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Have you stopped to think about this?

Weathering the Storm
Beating the Brain Fog Blues

Online 2015.01.13


While slogging through the depths of a wintry cold spell, it pays to consider how weather affects our wellness. It’s not just a case of getting sniffles or making it through flu and cold season. The weather affects us in more ways than frostbite and flu in winter or heatstroke and sunburn in summer. Tornadoes, floods, lightning, hurricanes, heat waves and blizzards all take an obvious toll on the human condition. But beyond those are more complex changes to the body and perception that take place in coherence with planetary weather. Most of us don’t realize how weather affects unseen but not unnoticed symptoms in our bodies or emotional wellness. It confirms the inalienable link we have with nature and the planet. We are but microbes living within a larger organism.

Some physical connections to weather conditions are well known. It’s not unusual to hear someone say they know a storm is coming because “ my knee always acts up when the weather changes.” Chronic headache sufferers sometimes note that changes in barometric pressure can trigger a migraine. People with allergies like to see rain to bring the pollen count down and provide relief. Some of the deeper, more subtle ways weather impacts our body and mood are not readily apparent. They are often discussed in publications dealing with the field known as biometeorology.

Barometric pressure. When the barometer goes up or down, our blood pressure can follow. That effect is associated with many different symptoms. Joint pain, rheumatoid arthritic pain and headaches are often linked to variable atmospheric pressure. There have been some recent studies that correlate ambient barometric pressure extremes with mental confusion, a sort of “brain fog.” (With Nebraska experiencing record high barometric readings in the past weeks, it could explain the state’s Supreme Court Keystone ruling.) If you notice a toothache when the barometer rises or falls, that could be the cause. Air pockets under a filing or in a tooth canal can expand or contract and put pressure on the nerve. Mood changes, especially depression, have been shown to relate to rapidly dropping atmospheric pressure like that associated with an advancing storm. One study noted emergency psychiatric admissions related to violent behavior increased at the same time. Insulin levels and blood sugar are more difficult to control when barometric changes occur with cold fronts, according to some observations. Many of the symptoms noted are likely dependent on the fact that blood viscosity changes during those barometric events.

Cold. When the temperature drops, blood pressure increases. This is primarily due to vascular constriction. Again, the cold, damp weather results in joint pain as connective tissue and bursa fluids expand, according to rheumatologists. In a study involving 135,000 stroke patients, it was found that variations in temperature correlated to admissions for ischemic stroke. Cold also has effect on blood pressure overall and can also lead to bouts of mental confusion. It’s not difficult to let body temperature drop a degree or two when experiencing winter chill. Even mild hypothermia can leave you feeling lightheaded and disoriented. In addition, each 1.8 degree Fahrenheit drop in temperature accounts for an additional 200 heart attacks nationwide in the UK, according to a British Medical Journal report.

Lightning. Yes, of course lightning can have a very dramatic health effect if you stand too close to it. But even at a distance, lightning storms have been associated with headaches, including migraine. Studies at University of Cincinnati found an increase of 31 percent for regular headaches and 28 percent for migraines when lightning strikes were within 25 miles of the chronic sufferer. Lightning also puts more ozone in the atmosphere. Anyone with a severe asthma condition may find it aggravated by the increase in ozone.

Wind. The Lerner and Loewe show tune may have called the wind Maria and Shakespeare wrote, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody to good.” But known by more menacing names elsewhere in the world, persistent winds are associated with any number of woes. Southern California has the Santa Anas, when murder rates increase. In Israel, it’s the sharav, in Arabic, known as “Khamsin” or the Fifty Days Wind. North America has the Chinook, southern France the Mistral, Greece the meltemi, Perhaps the most notorious and studied of the world winds is the Alpine Foëhn. All of these winds have something in common: They produce positive ions. And the maladies connected with the winds can range from insomnia to psychosis. Some of the effects noted are body pains, headaches, dizziness, nausea, respiratory problems, higher incidence of heart attack, mood swings.

Other notorious winds around the world like the Foëhn include the Sirocco in Italy, the Mediterranean Sharkiye, Xlokk in Malta, in Africa the Simoon and Harmatan, the Boras of the Adriatic, Karaburan of the Gobi, the Zondi of Argentina, the Tramontana of Spain. So if you had a restless sleep recently, blame the ill wind.

Staying in tune with how Nature affects how we feel can keep us alert to supporting the immune system, making sure we get enough sleep and eating properly.

Be well.

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