Understanding Your Body’s Heating and Cooling System
Your body is the most complex and astounding machine ever. While it is far more sophisticated than anything we can invent or manufacture, there are many aspects of your body that act like a machine would – we need fuel or a power source, we need to be cleaned and maintained, and we need to regulate our temperature, because being too hot or too cold will compromise normal function and prevent proper performance.
There are three main ways the body generates heat. First, every cell in your body has to breathe, and that respiration turns glucose into energy. More than half of that energy is released as heat.
Second, your muscles produce heat in two ways. When you exercise, your cells have to increase that respiration and churn out energy molecules called ATP. The muscles also create heat from the friction of the muscles moving against each other. Finally, digesting your food, absorbing the nutrients in that food, and processing those nutritional building blocks also generates heat. In fact, all metabolic activity makes at least some heat, highest after eating protein, and less after eating carbohydrates and fats.
There are four major ways you lose heat. The most obvious one is radiating heat out from your skin. Heat will move from warmer to cooler, so when the air around you is cooler than your body temperature, which it usually is except on the hottest days, you will tend to lose heat through your skin.
You also lose heat through your blood vessels. All of the tubes that carry blood from the heart are equipped to constrict or relax as needed. When the blood vessels under the skin relax, it’s called cutaneous vasodilation.
You have seen the effects of vasodilation many times – whenever you are overheated and your skin gets flushed or reddened, that’s your blood vessels near the skin dilating. They do so to bring warm blood nearer to the surface so it can cool off, since the air outside of you is generally cooler than your core temperature. If you were to dunk your hands in a bowl of hot water, they get red, because the vessels would relax to let the blood flow into your hands to dissipate the heat.
The opposite is also true – if you plunge your hands into cold water, the blood vessels will constrict to preserve heat, and your hand will look white as the blood vessels tighten to reduce blood flow and therefore heat loss.
The third way we vent heat is through the evaporation of perspiration off your skin. When you are overheated, your body pours sweat out through the skin, which then absorbs heat as it transforms from liquid to gas, from sweat to vapor. This eats heat, so you feel cooler after you perspire.
It should be noted that when the humidity is very high, meaning there is a lot of moisture in the air, this cooling mechanism is hampered. Sweating is designed to cool you down by using the body’s heat to evaporate the perspiration, so if it’s very hot and humid outside your body, the sweat doesn’t evaporate efficiently, and cooling is diminished.
The fourth way we dissipate heat is through breathing. When we exhale, we lose heat and water. Animals who don’t sweat like humans, like dogs for example, depend on panting to rid themselves of excess heat.
Your body naturally knows what its right temperature should be, and this is monitored and regulated by part of your brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like a control center – if the body gets too warm, it turns on sweating or panting to cool it down, and if the body gets too cold, it triggers shivering and the production of hormones that increase metabolism to warm you up.
So, your brain is central to maintaining and resetting your body temperature, balancing heat and cold so your body works the best it can. Modern research shows that keeping your spine healthy is essential to keep your brain healthy. And the best way to keep your spine healthy is to visit your doctor of chiropractic.
At Radiant Life Chiropractic, your family chiropractor will advise you on brain and spine wellness, so make sure you and your family get periodic examinations. Better safe than sorry, especially in the hot summer months when you need your body to work the best it can.
Ask your chiropractor how chiropractic care helps your body to function better as well as feel better!