The cold: good or bad for health?

Le 16 February 2018

Cold snaps bring snow but also a lot of received ideas: cold kills bacteria, cold is good for circulation, it causes frostbite, it’s dangerous for people with heart conditions, etc. But what’s the truth? iHealth addresses the myths about cold and its consequences on health.

  

Let's review the definition of hypothermia and its different stages. Hypothermia is the inability of the body to maintain itself at 37 °C during very intense cold, and it happens most often when the behaviour of the subject is not adapted to the weather conditions. Here are the different stages of hypothermia:

 

Stage

Central temperature

Signs and symptoms

Mild hypothermia

37.2 - 36.1 °C (99 - 97 °F)

Normal; chills can appear.

36.1 - 35 °C (97- 95 °F)

Sensation of cold, goosebumps, inability to perform complex tasks with hands, chills ranging from mild to intense, numbness of hands.

Moderate hypothermia

35 - 33.9 °C
(95 - 93 °F)

Intense shivers, apparent lack of coordination, slow and painful movements, hesitant walk, slight confusion, apparent alertness. If the person subjected to a sobriety test is unable to walk straight for 9 metres, they are suffering from hypothermia

33.9 - 32.2 °C
(93 - 90 °F)

Persistent intense chills, slurred speech, slow thinking, early amnesia, poor gross motor skills, inability to use hands, frequent stumbling, signs of depression, withdrawal.

Severe hypothermia

32.2 - 30 °C
(90 - 86 °F)

End of chills, exposed blue or puffy skin, very poor muscle coordination, inability to walk, confusion, inconsistent/irrational behaviour, but maintaining posture and appearance of alertness.

30 - 27.8 °C
(86 - 82 °F)

Muscular rigidity, semi-consciousness, stupor, unaware of the presence of other people, low pulse and respiratory rate, possibility of cardiac fibrillation.

27,8 - 25.6 °C 
(82 - 78 °F)

Unconsciousness, irregular heartbeat and breathing, pulse sometimes not obvious.

25.6 - 23.9 °C
(78 - 75 °F)

Pulmonary oedema, heart failure and respiratory failure. Death can occur before this temperature is reached.

 

In the worst case, hypothermia can lead to the death of the subject. Please be aware that it happens after long exposure to very low temperatures without proper clothing, so there is no need to panic during the slightest cold snap. Note, however, that young children and the elderly are much more sensitive to the cold than adults, so it is important to be extra vigilant when they are exposed to it.

 

Exposure to the cold doesn’t just do damage

 

Cold is a natural pain killer


For victims of trauma, putting an ice pack on the painful area is an age-old and justified instinct. Putting cold on a wound "puts the nerves of the area to sleep" and thus prevents them from sending a message of pain to the brain. The cold also encourages the brain to generate endorphins which has effects that are close to morphine. The cold relieves all types of pain, whether muscular, ligamentous, nervous, etc.

 

The cold helps burn calories

 

Our layer of fat not only serves as insulation to fight against the cold, it also serves as fuel and keeps the body at 37 °C. The good news is that even the "bad fat" that was thought to only be eliminated with sport warms the body and is also consumed by our body when we are cold.

 

The cold promotes blood circulation

 

The cold is ideal for activating blood circulation. Indeed, when it's cold our heart beats faster to transfer blood to vital organs faster. But that's not all: the cold also causes a constriction (tightening) of the small vessels (vasoconstriction), followed immediately, in response, by vasodilatation (dilation of these same vessels), which promotes venous return and lymphatic drainage. Ideal against heavy legs, but also the appearance of veins.

  

As you can see, the cold is dangerous in the case of prolonged exposure to low temperatures but it also has very interesting benefits for our health. As the most important thing is to stay informed, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor as soon as you have the slightest concern. 

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