Some people are always chilly. Women, more often than men, have a tendency to feel cold. Is that just a fact of life, or could there be something more going on? If you feel cold all the time, it could be from a specific cause.
Women really are colder than men in general. Their bodies are designed to maintain warmer temperatures at their core, but this leads to colder extremities.
“In general, women are better at conserving heat than men,” explained Dr. Margarita Rohr, M.D., an internist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “In order to do this, women’s bodies are programmed to maintain blood flow to vital organs such as the brain and heart.”
Keeping the blood flow around the vital organs means less circulation to the extremities. According to research by the University of Utah, women have body temperatures at their core that are higher than men, while their hands are approximately 2.8 degrees cooler.
The thyroid and the pituitary glands are referred to by the American Thyroid Association as “a heater and thermostat.” The thyroid, or heater, maintains warmth in the body. If it shuts down and your body begins to get cold, the pituitary is responsible for releasing thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) to stimulate the thyroid into generating more heat.
“Once the thermostat senses that the heat has risen to a certain level, it turns off the heater. This body-temperature-regulating balance between the two glands may help explain why people who do not produce enough thyroid hormone may feel more sensitive to cold,” said James V. Hennessey, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Proper blood flow is an important part of maintaining heat throughout the body. When something interferes with blood flow, a person can begin to feel cold, especially in the extremities.
A number of factors can inhibit circulation, such as cardiovascular disease, Raynaud’s disease, and smoking.
“Cardiovascular disease can be one cause; it’s a sign that your heart is not pumping blood effectively, or a blockage of the arteries prevents blood from getting to your fingers and toes,” explained Dr. Rohr.
People with poorly controlled diabetes often end up with a condition known as peripheral nephropathy. It refers to an ongoing attack of the nerves that control sensation in the hands and feet.
According to Dr. Rohr, “When this develops, you experience numbness and sometimes pain in the hands and feet, and since these nerves are also responsible for sending messages to the brain regarding temperature sensation, your hands and feet may feel cold.”
Being deprived of sleep not only causes a host of problems for the nervous system, but it also throws off the regulatory systems in the brain, including the one for body temperature or thermoregulation.
In a 2009 study by the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, researchers studied the effects of 60 hours of sleep deprivation on 20 young, healthy participants. They found that body temperature was decreased as a result of the sleep deprivation.
According to the researchers, “Sleep deprivation causes alterations in autonomic regulation of the heart, and in thermoregulation.”
Feeling constantly cold is commonly caused by low levels of iron in the blood. Iron is needed to help red blood cells function optimally to circulate oxygen throughout the body. If iron levels are low and blood cells are not functioning effectively, you wind up feeling chilled.
“If you’re not making enough energy because of low iron, your thermostat may get stuck and can’t be turned up high enough, so you feel cold,” said Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of From Fatigued to Fantastic!
Probably the least surprising cause is simply a low body weight. Without an adequate level of body fat to act as an insulator from the cold, of course you will feel chilled.
Not to mention, being thin may be the result of an inadequate amount of calorie intake. Without sufficient calories to burn, your metabolism will slow down and also contribute to a lack of body heat.
“The reason whales can swim in Arctic water is because they have plenty of blubber,” said Dr. Teitelbaum. “Likewise, being too thin and lacking fat for insulation makes you more sensitive to cold.”
If you are always feeling chilled, evaluate the possible causes that may be health related. It never hurts to discuss the situation with your physician if you are concerned.
—The Alternative Daily