Out in the Cold: The Science of Shivering

Researchers at the Oregon Health Sciences University (just a few miles from my house) have been studying the science of shivering.

“Shivering, which is actually heat production in skeletal muscles, requires quite a bit of energy and is usually the last strategy the body uses to maintain its internal temperature to survive in a severe cold environment. Other strategies to defend against the cold, such as reducing heat loss to the environment by restricting blood flow to the skin, also appear to be controlled by the sensory mechanism that we found,” explained Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ph.D., an OHSU Fellow for Research Abroad from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He published the research along with his colleague Shaun Morrison, Ph.D., a senior scientist. “One fascinating aspect of this study is that it shows the sensory pathway for shivering, which can be thought of as brain wiring, is parallel to but not the same as the sensory pathway for conscious cold detection. In other words, your body is both consciously and subconsciously detecting the cold at the same time using two different but related sensory systems.”

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