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The science of people feeling cold

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pays tributes to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his memorial site ‘Sadaiv Atal’. Image Courtesy: @INCIndia/Twitter

Everywhere you see in Delhi, people are all covered up in warm woollen clothes, as winter has set in and temperatures have dipped down. On Thursday, the India Meteorological Department recorded the temperature at Palam as 9.7 degrees Celsius.

However, in this biting cold, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi stands out as he takes his Bharat Jodo Yatra through Delhi all while he’s dressed in a simple white T-shirt. On Tuesday, images of him, donned in his white tee, went viral as he was seen paying his respects to former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee at their memorials in Delhi.

The visuals of the Wayanad MP, unsurprisingly, evoked several reactions on Twitter, most of them asking if he was feeling cold. One user wrote on Twitter, “I think Rahul Gandhi is having a heater in his T-shirt that’s why he is not feeling cold.”

Another said, “One in five Italians have a mutation in the ACTN3 gene because of which they can withstand extreme cold.”

So is it science that keeps Rahul Gandhi warm in the cold or is he superhuman? Here’s the science behind it.

Also read: How severe is the cold wave in North India?

The sense of feeling cold

A person’s ability to sense temperature changes is essential to their survival. But, how a person responds to external environmental change can vary from person to person.

Medical News Today explains that human bodies have developed sophisticated mechanisms to sense and respond to temperature fluctuations in the external environment in order to retain a steady core body temperature.

According to science, nerves in our skin are our first line of defence. They pick up changes in temperature and pass this information to the brain. Once the brain has been informed of a drop in temperature, it sends signals to our blood vessels to restrict blood flow to the skin.

Factors that influence our response to the cold

Scientists have found that there are several factors that influence how we react to the cold. MedicalNewsToday states that body shape matters when it comes to the cold. The larger a person’s body surface area is, the more heat they lose. This is closely tied to the size of subcutaneous adipose tissue, or the fat beneath the surface of our skin. Fat is a great insulation material. The more subcutaneous fat a person has, the better their insulation is.

According to research, a person’s sex also matters when it comes to who feels colder. Dr RR Dutta, HOD-internal medicine, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram, explained to Indian Express, “Gender plays a part in cold intolerance. Research suggests women are more likely to feel cold all the time, because they often have a lower metabolic rate than men. This means their bodies produce less heat, making them feel colder.”

Age also influences our reactions to the cold. Sciences has shown that the ability of our bodies to conserve heat and sense the cold starts to decline, as we age.

Dr Dutta added that people with more muscle mass can also maintain their core temperature better than others.

Scientific studies have also shown that some people feel colder than others because of their genetic make-up. Dr Anupam Biswas Consultant-Endocrinology, Fortis Hospital, Noida, was quoted as telling The Quint, “Studies have shown that ACTN3, a common genetic variation in the skeletal muscle gene, can affect your tolerance to cold. People who lack ACTN3 are less able to maintain their body temperature and resist cold temperatures as compared to those who don’t.”

Additionally, various medical conditions can also influence how a person reacts to the cold. For instance, someone suffering from anaemia will feel colder than those who aren’t. This is because blood is responsible for delivering oxygen to the body and if, for some reason, the body is not able to produce it in sufficient quantity, then it feels colder as compared to others.

Diabetics also feel colder than others. Doctors have stated that Vitamin B12 deficiency can also increase cold intolerance in the body. People suffering from anorexia, an eating disorder, also suffer through cold intolerance.

Also read: Big Freeze: Which are the coldest places in India today?

Treatment for cold intolerance

While feeling cold isn’t a medical condition, the treatment of cold intolerance completely depends on its underlying cause.

For instance, if it is due to a genetic disposition, then there is no cure, but if someone has this problem because of anaemia, then in most cases, iron supplements are prescribed.

Some experts state that building a tolerance will also help. So, if you tend to feel the chill, you could try spending time outside.

With inputs from agencies

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