Bloating, Inflammation and Humidity

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By Julia Gumm

Boy, things are heating up here in the northern hemisphere. In my neck of the woods, we recently saw heat indexes in the high 100’s, accomplished in part by relative humidity hovering around 90%. In keeping with the theme of high numbers, my weight scaled up as well. Going with the flow, I guess.

Does this happen to any of you? Heat and humidity set in and suddenly you’re retaining so much water you look like you’re seven months pregnant? Because it happens to me. Along with the belly, I experience swelling in my fingers, knees and any place in my back that was giving me mild trouble prior to the change in weather suddenly becomes a debilitating injury of dramatic proportions. It seems there’s an uptick of inflammation in the whole body, as a work out that last week suited me just fine now requires three agonizing days of recovery. What gives?

I’ve combed for a solid answer on this phenomenon year after year and have come up basically empty handed. What I do find are a lot of people asking the same questions: Can humidity cause weight gain? Can humidity cause water retention? Does humidity increase inflammation? Does humidity increase the likelihood of asthma attacks? IBS symptoms? Fibro(myalgia) flares?

For me and my irritable bowel’s money, I’d go with yes.

Firstly, it appears that the body does indeed retain quite a bit of fluid during bouts of high heat and humidity. Increased temperatures and water in the air have the effect of rendering the body’s cooling mechanism, sweating, useless. Instead of evaporating off the skin, the sweat pitifully drips off your nose, shamefully unable to do it’s job. So you stay hot. And the hotter you are, the more water you’ll retain. According to John Castellani, a researcher in the Thermal & Mountain Medicine Division of the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, it’s very normal to gain several pounds of water weight during the summer months.

Bloating isn’t just a visual nuisance, it causes physical discomfort as well. Hauling around several more pounds of water weight in the abdomen is no picnic, and for sufferers of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it’s a whole lot worse. The added pressure of increased abdominal dystension can aggravate feelings of discomfort, and there are many who feel that the humidity itself causes a flare up in symptoms like constipation. That makes sense to me, because when the body is dehydrated it pulls fluids into the tissues, which may cause a decrease in available water in the bowels.

Studies have shown that adequate levels of serotonin present in the gut are necessary to keep intestinal inflammation at bay. Under the increased atmospheric pressure of warmer, wetter weather systems, serotonin levels decrease. This is a possible cause of weather related migraines, aches and pains, and increased symptoms of bowel inflammation.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on this subject. There’s so much that goes into it, I don’t feel comfortable telling y’all that I know The Reason Why so many of us experience an increase in inflammatory conditions during hot, humid weather. In fact, it looks like no one knows why exactly, beyond the obvious stuff like how changes in air pressure affect our joints. Anyone with an old injury can attest to that.  There are many theories and to be honest, each person varies so there probably isn’t any one simple answer. But it seems many of us are subject to some physical fluctuations that come and go with the weather, and being aware of how your body reacts in various scenarios can give you a lot of peace of mind when suddenly you’re so bloated you can’t even see your swollen feet.

There are also some strategies you can employ to mitigate these symptoms.

Reducing inflammatory foods from the diet can’t hurt, so stay away from offenders like omega 6  laden seed oils. These oils are found in just about every processed food on the market, as well as any deep fried restaurant foods. Choose mostly saturated fats like butter, coconut or palm oils for cooking and frying, and monounsaturated olive or avocado oils for dipping and salads.

Stress contributes to inflammation, so be sure to relax this summer. Often people think they’re “relaxing” by surfing the internet. On the contrary, processing a constant stream of information via a glowing screen is anything but relaxing. It keeps your sympathetic nervous system on it’s toes, and you’ll spend a lot of time sitting on your ass to do it. Today we are subject to more information on a daily basis than we could have dreamed possible a mere ten years ago. I mean, really. Who knew that I could spend a quantifiable amount of time each day studying pictures of high school classmate’s meals? This summer, when you relax, actually relax. Be choosy about what you devote your attention to, and leave the gadgets at home when you go poolside.

