Is there a scientific reason that some people feel habitually cold?

-asks Heather B. from Santa Rosa, CA

And this is August! [CREDIT: GREGG]
By | Posted August 14, 2006
Posted in: Ever Wondered?, Health
Tags: , ,

It’s true some people are always cold. They sleep under five comforters in the winter and always carry an extra sweater on the hottest summer days (hey, there’s always the risk of an over-zealous air conditioner!). Does this mean there’s something medically wrong with these people? Probably not—although there is a condition called severe cold intolerance, it’s rare and unlikely to be the problem.

Instead, some studies suggest that simply changing your lifestyle could help. Eating better, exercising more, and reducing stress are a few initial steps that could cut the cold.

The human body works in different ways to regulate temperature. For example, without moving at all, your muscles produce up to 25 percent of your body’s normal temperature. Muscles are always slightly contracted—a state called “muscle tone.” This partly explains the recommendation to exercise more: the more muscle mass you build, the more tone you have, and the more heat your body produces at rest. Internal organs, like your heart, liver, and kidneys are another major source of heat. They’re continuously working and, as a byproduct of that work, creating heat. The liver, for instance, is responsible for up to 20 percent of your body’s heat—so be good to your liver and put down that fifth beer!

All of this involuntary temperature regulation is orchestrated by the brain. Acting as an internal thermostat is one of the many jobs of the hypothalamus, an area at the base of the brain. When your body gets too hot, the hypothalamus turns on the AC—blood vessels near the surface of your skin open up to release the heat (sometimes making you flushed) and you start sweating. When your body gets too cold, the hypothalamus shuts off the AC and seals the windows. Small blood vessels close up to conserve heat, making your hands, nose and toes feel very cold. And if too much heat is lost, your brain tells your muscles to spasm into a shiver, upping the internal production of heat by increasing muscle tone.

But for the die-hard hypochondriac, that ever-present chill could potentially be a symptom of various syndromes and diseases. The two that would most likely warrant a check-in with the doctor are Raynaud’s disease and hypothyroidism.

Raynaud’s disease causes extremities, like fingers and toes, to turn blue in response to the cold or to emotional stress. This is usually accompanied by some pain or numbness in the hands, and when blood flow does return, the area usually gets red and tingles or throbs. It’s a rare disorder that affects more women than men. But if you think you have it, you may want to see a rheumatologist, since some cases develop into arthritic disease.

Another disorder that can cause cold intolerance is hypothyroidism, which happens when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that control metabolism. Hypothyroidism can cause a person to gain weight, feel tired, sluggish or weak, and often also feel cold. Luckily, it can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, and medications to correct the problem are readily available.

So although most people’s sensitivity to the cold can be easily controlled with a few warmer articles of clothing, it’s always best to check with a doctor if you think it could be something more serious.

——

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  1. My Mom has Raynaud’s disease. I will tell her to read this. Yay.

    Melinda, August 16, 2006 at 4:58 pm
  2. Hi, I am writing in response to your article regarding people who feel habitually cold. I have hypothyroidism which is corrected with thyroxine. However, this has done nothing to alleviate “feeling cold” and once I feel cold I can be reduced to total body shivering very quickly. My finger tips and entire thumbs go completely numb but do not turn blue. They tingle but are not what I would call painfull. Is there anything else I can do to prevent feeling the cold as much as I do ?

    Anna, March 21, 2007 at 1:41 pm
  3. Hi there, I can’t bear being in a AC room for more than 15 minutes. After that, I start feeling very cold and this grows to be unbearable in the next few minutes. So, any one think, I have Hypothyroidism?

