THE WEATHER AND YOU
Clarence A. Mills, M.D.
Can hot and cold weather affect our health? Do storms influence appendix, respiratory and rheumatic diseases? "Yes," says this doctor
IF YOU live in Alberta or Saskatchewan, a pain in the lower right side of the abdomen calls for a competent physician without delay; take his advice if he favors immediate operation. Acute appendicitis strikes suddenly and with great virulence in the provinces of the upper Plains region. It is fully as bad in the states below the border. In fact, few other regions of the earth are afflicted with this disease in the fulminating form it exhibits throughout the upper Mississippi basin and the Prairie Provinces of Canada.
Just why this should be so is not known with certainty, but the finger of suspicion points to weather as the possible culprit. Medical scientists are slowly coming to realize that weather exerts a profound influence over the body, that its abrupt changes disrupt human functions in many ways and bring undue stresses into our lives. Year after year we face these weather effects so it is well that we appreciate what they do to us.
Appendicitis attacks in less stormy countries are not so acute or dangerous, nor are they nearly so frequent. Only in regions buffeted by the tropical typhoons or hurricanes do they assume the severity we see here in this part of North America. Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and the portion of India around the head of the Bay of Bengal face much the same acute appendicitis problem, but with an added handicap. Tropical or subtropical patients have a lowered vitality and succumb to the disease much more readily. Here in North America life expectancy rises steadily from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian provinces. Out of each 100 people stricken with appendicitis only about a third as many die in Alberta and Saskatchewan as in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.
Attacks are worst during the stormy weather of midwinter and early spring but their virulence is also very high when severe summer heat waves settle over the land. Out in western South Dakota I have seen veritable epidemics of rapidly fulminating attacks in
July and August heat—going on to the perforation stage within just a few hours if not operated on promptly.
In any locality suffering sudden and marked weather changes, acute appendicitis tends to come in waves during periods of falling barometric pressure. Often we get a great rush of cases for a few days, only to be followed by almost none as clear, rising pressure weather follows. Just why this should be so has puzzled thinking surgeons. In many people such weather phases often induce a flareup of bacterial activity in the bowel, with foul gas production and a diarrheal tendency. Perhaps it is this, extending into a poorly draining appendix, which brings on the attack.
During a recent airplane trip to Mexico City I experienced a similar intestinal effect of reduced barometric pressure. Most outsiders going to Mexico City, either by air or by rail, encounter this sort of bowel trouble. The city sits in a basin at about 7,500 ft. above sea level, surrounded on all sides by mountains rising from several hundred to thousands of feet higher still. Most visitors blame their trouble on contaminated water or food, but I found that airline officers and
stewardesses on that run were similarly affected, even when every possible precaution was observed. Other flights at equally high elevations do not cause them this trouble, perhaps because landings are usually made near sea level and the exposure to reduced pressure is kept to only a very few hours.
Periods of falling pressure, as storms are approaching or passing, bring other dramatic disturbances in the body. People troubled with headaches (except those of migrane type) often suffer at such times. Fainting and convulsive seizures are then more likely to occur, although this seemingly fails to apply to the more advanced cases of institutionalized epileptics.
Weather and the Body
THERE is some evidence that body tissues take up more water and swell as outside barometric pressure is reduced over a period of many hours. They seem to behave in this respect somewhat like a sponge, except in the time required. Such change in tissue water content may make the hands and feet puffy one day and skinny the next, with some people showing as much as from five to seven pounds change in body
weight from one day to another. Were such swelling to occur in the brain it would cause trouble, for that organ is enclosed in a bony case which allows no room for expansion. Whatever the reason may be, it is in the psychic and mental functions that weather changea exert their most disturbing effects.
Inability to think clearly, a feeling of frustration and inadequacy, and an irritation over it all these lead to family squabbles, attempted suicides and many other unfortunate episodes when the barometer pressure is falling. As the storm passes and the pressure begins rising again, all these troubles pass away with the disappearing clouds. Proper realization of this kind of weather effect cando much to promote harmony in the home and office. One will hesitate to give immediate vent to hik irritation if he bears in mind that the trouble probably lies in the weather effect upon his own tissues.
Those who have particularly difficult work to do or problems to solve should watch for periods of rising pressure. Salesmen should approach difficult customers at such times, for their arguments will then be best set forth and the listener most genial and receptive. Artists or public speakers should pray for rising pressure at their appearances, for then the temper and interest of the audience are at their best. Temperamental artists often create their own behind-the-scene tempests when an outside storm is brewing.