Besides its contribution to inflammation, stress and anxiety can specifically cause belly bloat- reasons being shallow breathing impeding lymphatic flow, mild hyperventilation drawing air into the stomach or slowed digestion. When you are on high alert, the body halts movement in the GI tract, instead choosing to divert its energy into sweaty palms, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat and tense muscles. Joy of joys. Deep breathing, the kind where the belly rises with air, not the chest, is helpful because it relaxes the sympathetic nervous system and encourages the proper flow of lymphatic fluid. Lymph needs your conscious participation in getting it flowing, as it has no built in pump, like the blood has the heart. Stagnant lymph can collect in the abdomen and legs, creating swelling. Besides deep breathing, getting enough exercise is great for moving the lymph as well. Jumping on a trampoline or rebounder is one of the best things you can do for your lymph, and the most fun!

Some herbs that encourage proper lymphatic flow include red root (Jersey Tea), echinacea and red clover.

Remain hydrated. I used to take diuretics to combat the dreaded hot weather bloat, but this only provides temporary relief of symptoms and can dangerously dehydrate you. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, and just as important, keep your electrolytes and minerals up. The less your body feels there is a hydration emergency, the less bloated you will be.

Anti-inflammatories like cats claw, ginger, tart cherries, aloe vera juice and turmeric may offer relief from digestive, muscular, and joint aches and pains.

Finally, try and allow yourself to acclimate to the heat. It’s easy to run inside and sit in the air conditioning, and no doubt that’s what’s best on dangerously hot days and for the elderly. But for healthy people, allowing your body to get used to the heat is a much better strategy for proper adjustment and relative comfort. Using fans relieves discomfort by creating a “wind chill” effect that evaporates sweat without artificially lowering air temperature.

So if you catch your reflection in the pool mid-belly flop and mistake yourself for Shamu, don’t panic. The heat can do funny things to ya. Happy Summer.

44 Comments

  1. First!

    Reply
    • Hi all
      Regarding your statements of heat and humidity, we spend all summer in high temperatures of 90, I have noticed especially this season my summer dresses do not fit, OMG have I put weight on, no, it’s the increased swelling also I am an IBS sufferer well it looks like I’m ready to give birth, but it’s so uncomfortable, all you want is the weather to cool down and autumn to arrive, I have found that taking water retention tablets help a little but by no means is a cure, just keep drinking water to keep you healthy.

      Reply
  2. Really interesting post. Would taking cool showers/ baths be helpful?

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  3. Interesting as warm weather is always the most amazing medicine for anything that ails me – biggest problems always being asthma, pain, nasal congestion, and back pain. The more hot and humid the better. That’s why I left places that have that nasty thing called winter.

    Reply
    • Pretty wild. Hot humid weather gives me tons of nasal congestion. Very cold dry weather does though, too. I’m a temperate kind of gal, I suppose.

      I assume it does vary from person to person, as I know many people who aren’t bothered by the heat and humidity in the slightest. Then there are those of us who swell to the point where we can’t wear rings or jeans. My grandmother was the same way that I am, I’m sure heredity has something to do with it.

      Some folks retire to the hot dry weather of the southwest for relief, some to the hot wet weather of Florida. I guess it all depends on your individual makeup.

      Reply
      • I would add though, I broke my femur when I was a teenager, and it only ever hurts when a high pressure, i.e, clear and cool weather system moves in. It’s the darndest thing. Can’t predict a rainstorm for shit, but I can tell you when clear skies are on their way. I think it has to do with the bone expanding around the titanium rod inside of it. But all other arthritic kind of conditions I experience are worse in hot wet weather. Today it’s a lovely 60 degrees and drizzling here in the Poconos, and I am ache free.

