Human adaptive behavior in Antarctic conditions

Studies in Antarctica are focusing on the impact of climate change on the polar cap, which then determines effects on a global scale, systemically involving all the countries of the planet

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Human adaptive behavior in Antarctic conditions

"The Antarctic environment induces adaptive metabolic and neuroendocrine changes associated with survival, as well as increased risks to physical and mental health. Circadian disruption has been observed in Antarctic expeditioners.

The main consequences appear in quality of sleep, which can affect physical and cognitive performance. Physiological adaptation to cold is mediated by the norepinephrine and thyroid hormones (T3 and 3,5-T2 metabolite). The observed changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid (HPT) axis of expeditioners varied according to temperature, photoperiod, time spent in the cold environment and stress level.

The decrease in T3 levels has frequently been associated with mood swings. Psychological and physical stressors cause disturbances in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, with consequent maintenance of high cortisol levels, leading to memory impairment, immunosuppression, and cardiometabolic and reproductive disorders.

Preventive measures, such as provision of adequate food, well-established eating times, physical activity and even the use of phototherapy, can all help maintain the circadian rhythm. In addition, the use of high-tech clothing and room temperature control in research stations provide greater protection against the effects of intense cold.

However, psychological stress requires a more individualized approach based on the crew's sociocultural characteristics, but it can be mitigated by mental healthcare and training in coping strategies. The challenge of working in Antarctica can be fascinating for some and agonizing for others.

However, one thing is certain: the more extreme the conditions and the longer the stay on the continent, the more adaptive physiological processes acquire clinical importance.

Human adaptive behavior in Antarctic conditions

These words were pronounced by the authors of the study Human adaptive behavior to Antarctic conditions: A review of physiological aspects, published on the WIREs mechanisms of disease, who made a retrospective on an interesting topic, which involves many sectors, from health to climate crisis.

In fact, studies in Antarctica are focusing on the impact of climate change on the polar cap, which then determines effects on a global scale, systemically involving all the countries of the planet.