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Taking the chill out of hypothermia.

Relief for rain-soaked backpackers and others in danger of developing hypothermia may come not from the nearest warm body but from the closest medicine cabinet. For those suffering from overexposure, getting into a sleeping bag with another person works no better than shivering as a way to warm up, says Gordon G. Giesbrecht, a physiologist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

On three occasions, he and his colleagues cooled each of six people in 8 [degrees] C water, then allowed them to warm up by one of three methods: shivering alone in a sleeping bag, lying next to and hugging the back of another person while in a sleeping bag, or doing the same with a water-filled mannequin warmed to body temperature.

Hugging an external heat source causes skin temperature to rise and shivering to decrease, but it does not warm the person any faster than shivering alone, Giesbrecht concludes. Only if a person becomes so cold that shivering stops does it make sense to apply an external source of heat, he adds.

However, a combination of two or three commonly used medications may help delay the onset of hypothermia, reports Andre L. Vallerand, a physiologist at the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in North York, Ontario.

Vallerand evaluated the responses of seven men to an antiobesity drug marketed in Great Britain. The drug contained 44 milligrams of the decongestant ephedrine, 60 mg of caffeine, and 100 mg of theophylline, an asthma medication. In one test, the men took the drug while clothed and then spent three hours sitting still. In two later tests, they took either the drug or a dummy pill, then sat in a 10 [degrees] C room for three hours wearing only bathing suits. Neither they nor Vallerand knew whether the men had taken the real drug or the placebo.

Within 30 minutes, the drug causes the body to burn more fat, thereby increasing heat production by 20 percent. The drug's effect was as strong at the end of the three-hour test as it was at the start, says Vallerand.

Caffeine alone does not increase heat production, but ephedrine and caffeine together do, Vallerand says. It is not known how these substances rev up fat metabolism, he adds.
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Title Annotation:prevention and treatment research
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 10, 1993
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