Summer's warmth is balm to Toronto souls, but our lakeside location means we pay the price of humidity for the heat. Hot, moist air really can be a health hazard. The scenario looks like this. The body sweats. Sweat evaporates, dispersing body heat into the air and cooling us down. But humid air can't absorb as much water, so sweat stays on our skin and we don't cool off.
Now the body, still trying to cool itself, raises its heart rate in an effort to increase sweating.
That's why people with any kind of heart, circulation or blood pressure problem need to stay in air conditioned environments or keep outdoor activities very low-key at this time of year. Otherwise, they raise their risk of heart attack or stroke.
No matter your general health, the extra sweating caused by humid air puts you at risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion, even heatstroke. The risk is higher for men (they sweat more), overweight people and for old folks and kids.
Your number-one remedy is a no-brainer. Drink water whether you feel thirsty or not, about 1.5 to 2 litres a day, though there is some controversy about whether if should be room temp or cold. If your urine isn't pale or clear, you're not drinking enough. Beware alcohol and caffeinated drinks, since they have some dehydrating impact.
Loose-fitting clothing, preferably made of one of the new materials that wicks away water, like Coolmax or Supplex, can also help. (Wet cotton just sticks to your skin, preventing cool-down.) Folk remedies for mild discomfort caused by hot, sticky weather include "silver pills" available at Chinese herbal shops, made of licorice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and other herbs. You can also try adding a teaspoon or tablespoon of tart and refreshing umeboshi vinegar (a pink, salty liquid available at health food stores) to your drinking water. You know you're in danger of overheating if you start sweating buckets and/or develop dilated pupils, dizziness, headache or muscle cramps. Cool off by getting to an air-conditioned space and drinking as much water as you can. If you start vomiting, you need medical help pronto.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"At the beginning of the season, it takes one to two weeks for your body to acclimatize, soexpose yourself slowly . If you exercise outdoors, do so during cooler times of the day. Because minerals are excreted through sweat, eat mineral-rich foods including a variety of organic vegetables, with emphasis on dark leafy greens . Sunburn prevents sweating and increases the likelihood of overheating. Stimulants and antihistamines can decrease heat tolerance."
EDRA SPEVACK , naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"If you're overweight, you need extra water. When we eat, the body's core temperature goes up as we digest. With large meals, that effect is greater. In humid weather the goal would be toeat small meals more often. You want toeat less protein at this time of year. Protein food is harder for the body to break down (burning more calories and creating more heat). Foods that are inherently cooling includecucumbers , zucchini , rice , tofu andmilk products. Avoid spicy and oily foods in hot, humid weather."
CAROLINE KLEMENS , registered dietitian, founder, Nutrition in Motion, Toronto
"We look at humidity as a pathogen, basically. People who tend toward patterns of damp heat within the body will suffer most. People know they have damp heat conditions when they have stubborn, lingering ailments (infections, allergies, chronic inflammation, candida.) Avoid too much barbecued food (heating), and dairy, wheat, sugar, cold and raw foods and cold drinks (all damp foods). Chicken wings are very hot and spicy, beer is very damp - and we eat them smack in the middle of summer.Rice is a much better choice than wheat, as it absorbs water, taking away excessive dampness."
EMILY CHENG KOH , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"Wear light-coloured clothing to reflect the sun's rays. Loose fit is important so you don't hold water against the skin. Take in a minimum of 8 ounces of water for every half-hour you're outside. Cold water reaches the intestines faster, so it's utilized by the body more quickly. Cold showers or compresses against the skin, under the arms, between the legs, behind the knees, on the feet and the head will cool body temperature very quickly."
CHRIS BAPISTA, owner, Peak Physique Personal Training, BSc in kinesiology, Toronto