Stay cool, beat the heat
Prolonged dehydration combined with extended exposure to the summer heat can lead to a failure in the body’s ability to keep itself cool
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The grishma ritu (May-July), according to Ayurveda, is a period of reduced physical strength and digestive energy. So we need to take care of ourselves differently during these months to maintain our health and energy.
One of the main concerns during this period is dehydration. People are often mildly dehydrated without knowing it. The symptoms include a dry mouth and increased thirst, fatigue and dizziness. Dehydration has other effects—it can make tempers volatile. A study, published in the journal Physiology And Behaviour in 2015, found that driving errors increased significantly in subjects who were dehydrated.
A simple test to see whether you are dehydrated is to check the colour of your urine. If it’s dark yellow or amber, it’s time to have a glass of water.
Prolonged dehydration combined with extended exposure to the summer heat can lead to a failure in the body’s ability to keep itself cool. And if the body reaches a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, that would be described as heat stroke. This could be accompanied by fainting spells and symptoms of dehydration, nausea, seizures and disorientation, leading eventually to loss of consciousness and coma. Some survivors can suffer irreversible brain damage.
While heat strokes are more common in athletes, they can also occur in people who are not exercising. According to research, those who are over the age of 50, obese, on medication like diuretics, antihistamines and Parkinson’s drugs, are at greater risk of mortality from heat strokes.
Heat stroke-related mortality is a genuine public health concern in India. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 5,778 people died of heat stroke from 2010-14. That is three deaths per day that could have been avoided if adequate hydration had been a public health priority.
Preventing a heat stroke is as simple as preventing dehydration. Avoiding the sun between 11am and 4pm is important, says Bengaluru-based general physician Ravi Raghavan. “It would be ideal if we could keep Middle-Eastern working hours but since we can’t, staying well hydrated must be a conscious priority during summer,” he says. Which means drinking cool, not cold, water, coconut water and fresh juices at regular events. Eating food that is easy to digest is also a good idea. G.G. Gangadharan, director of the MS Ramaiah Indic Centre for Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, Bengaluru, recommends cardamom-flavoured fresh juices, buttermilk and mantha (a drink made with soaked dates, figs and raisins). He adds that gulkand is “a powerful antioxidant, prepared using rose petals and sugar, and helps reduce burning sensation in the body, eyes, palms and soles, itchy skin and gastritis. It must be eaten on an empty stomach (1 teaspoon) with milk. Ayurveda recommends that certain foods that are greasy, spicy, salty and sour should be avoided.” Milkshakes and all alcoholic drinks are to be avoided too.
Yoga recommends a cooling breathing technique, Shitali Pranayama, which involves curling the sides of the tongue towards one another and sticking the tongue out. Then inhale through the mouth and exhale through the nose. Repeat 10 times. The cooling effect on the face is immediately perceptible.
Sujata Kelkar Shetty, PhD, is a wellness expert and a certified life coach. She has formerly worked as a clinical scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, US.