As our planet warms, the effects of heat on the human body will become important information. The human body is capable of dealing with heat, but reprieves are needed to allow our systems to rest, else our bodies become over-stressed. This reprieve often comes in the form of night, when temperatures typically cool. During heat waves, nights remain toasty, and reprieves only exist for those with AC units, which many New England denizens lack. Chronic heat can result in heat strokes, muscle cramps, impaired internal organ function, and death. Most studies documenting these effects have focused on the more vulnerable demographics (i.e., the elderly, ill, and young).
A recent study investigated how chronic heat affects healthy adults. Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied two groups of Massachusetts college students, those with AC in their dorms and those without. The study capitalized on local weather, studying students for five days of ‘average’ temperature, five days of heatwave, and two ‘cool-down’ days. Each morning after waking, the students took two cognitivate tests. The results showed that students lacking AC had significantly lower cognitive scores and increased reaction times compared to those with AC.
This study also highlights the danger of ‘indoor heat waves’. Even after the heatwave had passed, indoor temperatures in the non-AC rooms remained elevated and cognitive performance remained low. While the general healthy population may not need to visit a hospital, we still suffer detrimental effects of chronic heat. Future studies should examine an age-range beyond 18-22 year olds, and determine whether the decreased cognitive function observed first thing in the morning continues throughout the rest of the day.
Managing Correspondent: Zane Wolf
Original Article: Laurent et al. 2016. PLOS Medicine
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