How to help the human body adapt to extreme temperatures

Behind the thick metal door, Jane Twomey, an energetic, bright-eyed sexologist, barely dares to move. Cables attached to electrodes, probes and other capsules run along his body. Every five minutes a scientist comes to refresh it by spraying water in eighteen different places with a cheap spray bottle. When she finally tries to open her book, the pages dance in the air, projected by the fan in front of her. In the thermal chamber of around twenty square metres, the temperature reaches 45°C. “I didn’t think it would be so restrictive, but whatever, I’m happy to be here. This type of investigation is extremely important for our future.”, the retired obstetrician slips into an experiment in the laboratory of Ollie Jay, in Sydney, Australia. His team is at the forefront of studying the effects of extreme heat on the human body.

Jane Twomey takes part in an experiment where she is exposed to three hours of intense heat at 45°C.  At the Heat and Health Research Incubator at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sydney (Australia), on 16 November 2022.
During the three-hour intense heat experience, Jane Twomey is cooled with only a fan, a spray of water every five minutes and the occasional glass of water.  In Sydney (Australia), on 16 November 2022.

In the years 2017-2021, the number of heat-related deaths increased by 68% worldwide compared to the period 2000-2004, especially in the two extremes of life, among those over 65 and those under 1 year. In France, the various heat waves in the summer of 2022 caused at least 2,800 deaths, making it the deadliest summer since the heat wave of 2003. Climate change has many “serious consequences” on “global health”warned on October 26 a hundred experts in a report published by the British journal The Lancet.

But what are the exact consequences of heat stress on organisms on an individual and collective scale? What are the best protection strategies to deal with it? Can our bodies adapt to higher temperatures? These are some of the questions that researchers around the world are currently working on, including Ollie Jay, director of the Heat and Health Research Incubator at the University of Sydney Medical School.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers The many impacts of global warming on human health

“We urgently need science-based strategies to protect the most vulnerable”, explains the one who systematically advocates the cheapest solutions, accessible to everyone and low energy consumption, such as the electric fan. In the thermal chamber of his laboratory, specially built in 2021, he studies in particular the effect of high temperatures on the elderly, a public among the most vulnerable to increasing heat waves.

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