Cold water is the key aspect in the phenomenon called the mammalian diving reflex. This reflex has been beneficially used for thousands of years by whales, dolphins, seals and other mammals that inhabit the frigid waters of the world. The diving reflex slows heart rate and causes peripheral vasoconstriction to keep blood and oxygen to the brain and other vital core organs. This reflex allows these mammals to conserve oxygen and stay submerged over longer periods of time, providing them more time for finding food, protection and travel.
This reflex is also present in humans, although not to the same intense degree as seen in cold water native mammals, and not for the same reasons. Only in recent years have this reflex and the benefits it can provide in the survival of cold water drowning been observed and researched in humans. The focus of this paper is three-fold: first to explain the physiological process that is the mammalian diving reflex and how it is triggered; next the role the mammalian diving reflex plays in the survival of potential cold-water downers; thirdly, how doctors are using this reflex in the practice of modern medicine.
The physiology behind the mammalian diving reflex is two-fold, the first being the triggering of the reflex. In the article Mechanism of the Human Diving Response, Brett Gooden observed that, “the res...
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Dugdale, David C. MD. 2010. Aging Changes in the Nervous System. Medline Plus. Retrieved from www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004023.htm. April 18, 2011.
Gooden, Brett A. 1994. Mechanism of the Human Diving Response. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, Vol. 29 Issue 1 pg 6-16.
Iyer, Anand. 2007. No one is dead until warm and dead. The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, vol. 134: 1042-1043.
Khan, M. Faisal M.D. No Date. New Hypothermia Technique Protects Heart Attack Patients. Memorial Hermann. Retrieved from www.fbindependent.com/new-hypothermia-technique-protects-heart-attack-patients-p3615-91.htm. April 18, 2011.
Stark, William S. Ph.D. 2004. Human Diving Response. Department of Biology, saint Louis University. Retrieved from starklab.slu.edu/PhysioLab/Diving.htm. April 18, 2011.
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