How heat affects our brain

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When temperatures rise, our brain function drops. But what causes this, and what can we do about it?
Unbearable heat, extreme exhaustion, and even the sensation that you can still not focus after the fifth cup of coffee are regrettably common summertime experiences for some of us. Once the heat wave hits, our brains can quickly suffer.

So, as “NetDoktor” explains, it’s no wonder we start sweating when we’re exceedingly hot. Our bodies natural processes keep us from becoming too hot. This can set in either when temperatures are high or during physical activity. You could call it the body’s own “air conditioning system,” so to speak.

How heat affects our brain
The fact that heat hurts our brain performance is not a myth but has been scientifically proven. Researchers at Harvard Chan School studied the cognitive performance of 44 students during a heat wave. Half of the subjects lived in apartments with air conditioning, and the other half in accommodations without room cooling. Immediately after getting up, the students had to solve tasks on their smartphones.

The study results showed that subjects living in hotter accommodations had a prolonged reaction time of up to 13 percent. They also took much longer to solve math problems.

As neuroscientist Dr. Elisabeth Philipps tells Metro, cognitive function in the brain declines: “Higher temperatures can cause nerve fibres to stop working properly.” She goes on to say that “messages sometimes can not get to and from the brain,” and that “inability” can show up as weakness, appetite loss, fatigue, difficulty balancing, or vision issues.

“This happens because the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that regulates our temperature) has to work overtime in warmer weather,” the expert says. “This part of the brain is also affected by hormonal changes, so the heat can slow down the transmission of brain messages, which affects our brain function, mood and cognition.”

The blood-brain barrier is not working correctly.
According to Phillips, high temperatures can cause unwanted proteins and ions to build up in the brain, which can interfere with the normal functioning of our thinking center. The expert stresses that from 40 degrees, our “blood-brain barrier” begins to crumble.

The Austrian health portal explains that this forms the “border between blood and the central nervous system.” It separates brain tissue from the bloodstream and keeps unwanted particles and bacteria out of our brains while allowing oxygen and nutrients to pass through. It stops working properly at high temperatures, and our brain’s performance decreases.

According to Phillips, people with neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s are especially vulnerable to brain cell damage that higher temperatures can cause.

A guide to safeguarding your brain in the event of a heat wave
Drink plenty of fluids: When we sweat, our bodies lose fluids. Make sure you drink plenty on sweltering days! “Dehydration can reduce neuronal activity in the brain,” Elisabeth Philipps, PhD, tells Metro. She recommends drinking two to two and a half litres of water to keep hydrated.
Don’t consume too cold/hot drinks: Neuroscientist Henning Beck tells Bayrischer Rundfunk that it’s better to consume lukewarm beverages in summer. This signals to our brain that the body still needs to be cooled. This also regulates sweating.
Stay in the shade: If you notice that the sun is not doing you any good, allow regular breaks in the shade. If you are outside a lot, make sure you wear headgear. This is another way to protect your brain from the heat.
Look at blue objects: Beck also explains that you should surround yourself with blue things in the summer. Our brain judges these to be “colder” than red objects. This calms our thinking center and ensures it can relax better even in the heat.

  • source: k.at/picture: pixabay.com
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