        Reply
      • I’ve found some work much better in warmer weather, some like it warm and humid, some do well in cold yet humid, and others like me prefer cooler weather with low humidity. I hypothesize that maybe it has to do with your genetics and where your ancestors came from. For example, people with Northern European descent probably prefer a bit cooler weather because their genetically predisposed to surviving in that kind of environment. But like I said, I’m only hypothesizing.

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        • I’m of Northern European descent and love warm summer weather. I don’t love hot, humid days but they beat cold, damp says for sure. I think it’s all totally personal. The only bloating I’ve ever noticed is swollen feet on the hottest and most humid days. I bet it has to do with salt intake, too.

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          • I tend to crave a lot of fruit in the summer and shun salty foods. I am trying to mitigate this tendency, since my natural inclination is actually quite extreme. I’ve never had problems with swelling in the summer.

        • I grew up in Sweden and HATE cool summers. I don’t know if it’s because I’m half Portuguese. But quite a few Swedes would agree with me about the suckiness of cool summers. My husband likes it, because he’s always hot.

          Reply
      • Julia,
        This was a very informative piece that has confirmed my suspicions all along.
        I too suffer during summer’s high humidity. We went north on vacation just this past week where humidity is around 60 to 65 percent and I went pee 6 times in 3 hours! My swelling stomach went down, no constipation . It’s amazing. I too
        Suffer from ibs. My mother does also. I’ve been reading alot about this lately and stuff I have read says to stay cool… Like shower in cool water , stay indoors as much as possible and enjoy swimming too. Any more advice would be greatly appreciated… I dread going back to higher humidity.

        Reply
  4. Yep, I swell up like a balloon in the heat but also after plane journeys and any form of exercise……I’m not a very sweaty person so maybe it just accumulates under my skin, lol

    Reply
  5. I’ve been sweating like a dog with our semi-warm weather here in California. I don’t take hot weather well and get really irritable and depressed, but I flourish under cooler 60s-very low 70s. Drinking Gatorade and Powerade actually helps a lot to replace my electrolytes lost in sweat and helps keep me from being too hot.

    Reply
  6. This is me to a “T”. I just cannot function properly in high heat & humidity. We have been experiencing a mini heatwave here in Ireland this past week and it has been so uncomfortable. I know when humidity is high because I have to purposefully take huge deep breaths, as my normal breathing becomes so shallow. Oh and my legs and fingers swell up something crazy. Good to know it’s not just me! Thank god it’s raining & cold here again :D

    Reply
  7. It is interesting how we all are different, I love and thrive in winter. It is 2 hours before dawn here in the southern hemisphere, the heater has not been used and I have merely a thin cardigan on and I feel great! The article apparently showed me that I don’t actually have any problems in summer, I just don’t like feeling hot. The only thing that I do notice is that if I get stuck in a hot car for too long, I find it hard not to get stroppy.

    To quote a section in the article:

    “Studies have shown that adequate levels of serotonin present in the gut are necessary to keep intestinal inflammation at bay. Under the increased atmospheric pressure of warmer, wetter weather systems, serotonin levels decrease. This is a possible cause of weather related migraines, aches and pains, and increased symptoms of bowel inflammation”

    I am confused. I have been reading articles about how serotonin is not a good thing and is pro inflammatory. I also recall a long time ago reading something that if you lacked a B vitamin? then the same mechanism that kept you cool would also stop you from making more serotonin.

    Reply
    • yea, RP says you should strive to keep gut serotonin low

      Reply
  8. Wow temperatures that high would seriously kill me from heat stroke or something. Anything above 70F/20C is excessive for me. It could be I’m more sensitive than the normal person because I’m big, 6″6, I was around 216 pounds, but I feel my appetite is going down now in the summer and I start to lose a little weight.

    I guess that would make sense right, because at higher temperatures the body doesn’t need that much fuel to keep body temperature high? Also it makes sense to me that the more fat reserves you have in hot weather the harder for your body to lose heat through sweating? So with this reasoning obese people would be at higher risk of heat stroke.

    Also it didn’t bother me that much before but I’m guessing since I’m recovering from adrenal fatigue my HPA-axis is a little messed up, and thermoregulation aint optimal.

