Habituation of the metabolic and ventilatory responses to cold-water immersion in humans
An experiment was undertaken to answer long-standing questions concerning the nature of metabolic habituation in repeatedly cooled humans. It was hypothesised that repeated skin and deep-body cooling would produce such a habituation that would be specific to the magnitude of the cooling experienced, and that skin cooling alone would dampen the cold-shock but not the metabolic response to cold-water immersion. Twenty-one male participants were divided into three groups, each of which completed two experimental immersions in 12 °C water, lasting until either rectal temperature fell to 35 °C or 90 min had elapsed. Between these two immersions, the control group avoided cold exposures, whilst two experimental groups completed five additional immersions (12 °C). One experimental group repeatedly immersed for 45 min in average, resulting in deep-body (1.18 °C) and skin temperature reductions. The immersions in the second experimental group were designed to result only in skin temperature reductions, and lasted only 5 min. Only the deep-body cooling group displayed a significantly blunted metabolic response during the second experimental immersion until rectal temperature decreased by 1.18 °C, but no habituation was observed when they were cooled further. The skin cooling group showed a significant habituation in the ventilatory response during the initial 5 min of the second experimental immersion, but no alteration in the metabolic response. It is concluded that repeated falls of skin and deep-body temperature can habituate the metabolic response, which shows tissue temperature specificity. However, skin temperature cooling only will lower the cold-shock response, but appears not to elicit an alteration in the metabolic response.