Perhaps we shall some day control indoor pressure just as we now do temperature. Any such development should first be applied to school buildings so that the frustrations and irritations of falling-pressure days may be eliminated. Every schoolteacher has seen the day when evil spirits pervaded the room and made a mockery of all efforts at learning.
Domestic animals also show the effects of falling pressure during the hours before a storm. Horses tend to become unruly, milk cows to kick the pail
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over, and dogs to wander off and explore new territory. In certain cities with strict enforcement of leash laws the number of stray pickups has been found to rise sharply before a storm. For your own safety restrict your petting of stray dogs to periods of rising pressure and fair weather.
By far the most disastrous effect of storms, so far as health is concerned, is in respiratory and rheumatic infections. In stormy climates respiratory troubles alone probably account for more illhealth and time lost from work than all other diseases combined. They are the ones which mainly account for the increased health hazards of winter Time lost from work because of such troubles is 10 times greater during stormy winter cold than in the calm warmth of summer.
In my opinion greater freedom from these infections in summer is not due mainly to more sunshine and vitamin-rich garden produce, as so many people have thought. Body resistance to infection is actually highest in winter cold. Out of each 100 people attacked by acute appendicitis only half as many die in January as in July. The studies upon which these statements are based were made in Cincinnati, where summer heat is more depressive than in any part of Canada, but the general principles will hold *mywhere. My belief is it’s stormy leather—not cold—that brings respiratory and rheumatic infections with all their secondary effects. High and
low pressure con (res travel across the continent more slowly in summer, are fewer in number, and are accompanied by less violent weather change.
Dr. Petersen, Chicago, formerly Professor of Pathology at the University of Illinois Medical School and author of a series of volumes entitled “The Patient and the Weather,” believes that weather changes induce physical and chemical alterations in body cells which favor bacterial penetration and growth. Others see sudden body chilling and a reflex disturbance of blood supply to the linings of the nose and throat as the responsible factor in colds and other respiratory infections. Probably abrupt changes in both temperature and pressure of the environment provide most favorable conditions for the start or spread of such infections. A rheumatic individual can usually detect a change to falling pressure hours or days before the temperature begins to drop; however, this has to do only with increased swelling of the cells around the involved joint and not with an actual spread of the infection. Here is probably exemplified the spongelike taking up of water as the surrounding pressure is reduced.
Migration the Solution
Acute rheumatic infections, with joint and heart involvement, constitute a very real problem in Canada’s stormy winter weather. Such trouble tends to recur in succeeding winters, with progressively greater damage to the victim as the years pass. For them migration to a nonstormy climate
holds oui. the best hope of a fairly I normal life, provided the move is taken before heart damage has become too extensive. If they stay on in the stormy climate each respiratory or new rheumatic attack carries the danger of further heart damage.
Whatever the real basis of such storm effects on respiratory and rheumatic ailments, the obvious indication for many afflicted individuals is migration
eit her seasonal or permanent. The continent of North America has only one really nonstormy region—that extending from New Mexico, Arizona and southern California southward into Mexico. It is this region which offers a soothing haven of refuge to the stormracked residents of higher latitudes. Europeans have long found similar winter relief along the Upper Nile in Egypt, although their winter storm problem is much milder than that of American middle temperate latitudes.
Florida and California vied for dominance when Americans and Cana'dians first began to realize the health value of seasonal migration. While the former may he the proper winter haven for an overly dynamic person suffering from high blood pressure, heart failure or diabetes, it bas a very distinct winter storm problem. Sad experience has finally taught many people afflicted with sinusitis and other chronic respiratory troubles not to expect too much from a winter in Florida.
Southern California, which also received thousands upon thousands of seasonal and permanent migrants, never has much of a storm problem at any season. Its chief handicap comes from the heavy rainfall and dense fogs of January and February. Its worst weather thus comes at the time of year storm-tossed victims east of the Rockies most need relief.
It is only in the inland regions of the southwest that more nearly perfect winter weather prevails. Southern Arizona or New Mexico at elevations of from 1,000 to 3,000 ft. (as at Phoenix or Tucson) provide the winter sufferer from rheumatic or respiratory trouble with a real healing balm. Increasing numbers of people have found this to be true in the last few years in spite of all the inconveniences of wartime travel.
