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JAMA 100 Years Ago
May 9, 2012

Current Comment

JAMA. 2012;307(18):1896. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.2970-1

The significance of climate as a factor of therapeutic importance is generally conceded. Medical climatology cannot be said, however, as yet to rest on anything more than a crude empirical basis. Altitude, sunshine, salt air, ocean breezes and forest hills are expressions with which the practitioner now and then attempts to conjure his jaded patients. Not infrequently the spell is effective, bringing with it a renewal of vigor and restoration of health. Can objective causes for climatic influences be discovered? Are there detectable changes in physiologic activities which will explain the frequently observed beneficial effects of an ocean voyage, or a stay at the seaside? Professors Zuntz of Berlin and Durig of Vienna—both well-known European experts in the physiology of respiration and metabolism, who have devoted much energy to the study of the effects of high altitudes on man—have given some consideration to these questions.1 In the course of an ocean voyage from Germany to the Canary Islands and return they made careful observations on various functions, such as pulse-rate, body temperature, respiratory exchange, etc. Despite the invigorating nature of the trip, these fundamental bodily features were not found altered in any detectable uniform degree. This corresponds with what has been observed in comparable investigations at seaside resorts2 where the travel factor is excluded but the atmospheric conditions are similar in many ways. Neither such conditions, nor the tropics, nor yet polar climates effect any markedly detectable alteration in these physiologic functions. It is thus apparent that the organism strives tenaciously in the midst of the most varied climatic conditions to maintain unaltered those processes on which the vital nutritive exchanges hinge. In any event it has been impossible to demonstrate changes that might be considered indicative of a stimulating effect of ocean climates. A similar outcome has attended the careful experimental investigation of the effect of insolation. An abundance of direct sunlight, especially in some of the popular health resorts, has always claimed a due share of the credit ascribed to the invigorating climate. We read of the days of balmy sunshine. Careful scientific observations have not disclosed any palpable reactions indicative of heightened metabolism.3 Notwithstanding all of these negative findings, however, no clinical observer can deny the therapeutic usefulness of a change of climate, despite the obscurity surrounding the secret of its influence on the individual.