and be knowledgeable about what the ingredients are.

If you suffer from gout, you’re probably more prone to having problems with hypothermia.  Even if you don’t feel cold or shiver, if you feel the pain of gout, it’s probably time to go somewhere you can warm up.  Hypothermia causes uric acid to crystalize, which in turn causes gout and gout pain.  Listen to your big toe, it may be a messenger that can save your life.

The Canadian Government developed a chocolate bar that counteracts the body’s ability to produce adenosine.  Adenosine hinders the body’s ability to convert fat to energy and heat.  Slowing or blocking the  production of adenosine allows more fat to be burnt and more heat to be produced. The candy bar goes by the name Canadian Cold Buster and may, or may not, be available in the US.  There may be contraindications and possible drug reactions.