Breath samples are collected to characterise
brown bear metabolism. Credit: Ole Frobert

Total shutdown: hibernation for humans

21 January 2013
by Zuberoa Macros

As winter sets in, many animals effectively shut down their bodies in order to survive. Injured humans might benefit from similar techniques.

ON LONG, dark and cold winter days, you probably like to go to bed early and find it hard to get up in the morning. Humans survive the winter by rugging up well, switching on the reverse-cycle air-conditioning, and moving from heated cars to heated offices.

Animals survive the winter by migrating to where the weather is milder, by remaining active but thickening their ‘coat’ or by changing their diet. But the most extreme method is to completely shut themselves down.

For five to seven-and-a-half months of the year, black and brown bears turn themselves off. They do not eat, drink, urinate, defecate or exercise. They reduce their metabolism by 50 to 75% of normal rates. They breathe once every 15 to 60 seconds and their heart rate drops from around 50 to about 10 beats per minute.

Hibernation is a strategy to combat extreme environmental conditions. By setting the body metabolism to a kind of slow motion, some animals reduce their energy costs by more than half when food is scarce and later return to an active state as if nothing happened.

Read more: Total shutdown: hibernation for humans | COSMOS magazine.

Home           Top of page