    Reply
  9. If you live in south Georgia (USA) where it is extremely hot an humid in the summertime, there is no way to live without air conditioner. When it is really humid I experience swollen fingers and feet along with feeling like a slug – sigh. I am already ready for fall.

    Reply
  10. hi! thanks for the article. this has always plagued me. heat and humidity show up and i am no good. crabby, hot, bloated, tired, did i mention crabby?
    i went to acupuncture school (i am no longer practicing so can’t explain this 100% clearly) and we learned that if you are sensitive to this kind of weather you probably have an inner ‘dampness’ which is spleen related. our spleen energy gets depleted with foods that create an inner dampness (ie greasy food, alcohol – google for more, i am not up on all my chinese med facts, sorry!!), also worrying, and stress (like you mentioned above) OR it could be an overactive liver energy attacking the poor spleen making it week but that is a whole ‘nutter gang of info! :)
    obviously this is not the exact or only answer but i did want to share it because a good coupla acupuncture treatments can often help relieve and/or prevent these symptoms.
    best to everyone!
    adrienne

    Reply
    • I believe this too. While I love sunny, warm days, I can get crabby if it’s too hot and humid. But considering that most of the world’s population live in areas with this type of climate, humans as a species certainly must be built to tolerate, or even thrive in it. There definitely must be an imbalance that causes us to function less optimally in that type of weather. Maybe not to someone who grew up on Greenland, but for the majority of us.
      When I received acupuncture treatments for persistent infections one bad winter, I was told my spleen was the culprit. And I do know my liver is not in its best shape either. Yes, I worry a ton. Always have.

      Reply
  11. i wonder if the answer is here: “mucin grabs onto water and causes swelling”
    http://thyroiduk.healthunlocked.com/blogs/845686/Myxedema–The-forgotten-Test-for-Hypothyroidism
    quote:
    n 1878, Dr. William Ord performed an autopsy on a middle-aged woman who succumbed to hypothyroidism. Upon cutting into her skin, he saw tissues that were thickened and boggy. The tissues appeared to be waterlogged, but no water seeped from his incisions. Dr. Ord realized this disease was unique and previously unrecognized.

    Dr. Ord summoned a leading chemist named Halleburton to help identify the substance causing the swelling. What they found was an abnormally large accumulation of mucin. Mucin is a normal constituent of our tissues. It is a jelly-like material that spontaneously accumulates in hypothyroidism. Mucin grabs onto water and causes swelling. Dr. Halleburton found 50 times the normal amount of mucin in the woman’s skin. Her other tissues also contained excess mucin.

    The doctors coined the term myxedema. Myx is the Greek word for mucin and edema means swelling. Myxedema was adopted as the medical term for hypothyroidism.
    end quote

    i don’t have myxedema. i don’t have any problems with weight gain or achiness during heart and humidity. i THINK i would have discovered that by now, because weather and health are two of my passions.

    i do have my limits regarding heat… and cold. i like weather that doesn’t dip down much under 30 or over 90. then, i do think it gets a bits stressful.

    Reply
  12. My eczema gets much worse in the humid summer months, while most people tend to have problems with it in the winter.

    I wonder if the Chinese medicine principals of dryness/dampness can play a role in this. I may experiment with eating more foods that promote dryness and avoid dampening foods in the summer months

    Reply
  13. I don’t know how you feel about Traditional Chinese Medicine, but my ex husband and I both experienced very similar symptoms. I had “dampness” and he had “damp heat”. Some acupuncture and herbal therapy cleared us both right up.

    Reply
  14. I’m dreading summer this year…I used to love it, but I live in the Midwest where humidity is terrible. I love cool, clear days. I just want to skip summer and go straight to fall. Of course, being pregnant might have something to do with this heat aversion I seem to have now.