    Naureen, May 5, 2007 at 9:49 am
  4. My husband thinks I am crazy. I am always cold. My hands, arms, feet and neck. If it is not 100+ degrees I am cold. Is there something I should ask my doctor about for this? In the last couple years it seems that this has changed. Can you provide some advice.
    Thank you

    Mona Clifton, August 6, 2007 at 6:19 pm
  5. Hi, thanks for the article. I didn’t realize muscles could keep you warm and more comfortable. I was in a wreck several years ago and haven’t regained my strength. I am also under a lot of stress-still trying to jump as high or higher than my fellow man. I will try “Eating better, exercising more, and reducing stress” as you say and see what happens,and take my vitamins but must I be on the run every second?

    Jacqueline, March 28, 2008 at 9:49 pm
  6. Gosh! that was interesting, thank you.
    I am sitting in ‘the office’, and 5 mins. is enough for me, and yet my husband can sit all day, all be it wrapped up well.
    I am working hard outside with animals no problem, yet stop still for a while…. problem. Even in summer when the temperatures are high I can come in to this old house (built against the heat) and in a short time brrrrrrrrr.
    Sometimes I can only get warm again if I stay in a hot bath for ages. Not very helpful. The worst is not being able to sleep for cold feet. Definiatly wear bed socks….
    For anyone like me who works on a farm I have found that wearing silk, yes I can see a few smiles, but silk long sleeved vest with a shirt on top and then wool or these light weight polar zip up tops polars works a treat. Silk leggings and socks and gloves are all available. Wear the gloves under a woolen pair, and then under a large sized rubber glove. This really works. Same goes for the wellies get a size that leaves room for a couple of socks. Wellies are always cold not like the ski boot type of foot covering. However there is not much you can do about this and when squelching about in mud, say no more. Pay more for this item the, light tall wellies for ladiesand not the heavy boots which can cause back ache.
    These ski suits are great, it is just that when you get hot, well you cannot just take a layer of clothing off that easily :)
    Do not forget the hat! that will prevent heat loss. If you hate hats, well I was ever so surprised at a friend one day who seemed to be pulling her hair out! She was pulling off a wig, her own lovely hair all shining and clean underneath. She told me it kept her warm, hair clean, with the bonus being that horses do not grab you by your hair, but for some reason they like pulling or tipping off hats. Not to mention she did look very lovely with bouncing auburn curls.
    Land’s end do a goose down sleeveless top (forgotten what you call them) It is light with poppers, and easy to take off and put back on when you start getting cold again. I was a bit miffed when I found this treat to myself only had 72% down, the rest feathers. It is on the mean side when it comes to the down/feathers, and your finger and thumb can feel nothing but nylon between them.
    I certainly have stress, try eating well when time permits, but have to agree with what Jacqueline says there is a limit to all this bouncing about bit. Well I have to bounce off to bed.
    Mona warm your hands on his back, though they are usually sneaky and have their Tshirts well tucked into the trousers. They can be trained just ignore all protests! Does take a out 3 months
    or so and there will be a “o.k. just keep your hands stilll DO NOT move your hands.” As if you would think of such cruelty. :)

    Fran, November 20, 2008 at 6:33 pm
  7. to naureen, no you probably dont. i have hypothyroidism, and you are going to have way more symptoms than not being able to tolerate AC. my symptoms were gaining a couple pounds and extremely tired no matter how much sleep. also if you’re tired you might be iron defficient.
    im 15 and ive been on the thyroid medication levothyroxine, and it doesnt do anything for my coldness! my hands and feet are always freezing. i am wearing ugg boots and mittens right now, still cold. might i have reynaud’s? im so sick of being cold in my house’s 68 degrees. and at school too.

    sophie, December 15, 2008 at 8:14 pm
  8. i am always feeling cold

    thomas kitching, December 6, 2009 at 8:49 am
  9. i feel cold internally, i’ve done blood test, malaria and typhoid were diagonied and i’ve been treated. i still feel it. what i do now is as follows:
    bath with warm water
    rub my body with rub
    drink cold water
    or what else can i do

    adamson kudirat, December 31, 2009 at 1:36 am
  10. i feel cold internally, I’ve done blood test, malaria and typhoid were diagonised and i’ve been treated. i still feel it. what i do now is as follows:
    bath with warm water
    rub my body with rub
    drink warm water
    or what else can i do

    adamson kudirat, December 31, 2009 at 1:39 am
  11. my mother and other adults are always freezing, even indoors, yet im never as cold although i wear less clothing than them. i guess this is because children dont get cold as easily.

