On the Rise: Temperatures and Organ Transplants

On the Rise: Temperatures and Organ Transplants

The latest research on the risks of hot climates, and what you should know about your organ donor.

Q: I know air pollution and rising temperatures put us at a higher risk for asthma and heart disease, but is it true that there’s also a heightened risk for mental health problems? —Jerome Q., Bronx, NY

A: Yes, rising temperatures and air pollution ramp up the risks to your mental health and well-being.

Physically, rising temps put you at greater risk for diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes, respiratory problems, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and bacterial infections from contaminated water. That’s a big dent in physical health and emotional well-being. But that’s not all.

The incidence of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues is increased by rising temperatures, according to a new study. Researchers at Arizona State University looked at daily meteorological data coupled with information from nearly two million Americans from 2002 to 2012 and found that living in hotter temperatures worsens mental health; multiyear warming and exposure to hurricanes (and overall increased precipitation) is also linked to worsening emotional well-being. In fact, warming of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over five years is associated with a 2 percent increase in the prevalence of mental health issues. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was associated with a 4 percent increase in mental health problems. Women and low-income Americans are especially affected.

So how can you protect yourself and your family from the effects of something you can’t do anything about on a national level right now? Well, you can control much in your local environment, and you can protect your health by following these tips:

  1. Get regular checkups. If you or you children develop shortness of breath (bad air will do that)—it could be from asthma, which can be effectively treated if caught early. In adults, it might also signal cardiovascular disease—which can be controlled with early intervention.
  2. Eat between seven and nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily and say “No!” to processed foods, added sugars and red meats. A healthy immune system, stress management and a nurtured gut biome help maintain a healthy body and mind.
  3. Exercise regularly—60 minutes most days. Getting your activity in a tree-filled park offers cleaner air and is naturally de-stressing. It’s ever more important—mentally and physically—to go to such places to get your 10,000 daily steps. Track your steps with the Sharecare app for iOS and Android.

Q: My brother was on a waitlist for a liver transplant, and was lucky to receive one. But the donor was an opioid overdose victim. He seems okay so far, but isn’t getting a liver from someone who ODs a big risk? —Scott M., Orlando, FL

A: It may not be as risky as you think. Yes, there is a disease risk associated with this organ donation pool, but they are tested for HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, and there’s some very reassuring new research on the safety of this.

Just recently, the medical director at the University of Utah Heart Transplant Program researched heart and lung transplantations and found that after one year (when complications are most likely to show up), there was no difference in the survival rates of people who received heart and lungs from cadavers of opioid overdose victims and those who received them from donors who died from blunt force trauma.

This bodes well for transplantation of other organs from people who have overdosed. When someone dies from an opioid overdose, the lungs and heart are the organs initially affected by the loss of oxygen. If they’re still healthy enough to be transplanted then, say the researchers, they expect that liver and kidney transplants from OD victims will also be safe.

More than 13 percent of all organs transplanted in the US now come from people who died of a drug overdose, up from about 1 percent in 2000. And there’s been a 10-fold (some reports say 24-fold) increase in available donor organs. That’s important news for the 11,000 people who die every year while waiting for an organ transplant.

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