Such locations as Phoenix and Tucson are fine in winter but too hot in summer. Prescott, upstate at better than 5,000-ft. elevation, is ideal for summer but is tinged with the icy finger of polar storms in winter. For year-round weather perfection one must go farther south—below the Tropic of Cancer. Around Guadalajara, in west-central Mexico, lies perhaps the most nearly ideal climate the North American continent has to offer. Free of all cyclonic storm effects, with tropical stability in temperature and barometric pressure, and relieved from depressing heat effects at all seasons by a 5,000-ft. elevation, this region does indeed seem to be America’s best from a health standpoint.
Canadians usually love their winter cold with all its icy sports; but it takes a good health to really enjoy life anywhere. Weather victims, whose sinusitis, bronchitis or rheumatism makes them miserable most of the year, should look for relief to the calm climate of the southwest or, better still, farther south in Mexico.
Canadians, however, are fortunate in the general effects of their climate. Never do they face the depressive effects of prolonged heat which brings i such severe handicaps to tropical residents. Year-round ease of body heat loss allows Canadians a rapid rate of food burning in their tissues and a resultant high vitality of mind and body. Brimming over with excess energy as they are, they can have little appreciation of what tropical heat
means to man, of the physical and Í mental lethargy which comes with constant difficulty in body heat dissipation.
The grey matter of the brain has the highest combustion rate of all body tissues —and it is most severely affected by any prolonged outside heat. Students in American colleges at the Cincinnati latitude do only 60% as well in July or August heat as in winter cold when given standard mental tests. In more northern colleges, free of depressive summer warmth, no such seasonal difference in brain function is found.
Even the laboratory white rat, with his simple problems, can think best in cool surroundings. Psychologists have tested the learning ability of rats raised at 65°F., 78°F„ and 92°F., and have found marked differences. Those raised at65°F., for instance, required 12 trials before learning their way through a mechanical maze to a dish of food. Those kept at 78°F., although also fasted for 24 hrs. previously, achieved the same learning only after 28 trials. Many of the animals from a 92°F. room gave up on the job, deciding the food was not worth the effort; those that did find the way required 52 trials!
Retested after a month’s rest in their respective rooms, those rats in the cold were found to have retained their learning almost perfectly; those from the 78°F. room had to relearn in good part, and the 92°F. victims showed no evidence whatever of having benefitted by their previous learning.
Half the earth’s population dwell under an eternal blanket of moist heat which permits an existence barely above the vegetable level. Another quarter of mankind lives in regions exposed to debilitating warmth during the summer months. It is the remaining quarter, never exposed to continued heat, who have the vitality and energy to step forth and lead the way. Canada should consider herself extremely fortunate in belonging to this group.
Earth temperatures have been rising for almost a century and it seems probable that this trend will continue considerably longer. Brooks, one of Britain’s leading climatologists, draws a convincing picture of millenniums of warmth alternating with cold periods of equal length since the last Ice Age crest 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. The last such thousand years of world warmth coincided with the Dark Ages, reaching its peak about 850 A.D. Colder centuries followed until somewhat after 1850, since which time the long-term trend has again been upward.
In the Dark Ages it was the people of northern Europe and Scandanavia who benefitted most from the rising temperatures. Relieved of the benumbing cold they fared forth far and ; wide to conquer and to settle. With the j return of colder centuries they were again submerged in polar cold most of the year, while nations of central temperate latitudes rose up to carry the torch of civilization. Today it seems that rising earth temperatures are again shifting the balance of power to more northern population masses. This means Russia, Scandanavia and Canada! Those broad wastes of the Northland may become extremely valuable assets in the centuries ahead. Canadians may well view with satisfaction the situation of their country in the world of today, but they should prepare for a still more important part in the world of tomorrow.
Canadian weather does many things to those living under its sway. For some people its effects are too severe and ill-health results. Such weather ; victims should consider the advantages ! of seasonal or permanent migration out
of the storm zone as soon as wartime currency and travel restrictions are lifted. For the great mass of Canadians, however, climate and the weather should be considered important and favorable factors largely responsible for their high vitality and vigor.
So thank your lucky stars, Canadians, for your invigorating climate.
Enjoy your weather, its briskness and the tonic stimulation of its sudden changes. Be prepared for the alterations it induces in your mind and body. Laugh off the falling pressure effects in home and office, and attack your most difficult tasks when the barometer is rising or high. Do not fight your weather—live with it.