Dr. Sharman’s Musings

heat stroke

Taking it Seriously…and Preventing Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is something most folks have heard of…but may think is not a risk for themselves. But with the summer months and heat index in full swing, it’s something everyone should know about.

We tend to think of serious athletes – marathon runners, for example – or maybe even people who work in landscaping or farming as being the kind of people susceptible to heat stroke. The reality is that the average person, in the right conditions, could suffer from heat stroke.

 

So what causes heat stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when your body can no longer regulate your core temperature. When you become overheated, those natural processes can fail and your body can’t cool itself. This is due to high temperatures, excessive physical activity or a combination of both.

Biologically, our bodies release heat by sweating. First, our blood vessels begin to swell, or dilate, causing our skin to look red. Blood then flows close to the surface of our skin so that we transfer heat from our skin into the air. As well, our muscles cause our body hair to lay down flat to further increase heat loss. Then our glands secrete sweat onto our skin in order to increase heat loss by evaporation. This process continues until our body temps return to normal.

But in heat stroke, we sweat so much that we become dehydrated. When our bodies run out of fluids to sweat and we haven’t been drinking enough water to supply more fluids, our body temperature will continue to rise. At that point, heat stroke symptoms kick in.

 

Symptoms

It’s really important to be aware of the signs of heat stroke so if you are outside in the heat and are struggling to cool down, you can get the help you need. Heat stroke typically has a few warning symptoms to let you know it’s coming. Be aware if you begin to experience any of these:

  • Fainting – also known as heat syncope occurs when your blood vessels dilate so much that it reduces blood flow to your brain. You may not completely pass out but feel dizzy, light-headed and even nauseous.
  • Muscle cramps – may occur even if you aren’t doing anything strenuous. This is also a warning sign of dehydration.
  • Heat exhaustion – is simply feeling ill from the heat…nauseous, weak, head aching, clammy and even like you may throw up. Your skin may actually become dry, due to lack of fluid for sweating. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can easily advance to heat stroke.

Full-on heat stroke is a serious medical emergency. It can lead to brain damage, organ failure and even death, if untreated. Aside from the warning signs previously mentioned, sufferers of heat stroke may experience confusion/delirium. Their urine turns a dark-brown color. They may have a seizure. They may have shallow breathing.

 

Prevention

The obvious solution, once you start experiencing the warning symptoms, is to get out of the heat. As well, you’ll need to get access to water quickly. Before you begin any activities outdoors, you should know if you have any risk factors that make you more prone to heat stroke.

But in general, heat stroke is preventable…in many very commonsense ways.

For starters, drink plenty of water – not just during your activity but the day before. Hydrating your body well in advance is half the battle. You can also eat more hydrating foods, such as watermelon, tomatoes, and avocados as a means of getting more water into your body. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they have a tendency to dehydrate the body.

If you can avoid direct sunlight, you should. Limit your outdoor time on particularly hot days to the hours when the sun is less severe. Get into the shade to take breaks from the sun and heat. Use an umbrella for protection. And make sure the clothing you wear is lightweight but can provide some protection from the bright sun.

Know your medications. Some medications may affect your ability to deal with higher temperatures. Antibiotics are one such example. So are antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, laxatives, diuretics and medications for heart disease, blood pressure, cholesterol and seizures. Talk to your physician if you take any of these medications and learn what your risks may be.

Get cool. On some days, you will just need to avoid the heat altogether and stay indoors with good air conditioning (fans may not be enough). If you must be outdoors, take breaks and get into an air-conditioned space to allow your body time to cool down. You may even want to take a quick, cool shower or get cool cloths and apply them to your neck during your breaks.

RELATED: Is the Farmers’ Market Really That Good for You?

 

Final thoughts

Please watch out for others in your life – especially the elderly – who may be susceptible to heat stroke. If you’re with someone who is displaying heat stroke symptoms, call 911 immediately. Then move the person to a cool place, apply cool compresses and wait for the medical professionals to arrive.

Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency. Immediate treatment is vital. So be aware this summer for your own sake and for those you love.

