In this overview, human morphological and functional adaptations during naturally and artificially induced heat adaptation are explored. Through discussions of adaptation theory and practice, a theoretical basis is constructed for evaluating heat adaptation. It will be argued that some adaptations are specific to the treatment used, while others are generalized. Regarding ethnic differences in heat tolerance, the case is put that reported differences in heat tolerance are not due to natural selection, but can be explained on the basis of variations in adaptation opportunity. These concepts are expanded to illustrate how traditional heat adaptation and acclimatization represent forms of habituation, and thermal clamping (controlled hyperthermia) is proposed as a superior model for mechanistic research. Indeed, this technique has led to questioning the perceived wisdom of body-fluid changes, such as the expansion and subsequent decay of plasma volume, and sudomotor function, including sweat habituation and redistribution. Throughout, this contribution was aimed at taking another step toward understanding the phenomenon of heat adaptation and stimulating future research. In this regard, research questions are posed concerning the influence that variations in morphological configuration may exert upon adaptation, the determinants of postexercise plasma volume recovery, and the physiological mechanisms that modify the cholinergic sensitivity of sweat glands, and changes in basal metabolic rate and body core temperature following adaptation.
© 2014 American Physiological Society.