What Is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This decrease in temperature can impair the function of the circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems. Severe hypothermia can even lead to irregular heartbeat, which may in turn result in heart failure and death.
Causes of Hypothermia
Hypothermia sets in when the body loses more heat than it can produce. In most cases, the condition is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.
Certain factors may increase risk of hypothermia. These include:
People with hypothermia are likely to experience frostbite (cold-inflicted damage to the skin and its underlying tissues). Frostbite is characterized by hard, pale, cold, numb skin that becomes red and very painful as it thaws. In severe cases, frostbite can lead to blisters, gangrene, and damage to tendons, muscles, nerves, and bone.
Symptoms of Hypothermia
Commons symptoms of hypothermia include:
Without prompt treatment, hypothermia can lead to cardiac arrest, shock, or coma. Therefore, it's important to call 911 right away if symptoms of hypothermia are present.
Learn more about first aid for people with hypothermia.
Natural Approach to Hypothermia Prevention
Theoretically, certain herbs (such as bilberry or ginkgo biloba) may help protect against hypothermia by strengthening blood vessels and improving circulation. However, neither of these herbs has been scientifically studied for its possible effectiveness in preventing hypothermia.
Preliminary research conducted on animals suggests that Panax ginseng may help develop resistance to cooling, while a multivitamin-mineral combination may help stimulate faster recovery from acute hypothermia. However, these findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials before either remedy can be recommended for hypothermia prevention.
Also, whenever possible, avoid extremely cold temperatures (especially with high winds).
Wearing protective apparel (such as multi-layered clothing, mittens, scarves, and hats), drinking plenty of fluids, and avoiding alcohol can help reduce your risk of hypothermia.
Bell DR, Gochenaur K. "Direct vasoactive and vasoprotective properties of anthocyanin-rich extracts." J Appl Physiol. 2006 100(4):1164-70.
Kumar R, Grover SK, Divekar HM, Gupta AK, Shyam R, Srivastava KK. "Enhanced thermogenesis in rats by Panax ginseng, multivitamins and minerals." Int J Biometeorol. 1996 39(4):187-91.
Wu Y, Li S, Cui W, Zu X, Du J, Wang F. "Ginkgo biloba extract improves coronary blood flow in healthy elderly adults: role of endothelium-dependent vasodilation." Phytomedicine. 2008 15(3):164-9.