Dr. Sharman

how to eat a Mediterranean diet

How to Eat a Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet – you’ve likely heard of it but may not know why it’s popular, how it would benefit you or what to do to get started. The good news is that it’s not a fad diet – one that you try for a while and drop after reaching your goal (weight loss, cholesterol level reduction, etc.). What I love about it is that the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle plan for eating and achieving wellness. Best of all, you can incorporate parts of it into your meals and still get some great benefits for your overall health and specific health conditions.

So let’s learn more about this lifestyle approach to eating.

 

The Diet Defined

how to eat a Mediterranean dietThe Mediterranean diet gets its name from the traditional cooking and eating style of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – Greece, Turkey, Israel and Spain…to name just a few. The diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating with fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Specifically, the tenants of Mediterranean diet include:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, including legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flavoring foods with herbs and spices over salt
  • Only eating red meat a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages, processed foods, refined grains and refined oils

As well, a part of this diet/lifestyle of eating includes enjoying meals with family and friends. I love this! Eating is pleasurable and it’s important to not eat in a hurry and grab things quickly. The emphasis on sharing meals helps us to focus on taking time to enjoy the food we eat. The diet also advocates drinking red wine in moderation and getting plenty of exercise. Many of the people in the countries from where this diet hails spend a lot of time walking each day rather than driving in a car.

 

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

As with most diets that focus on plant-based foods and steer clear of processed foods and unhealthy fats, you will likely lose weight. For those of us looking to trim back our weight, this eating lifestyle will help you do it while still enjoying many delicious foods.

Studies have shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease – so anyone with a preexisting heart condition or the genetics to develop a heart condition should consider this diet. As well, it’s been shown to help reduce the level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – what we often refer to as “bad” cholesterol – that can build up and eventually cause blocked arteries.

The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, incidence of cancer and occurrence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. It may even reduce breast cancer in women, due to the emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts. The bottom line is that most scientific organizations encourage this eating lifestyle as a preventive for many major diseases and to improve overall health and wellness.

There’s just not much to NOT love about it!

 

Getting Started with the Diet

It’s really not complicated to get started once you learn a little about the foods to include and exclude from this eating lifestyle.

What to eat

  • Generous helpings for various fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds – go beyond peanuts; think about almonds, walnuts, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Legumes– seed or pod foods like beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
  • Tubers – foods grown underground such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips
  • Whole grains
  • All kinds of seafood and fish at least twice a week
  • Poultry
  • Dairy – Greek yogurt, cheese
  • Extra-virgin olive oil plus other healthy fats like avocados
  • Herbs and spices –  garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper

Stick with whole, single-ingredient foods.

 

What not to eat

In general, processed and multi-ingredient foods are to be avoided. To know what to avoid, you’ll likely want to get in the habit of reading labels more carefully. Specifically, steer clear of:

  • Table sugar
  • Anything with added sugar – ice cream, sodas, candy
  • Refined grains – non-whole grain breads, cereal, pasta
  • Anything containing trans fats, especially margarine
  • Refined oils – canola, vegetable, soybean
  • Processed meats – hot dogs, lunch meats
  • Highly processed foods – made in a factory or labeled “diet”

 

A Word About Beverages

how to eat a Mediterranean dietYes, red wine is a staple in the diet of these Mediterranean countries. However, it’s meant to be consumed in moderation. Studies have connected wine with a reduced risk of heart disease in some research studies. So how much should you drink?

A moderate amount of wine means no more than 5 ounces of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than 10 ounces daily for men under age 65. This is about one glass per day.

Water is actually the main beverage in the Mediterranean diet. Coffee and tea are OK (both are made from water) but avoid any sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juices.

 

Resources

Sample diets abound online – so if you’re not ready to invest in a cookbook, start here with some ideas for crafting your own Mediterranean meal plan. Some websites have downloadable cookbooks with recipe and meal planning ideas.

There are tons of cookbooks available – one of the best rated ones I came across is The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook. It contains over 500 recipes that have been kitchen-tested. And if you want to read more about this eating lifestyle and others from around the world, I highly encourage you to check out a fun website called Oldways. You will learn a great deal and come to appreciate how cultural food traditions can impact our health and wellness.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore….it can still be a very positive experience with significant benefits to your wellness.  If you switch to this eating lifestyle, be sure to let me know about your experience!

 

Dr. Sharman