Counseling Sheet

Healthful Body Temperature

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

An almost endless train of disease results from unhealthful styles of dress, as organs are compressed, limbs are restricted, skin is marked by tight bands, and footgear causes improper alignments. Perhaps one of the most injurious defects in dress is the widespread custom of unclothing the limbs. There seems to be a psychological compulsion to keep the extremities bare, even when doing so is uncomfortable. The pride is tied up in the matter, and it is considered sissy or weak if one “can’t take” the chill of exposed legs and arms. The practice of inadequate clothing of the extremities is so widespread that not one woman in 1,000 clothes the extremities as is needed. Animal experiments are very clear in showing the profound changes in various organs due to the stress of chilling. To the general stressful factors of modern life must be added the stress of improper clothing.

Warm underclothing and footgear are the secret to keeping warm in cool weather. Increasing the number of layers of a substantial fabric, until the effects of the weather are no longer felt will be effective in bringing warmth to the skin. This principle is poorly understood by most women, who do not have any idea why their feet are habitually cold. The feet and legs are essentially naked. Gossamer hosiery and thin-soled shoes are scanty protection against morbid chilling. Hot footbaths are necessary to bring the temperature up to normal levels.

What is required is several layers of quite warm fabric, perhaps bulky, covered by substantial shoes and warm basic garments (dress, pants). The underclothing and hose should be warm enough to give adequate protection against chilling, almost unaided by top clothing. Then the top and overclothes are not the major protectors from chilling. Nylon and many other synthetics are satisfactory for top clothing or overclothing, and may, if the knit is bulky, be suitable for protective sports dress and underclothing. In warm weather, synthetics cling to moisture and trap body heat, making them unsatisfactory for summer wear.

An improperly clothed woman will often protest that she cannot bear to cover her arms with sleeves because of extreme discomfort or excessive sweating. She may feel something close to claustrophobic smothering when wearing sleeves. She overlooks the fact that her husband is wearing lined sleeves on the same day, without grave discomfort. All of this is a part of the “fatigue stage” in the general adaptation syndrome of Hans Selye. It is caused by a prolonged “alarm reaction” to the stress of cold. One can regard the state as a sort of addiction to a harmful situation, relief from which gives unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. The very ones who would profit most from instruction about healthful clothing are often the ones who will experience distressing symptoms upon assuming proper dress. Perseverance for a few hours or days will bring pleasant rewards.

To keep cool and dry in warm weather likewise should receive more attention than it does. One needs to dress for hot weather with as much care as one dresses for cold weather. Generally, loose fitting, lightweight cotton garments, light in color, and that cover the limbs loosely are best for summer wear. Many make a mistake and feel that they will be cooler if they are wearing no clothing on the limbs and only scanty clothing on the trunk. In really hot climates, a portion of the face, the hands, and the feet are the only unclothed parts. Comfort of the body, as well as health, will be greater if one makes a study of the requirements of the body and then meets its needs.

Effects of Cold on Major Organs

Many animal experiments have been done, using rats, guinea pigs, cats, and certain other laboratory animals to show the ill-effects of cold on the experimental animal. Following is a summary of the results of certain of these studies:


Acute erosions leading to ulcers are routine in “cold-stressed” animals.


Cold is extraordinarily effective in producing nephrosclerosis (scars in the kidneys), especially if laboratory animals are on a high protein diet with extra salt. Cold is often used in laboratory experiments to demonstrate the effects of stress to the kidneys.


Fatty infiltration of the liver, such as is seen in alcohol damage to the liver, is a regular result of cold stress. It is similar to the damage caused by formaldehyde and forced muscular work.

Brain and Nervous System

Cold in man causes congestion and edema of the brain. If sufficiently severe or prolonged, hemorrhages result.


There is a markedly reduced size of rat spleens, as well as all of the lymph nodes and other lymphatic organs, after cold exposure. These organs play an important role in protection against serious diseases of the blood and infections.


Exposure to cold causes typical changes in the cardiovascular system. In fact, the stress is so effective that cold is routinely used in a great variety of experiments on the heart and blood vessels.

Effects of Cold on the Endocrine Glands


Cold is associated with a sudden discharge of adrenaline. Prolonged cold causes the cholesterol content of the adrenal to be elevated. Sudden cold depletes adrenal sterols. Cold causes vitamin C to be lost from the adrenals and many other body tissues. The ill-effect of cold on the adrenals is equal to or more severe than that of pain, trauma, or starvation. Cold is classed as an “alarm stimulus” along with formaldehyde injections, atropine, trauma, and forced exercise. The end result is adrenal depletion and enlargement.


Prolonged body cold places a tax on the thyroid, possibly by raising the basal metabolic rate (BMR). There is an increase in the tissue utilization of thyroxine.


The anterior and middle pituitary lobes reduce in size, the basophilic cells enlarge.

Testes and Seminal Vesicles

Prolonged cold reduces the size of these organs to about half normal.

Effects of Cold on Blood Forming Organs


The blood clots faster, resulting in a reduction in blood-clotting time.

Blood Cells

The neutrophils increase in number in the peripheral blood, possibly because they cannot be mobilized into the tissue due to loss of stickiness and chemotactic responses. Lymphocytes and eosinophils, cells that have to do with immune responses and antibody formation, are both reduced. There is involution of tissue, up to the loss of half of the substance of the thymico-lymphatic system and compensatory proliferation of the phagocytes in other portions of the reticuloendothelial system.

Vitamin C

Sudden cold causes the vitamin C content of adrenals, liver, kidneys, and many other body tissues to go down. Prolonged exposure causes trapping of vitamin C by the tissues. Urinary excretion is increased.

Blood Cholesterol

Cholesterol goes up markedly in dogs exposed to cold.

Blood Sugar

A carbohydrate load causes marked hypoglycemia after exposure to cold. If there is associated adrenal depletion, there will be first a marked hypoglycemia, and later increased sugar levels.

Stomach Absorption

Substances not ordinarily absorbed through the stomach lining are readily absorbed after the prolonged stress of cold. The mechanism is thought to be the gastric erosions which allow more ready access of substances from the stomach to the bloodstream.

Chlorine and Sodium

In man, there is a loss of chloride in the urine and changes in the metabolism of both Cl- and Na+. These findings are also seen in cats and rats.

Blood Pressure

The “cold pressor” test is the act of putting one extremity in cold water and observing the rise in blood pressure that attends this procedure. Up to 100 mm rise has been noted.


Exposure liberates histamine, possibly due to tissue damage from anoxia.

Allergen Absorption

After the development of stomach erosions during cold exposure, compounds which do not usually get absorbed from the stomach go readily into the bloodstream from the wound surfaces. If one is a sensitized person an allergy will often ensue: allergenic proteins, adrenaline, and histamine.

Effects of Cold on Arthritis

Exposure causes a sudden discharge of fat from synovial villi with edema and petechial hemorrhages. Occasionally, an arthritis of non-specific type may occur in rats chronically exposed to cold.

Other stresses have been noted to cause similar results:

  • barbiturates
  • infections
  • toxins

Gout attacks may be precipitated by chilling, infection, or foreign protein.

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