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Beating the heat

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Dr Anjali Mukerjee offers some preventive tips.

health-and-fitness Updated: May 20, 2008, 13:57 IST
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Dr Anjali Mukerjee
Hindustan Times

Whether you enjoy summer in shorts-and-sunglasses or can't wait for it to end, don't let heat-related illness make it worse.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related condition and can cause permanent disability or death if not treated immediately. It occurs when the body is unable to control a steep rise in its temperature.

The body's sweating mechanism fails and is unable to cool down. <b1>

This can result from working heavily or exercising excessively in hot, humid weather, coupled with inadequate fluid intake. Body temperature can rise to 41degrees C or higher in 10 to 15 minutes and damage the brain or other vital organs. In response to heat stroke, the body goes into shock mode.

If the system is not cooled quickly to restore normal body temperatures, the damage from heat stroke can be irreversible.

Risk factors
Heat stroke can hit anybody, but some factors can predispose you to higher risk levels:

Infants and the elderly: In the very young, the central nervous systemis not fully developed, and in older adults, it begins to deteriorate, which makes the body less able to cope with fluctuations in body temperature.

Both age groups usually have difficulty remaining hydrated as well, thus increasing the risk.

Weight and certain medications can be a factor. Some medications place you at greater risk of heat stroke and other heat-related conditions because they affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat.

Signs and symptoms
Warning signs of heat stroke vary but usually include the following:
An extremely high body temperature (above 39 degrees C)
Red, hot, dry skin (no sweating)
Rapid, strong pulse
Throbbing headache

To prevent heat stroke
These tips should help you rehydrate your system, oxygenate your cells and keep you fit and alert through the day, irrespective of your exposure to the sun.

1 Drink juices or 2.5 to 3 litres of water every day. To compensate for water lost during perspiration, drink plain water, to which you can add lime, jal jeera powder, melon seeds or mint juice.

Drinking soda with salt can help replace electrolytes that we lose through sweat but avoid caffeinated or carbonated beverages, alcohol, and those high in sugar.

2 The best foods for summer are lettuce, cucumber and mint among vegetables, and watermelon, pineapple, oranges and sweet lime among fruits. Being low in sodium and calories, and high in potassium, vitamins C, A and antioxidants, they are good thirst quenchers and coolants.

3 Drink wheat grass juice and other green juices made from coriander, curry leaves, spinach. Coconut water, fruit juice, buttermilk, lime juice, carrot and beetroot juice are also good. You can add black salt and lime juice to make green juices more palatable.

4 Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates. People who eat refined carbs likewhite bread and processed foods are more likely to see a dip in blood sugar levels. This can lead to headaches and tiredness, which can contribute to heat stroke. Brown rice, raw vegetables, moong sprouts salad, alfalfa sprouts tossed in green salad, are recommended.

5 Egg whites, curd, dal , olive oil and nuts will keep your blood sugar steady.

6 Adding onions to your food has a cooling effect and can help prevent heat stroke. You can use raw onions in chutnies and salads.

7 Meals must be light, nutritious, non-fatty and not too spicy. Avoid meals with red meat, fried foods, rich gravies, late dinner, coffee, alcohol, whole milk and cigarettes.

8 Use cinnamon, garlic, pepper, dried fruits, ghee sparingly; cool ingredients like kokum , yogurt and raw mangoes are preferred.

9 Peppermint oil lowers body temperature and restores balance. Peppermint can be applied on the temples or elsewhere on the skin, aswell as taken inwater (2-3 drops in a glass).

10 Wear light cotton, loosely fitted but closely knit clothes. In case of heat stroke, cool the victim rapidly by immersing him in cool water or sponging him with wet tissue while continuously monitoring body temperature. Get urgent medical assistance.

(Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of HealthTotal, a nutrition counselling centre. You can send in your queries to

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