Being cold certainly isn’t fun. Who enjoys standing in a lift line with 40 mph winds and driving snow? Perhaps this is the reason we live in California rather than North Dakota. When the body becomes cold or hypothermic, systems slow down. This in turn reduces the metabolism-much like an engine at slower speeds will require less gas, so too we require less oxygen at lower body temperatures (hypothermia).
At some point some clinicians and researchers must have an ah ah moment: If hypothermia slows the metabolism, why not use this state to treat patients who would benefit from lower metabolism?
One example where a lower metabolism benefits patients is following a heart arrest. Survivors of a ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart stops often due to heart disease do better with hypothermia than at normal temperatures. In other words after a patient’s heart is restarted his or her body is actively cooled down to temperatures in the mid 80s (Fahrenheit) significantly lower than the normal temperature of 98.6. Shivering, which through muscle contraction raises the temperature is disabled by using certain drugs. The patient is sedated and often a breathing tube is placed. A few days later the patient is rewarmed. Studies have shown that this treatment increases the odds that a person will come out of an heart arrest with an intact brain.
Along this line other researchers reasoned, well if cooling the body helps the brain survive adverse conditions, why not try this for victims of strokes? Sure enough studies are planned in which some stroke survivors will be cooled. It will be a few years before the results are in, but future treatment of strokes may involve cooling of the body.
Some might fear that since lower temperatures mean lower metabolism scores of study participants would emerge alive but fatter. Not so, as these patients consume less as they require fewer calories.
Cold is cool, at least for the heart and brain might become the new mantra.