    Reply
  15. “Often people think they’re “relaxing” by surfing the internet. On the contrary, processing a constant stream of information via a glowing screen is anything but relaxing. It keeps your sympathetic nervous system on it’s toes, and you’ll spend a lot of time sitting on your ass to do it.”

    Isn’t that the truth.

    Reply
  16. omg I just saw Anthony Colpo among the site authors
    details pls!

    Reply
  17. RSD up there, I live in Georgia, and I LOATHE air conditioning and don’t use it. I only use fans. Winter is my kryptonite, but AC zombifies me even worse, and I don’t believe it’s just from the cold.

    Reply
  18. It is necessarily humidity for me just he’s us enough. I live in SoCal and we have already had a few hot days, often the humidity on those days is so low all the moisture gets sucked out of everything. I swell up like a grape just relaxing, and I do not mean on the computer. Sitting in the shade, no sweat within 5 miles and I swell. It does not matter how much or little I drink, I swell. I was at the time experiencing very clear urine and drinking very little but I also tried increasing my liquid intake and I tried increasing my salt intake. Neither worked, I was a grape. I hate AC but it was the only thing that returned me to human form.

    Reply
  19. Matt — I think I’m going to try a fruit cleanse or intermittent fasting, as outlined in your 180Degree Kitchen Book. I’m trying to clear up weird appetite and digestion issues — which one would you recommend?

    Reply
    • Neither, lol. But tons of fruit with some added dairy or supplemental protein and added salt might be realistic and reasonably healthy.

      Reply
      • Sounds like the 180Kitchen is also a bit outdated. Thanks for the advice.

        Reply
        • :)

          Reply
  20. If you are experiencing “swelling” as in hands and feet getting bigger, legs and arms a bit… That is a good thing! Are capillaries are made to contract when it is cold (Hence, frostbite. We aren’t getting enough blood flow to the extremities) and expand when it’s hot (so that we have more surface area to cool ourselves).
    I just worry when so many people are freaking out about swelling. If you have significant water retention you may want to investigate more, though.

    Reply
  21. Hi Julia,

    In my experience, serotonin rather increases inflammation in the gut. And yes, I also learned this from Ray Peat. Red clover is pretty estrogenic, too. Estrogen is pro edema. But I would like to suggest two other things: heat might be a stressor on your body. It might increase cortisol along with water retention and bloating. I work as a naturopath and one client of mine got much better reducing cortisol with Seriphos along with thyroid meds. She used to blow up when she got into the sun. Another thing is iodine deficiency. Along with calcium deficiency, it can make you feel worse with warm and humid weather. Both will help your thyroid as well. Especially in the US, more than in Europe, you might very well be iodine deficient, since it is replaced by bromide, fluoride and chlorine (water, flame retardads). Personally, salt always made me feel better in warm humid weather (foggy head). Hope that helps! Katia

    Reply
  22. Thanks for this helpful article! I was just discussing this issue today with my doctor of traditional Chinese medicine. I live in Taiwan where it’s horribly humid in the summer. It’s my 2nd year here and my body has difficult adjusting to the summer heat. I have been experience a lot of stomach discomfort and distension. My doctor informed me that this is indeed due to the heat! She gave me a few tips to follow to help my body adjust. 1) Following exercise, don’t guzzle down cold water and jump in the shower. Allow the body to cool while exercising by doing some slow walking (let’s say you just finished a jog or fast paced walk—slow it down before going back inside). Drink warm water and allow the body to cool down. Then, take the shower. 2) In general don’t overwhelm the body with ice cold drinks. I know it’s the first thing you want to do when it’s hot outside, but she said try to avoid those drinks during the summer. The body needs to acclimate to the temperature outside as well as inside. I’m going to give her suggestions a try! I’m so fed up with this bloated belly!

    Reply
    • When I was living and working in FL I couldn’t drink any cold water at all, it would give me the worst stomach cramps. I always drank warm things or at least room temperature (which could be as high as 108 deg. F.) I didn’t want to eat much either.

