Energy crisis: what an unheated room does to our body

Due to the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine, winter promises to be difficult for many people in France and our European neighbours, especially the British.

To assess the effects of a lack of heating on the body, researchers from the University of South Wales invited James Gallagher, journalist at the BBCto live a scientific experiment (Source 1).

The journalist was thus invited to stay about 30 minutes in an airtight room whose temperature gradually decreases, from 21 to 10°C.

“Ten degrees is the average temperature people will live at if they can’t afford to heat their homes,” said Prof Bailey, who led the experiment.

Several biological variables were measured throughout the experiment: the blood flow in the brain using a helmet, an ultrasound machine inspects the carotid arteries of the neck, a device measures the air inspired and expired by the journalist, who is covered with various sensors…

Science tells us that 18 degrees is the tipping point… the body now works for [conserver sa] central temperature” (at 37°C, editor’s note)‘, shouts Professor Bailey to James Gallagher as the temperature in the room drops to 18C.

Very quickly, and as the temperature continues to drop, the journalist’s fingers turn white, the blood vessels in the hands and feet tighten: we speak of vasoconstriction, as opposed to vasodilation. A phenomenon that would go all the faster in women, according to the researchers, because of estrogen.

At 11.5°C, the guinea pig shivers. His body is now struggling intensely to maintain body temperature around 37°C. After going from 21 to 10°C in thirty minutes, several biological variables are clearly impacted: blood flow to the brain was reduced by 20%, blood pressure increased, as well as the rate of breathing, the body burns more calories, and the temperature of the extremities has dropped by 2°C. On the other hand, if the journalist took 75 seconds to complete a shape sorting game at 21°C, he put 20 seconds longer (95 seconds) to complete the same game when the room has gone to 10°C. Data that can be explained by the poorer oxygenation of the brain due to the ambient cold.

As for the rise in blood pressure, it constitutes a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attack), which is why these are more frequent in winter.

Drier, cold air is also synonymous with winter viruses, who take advantage of the weakness of our immune system and our promiscuity linked to less favorable weather.

Woolen clothes, thick gloves and socks, hat, carbohydrates on the menu, and physical activity: these are the tips suggested by Pr Bailey’s team for surviving low temperatures. Common sense advice that may seem derisory when you have no choice but to turn off the heating in the middle of winter due to soaring energy prices.

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