    JWS, February 18, 2010 at 9:51 am
  12. i always feel cold even in summer also i cant tolerate the AC and the problem is also when i eat in summer icecream i start to feel cold

    nadine, June 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm
  13. I am cold right now….I’ll be cold later….and I felt cold earlier!!! In the summer I’m cold whenever I’m indoors due to the AC….then in the winter I can’t bear to be outside after october. I don’t have many of the symptoms listed — just the one that I am freezing all the time. Forget about drinking a cold drink…
    I think the only answer is to move to Hawawii….I don’t deserve to stay in NY!!

    Denise, November 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm
  14. I also hate the cold. I wear sweaters and am barely tolerating the cold when I see co workers wearing T shirts and I shudder to to think of being trapped in that environment. I live in Canada so it actually gets extremely cold here and I have to endure some painful extremes.
    I use exercise to fight the cold. Tai Chi works wonders for just getting my own body temperature up and evenly heated. I’d rather tell someone i’m practicing a Tai Chi move over and over than stand there and shiver in that discomfort that is worse than burning.
    That and slippers can sometimes be more a culprit than a cure. If your feet are sweating inside slippers you are setting yourself up for disaster. I used to do this to myself until I learned from an ex-army coworker that sweaty socks cost toes. Evaporation causes rapid heat loss.
    It’s sometimes better to have a pair of loose dry socks on than slippers.
    Hope that helps.

    Russ, November 17, 2010 at 7:36 pm
  15. I feel cold almost all the time. Mom notices my hands and feet are cold mostly all the time. I didn’t know muscle keeps you warm. Interesting! I’m pretty thin like 90-95 pounds, maybe that might be it. I don’t know. I have been tested for anemia and all that stuff, but it’s ruled out, but I do have vitamin D deficiency. Mom said i’m always cold because of lack of calcium is that true?

    priscy, February 24, 2011 at 12:58 am
  16. when i get out of bed in the morning ,i feel really cold all over,although my wife says the house is not cold.when i am dressed during the day and watching a football match ,i start to get cold after about an hour,my hands are very cold to touch,and all i want to do is go to bed and get warmed up.sometimes i would go for a slight walk to see if it helps me,on many occasions i start to feel unwell and start to break out in a cold sweat,when i reach home my shirt and boxing shorts would be stuck to my body,i normally dry myself and go straight to bed until i feel better.i can not go to a wedding reception or any social functions ,as i would have to leave after a short time.
    after a spinal operation i had 3years ago (which was not a success),i,m on quite a lot of medication.i,m telling you that because i had the cold symptoms quite a few years before my operation .
    my age is 67 ,i do not smoke ,and drink very little alcohol.
    kind regards James.

    seamus mckernon, June 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm
  17. I’m trying to identify the underlying issue here. I drink warm water, wear thermals to work and exercise frequently. I don’t smoke or drink much and I look and feel dead fit at 190 lbs. Still I always manage to get caught in what seems an intolerably cold situation when I’m bundled up and others are in shorts and T-shirts.

    My hands look like a textbook picture of Raynaud’s(not blue but white)and refuse to allow blood into my finger tips. I can try to spin my arms, take a hot shower, stick them in warm water, or forcefully squeeze blood to the tips of my fingers, but it absolutely seems blocked. My entire body seems woefully intolerant of cold and I shiver wildly much to the entertainment of my peers.