      Reply
  23. Yes!! This same exact thing happens to me every time it’s humid! I can tell when I wake up if it’s humid outside (I’m in Texas…so the weather changes often!). I have had Lyme disease, and also been diagnosed with Multiple connective tissue disease (a type of autoimmune disorder). Every time it’s humid I gain a few pounds, feel sluggish, and my hands, neck, and fingers hurt and feel swollen.

    Reply
  24. I’m of northern European descent as well and I hate the heat. (I love a good 180 degree sauna though!) Part of my problem is that I don’t sweat. I just overheat and get a bright red face and get sick. One thing I have noticed since RRARFing is that I will actually sweat if I’m working out in the heat. I felt a small droplet that appeared on the end of my nose last week while working out in my garage… perhaps as I continue to fix my metabolism, I will be able to cool myself down appropriately.

    Reply
  25. Hi, I found this article very interesting. I feel like I have been trying to cut out processed foods and eat more healthy lately. I was surprised when I tried to button a pair of pants the other day and could barely button. Also, I have been waking up with a very heavy body….my legs and arms are restless….I feel bloated, congested and constipated. I have to believe that there is a connection therefore between heat and humidity…and I’m of Greek descent so I do like the warmer weather but in my later years….less and less the humidity.

    Reply
  26. Hi Julia, this is very interesting. I always feel stagnant when I stare at a screen too long. This includes reading info from a screen like I do for many hours at work, watching telly or playing on the computer or a console for more than a couple of hours, or recording/mixing on my laptop. I basically use screens all the time, and I found I felt stagnant and sometimes even had indigestion from staring at the same thing too long even when I was drawing on paper for a couple of hours. And you think this is because I’m not letting my sympathetic ns relax? I often find the way to get rid of the stagnant, indigestion-feeling is to spend time taking deep breaths and having some quick, vigorous exercise, like weights or a quick walk or even running up and down the stairs. Okay, these things all help to take the problem away, but what’s causing it in the first place? Other people don’t feel like this. I also get cold feet and hands, sweaty palms etc. How do I treat the problem that causes these symptoms? Do I need to treat my adrenals, my thyroid, eat more carbs? I’m confused.

    Thank you for any advice
    Rowl

    Reply
  27. Interesting read! I am working in Mali, where high gets to be about 100oF. Humidity is about 50%. I am really suffering from bloating. My ankles, fingers and I noticed my stomach is bulging! At least this sheds some light!

    Reply
  28. I have been swelling in my stomach to the point I took a pregnancy test. I had a tummy tuck and umbilical hernia repair and went back to my doctor thinking something was wrong. He said everything healed nicely so that was a relief. My daughter is a CNA and said that it was probably water retention as I have always swelled up in the heat. I’m from San Francisco where it’s always foggy and cold and didn’t have a problem. I now live in Washington and this summer has had more horribly hot days than usual ranging from 80 to high 90’s. I noticed that I swell up in my stomach only a few times in the summer but this summer it’s been excessive. Your article has been THE most informative I’ve read. I will try to keep away from the oils as I cook with them constantly but still maintain my weight. Also, with major surgery, now I know why that area is more swollen than usual. I believe I also have IBS so that doesn’t help my swelling either.

    Reply
  29. I have had this problem for at least 20 years. It usually only happens when it is hot & humid. I have been to several Doctors trying to find a solution, but none of them have ever heard of it. I go to the gym for 2 hrs./day five days a week. It doesn’t seem to matter and it doesn’t matter whether I eat or not. I, too, feel sluggish and my abdomen is so swollen that I feel like it is going to burst. I think it changes my metabolism, as well. I will gain 7 pounds in 2 days, but it will take me 2 months to lose it when it cools down.

    I wish I had an answer for all of us, but I don’t. I think it is genetic, too, but my mother died young and I never had the opportunity to ask her. None of my daughters have the problem and they are 43, 46, & 50, so I think they would have it by now. If any of you find a solution, please advise. If I do, I will do the same.

    Good luck!

    Reply

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