Climate Change hits Below the Belt
Posted by mhudema on July 16, 2008
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
July 15, 2008 at 10:17 AM EDT
We all know that global climate change is heating sensitive ecological regions around the world. Now U.S. researchers are predicting it will bring a burning sensation to some sensitive human regions.
Researchers at the University of Texas say global warming will trigger a dramatic rise in kidney stones in the United States.
According to their study, warming temperatures over the next 42 years will cause a 30-per-cent jump in cases of nephrolithiasis, or kidney stone disease, in some regions of the country.
“This will come and get you in your home,” said Tom Brikowski, lead researcher and an associate professor of geosciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It will make life just uncomfortable enough that maybe people will slow down and think what they’re doing to the climate.”
Higher rates of kidney stones have long been associated with hotter climes.
The effect of warm temperatures on the human body is much the same as it is on lakes. During scorching summer weather, lakes evaporate at faster rates, increasing the concentration of salts and minerals in the water left behind.
In humans, dehydration also leaves high mineral concentrations, which can congeal, forming solid, painful plugs in the bladder or kidneys.
“While this is a serious effect, it’s not devastating,” said Dr. Brikowski. “It’s an additional inconvenience proving yet again that climate change is a really dangerous experiment we’re performing on the world.”
Physicians refer to the blistering southern states as the “stone belt,” because of the higher rate of nephrolithiasis in regions where mean annual temperatures top 13.4 C (56.1 F). As temperatures rise the belt will grow, according to researchers, spreading north to Chicago and west to California.
Physicians and climate-change researchers have forecast myriad health problems brought about by global warming. Higher prevalence of mosquito-borne illnesses – including malaria and West Nile virus – and lung problems associated with air pollution are but two.
Climate change contributes to 150,000 deaths worldwide a year, mainly from malaria, malnutrition or diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization.
Most climate-change experts are not yet aware of the kidney stone connection, but probably would not be surprised.
“It’s completely consistent with the other types of ailments we’ve seen,” said Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “There will be all sorts of unforeseen consequences related to global warming.”
Dr. Brikowski launched the study after his veterinarian wife mentioned observing a higher rate of animal kidney stones during drought years.
At first he focused his research on salinity and hard water. But after reading a study on high rates of kidney stones among soldiers on deployments to arid regions, he changed his focus.
Dr. Brikowski built a mathematical model relating temperature, kidney stone occurrence and geography using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and regional rates for kidney stones.
From his model, co-researchers calculated that the enlarged stone belt would precipitate 2.2. million new cases of kidney stone disease in the United States by mid-century at a cost of more than $1-billion.
The study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Despite his gloomy predictions, Dr. Brikowski joked that some good may come of the kidney stone increase. “We very well could see this impact cities to the northeast around New York, Virginia and Washington,” he said. “Maybe it will get the political leaders over there thinking about climate change a little more.”