    Alp, July 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm
  18. I have hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease) and I’m anemic, iron. Medicine for both and extra vitamins, trying to stay healthy, never seem to help. (Waiting to see the doctor soon to ask about the constant cold but I have my suspicions…) But I have an allergy that is common/not so common. (It’s not so common because a lot of people who have it don’t know it in part the occasion to know it never arises.) I’m allergic to ice, yes ice. Not water just ice. Because the chemical/physical structure in water is changed when it is turned to ice, I become allergic to it. Now some people are so allergic to it that they can die from it, I’m not one of them. It is just bad enough to have a bad tolerance to ice. I play sports and had an injury I had to ice, I had the ice on for about 45 minutes and over 2 hours later my skin felt as if I just took the ice off. I’m kind of guessing that since I’m so sensitive to cold things that that is why I feel cold all of the time. Just a thought.

    Anna L., November 5, 2011 at 12:44 am
  19. Is there a condition where you never feel cold for ex.I will get goosebumbs and I will look cold I never actually feel cold

    Morgan, December 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm
  20. I wear winter clothes in the summer, and pile on more
    layers in the winter. My son thinks I’m nuts.
    Had flu and hospitalized with pneumonia last year. Trying
    everything to avoid it this year. Any tips, thoughts99$@8 to
    avoid chills? Moved from new Orleans to Colorado
    2years ago…maybe I should move back.???

    Annie, December 13, 2011 at 1:16 am
  21. Dear Friends
    i am always feeling inner cold feelings and so much tired but when i am checking temprature it is showing 35-36c which is normal.I am facing this problem from past 13 years and consult so many doctores but all in vain ,even when i am doing blood tests it is showing normal resul .can anyone help me and tell me the reason feeling always fewer.

    Prince, April 2, 2012 at 10:32 am
  22. this is my problem,at work i am in a ac room all day,i have no problem with my blood type, but i am small in size,i am 19yrs old and my weight is 100lbs,
    it is strange that we are in a open plan office and only myself get this cold feeling,only myself wears sweater in the office and everyone laugh at me,i feel so bad at times i am willen to drink and tonic or something that can help me—–i still dont know what to do,the ac conditioner most of the times make my head hurt, cause it is so freezing most of the time,my nose,gosh i am dying

    samantha, April 25, 2012 at 9:29 am
  23. Well, im 17years old && i been notice-ing since i was like 15 or 16 that only in the winter time my feet gets so cold that sometimes i wear 3pairs of socks with boots && they still dont get warm i rub them with vicks it still doesnt work && sometimes my hands && nose get cold but not as cold as my feet i cry sometimes they get so cold i cant sleep at night && its only at night sometimes during the day && summer but mostly winter && i been looking up online but no good resolts just here but, i just not no what too do anymore or belive.

    Clarissa, December 19, 2012 at 5:34 am
  24. Hello, this weekend is nice designed for me, for the reason that this occasion i am reading this enormous educational article here at my home.

    Cold Calls, February 4, 2013 at 1:31 am
  25. To be honest I didn’t find this article helpful. For that fact the person writing this article made me feel like I was stupid for being cold (to the point I’m shivering) all the time and a hypochondriac because I want the symptoms to go away. Also their are other disease that can cause this as well. Like fybro-myalsia and even some cancers. So IF YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. Find a doctor and/or keep looking for one until you find one who listen to you. That’s what I have done. Next week, I’m going to go into a controlled sleep study/day study, where they will monitor the temperatures in the room and how my body responds to the temperatures, what my food intake, exercise and such to see what they can come up with along with an MRI to rule out cancer and blood work. Finally someone is listening to me and not telling me I’m crazy or this is normal. IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE COLD ALL THE TIME.

    Goldie Pelton, February 11, 2013 at 6:03 am
  26. my friends body is hot when ours are cold and it is cold when ours are hot

    jins, March 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm
  27. I am surprised that no one suggested natural and traditional therapies from around the world, since doubtless humans have been experiencing this problem since prehistory. In my experience, most problems are caused by two main factors: nutrition, and lack of exercise.

    Nutrition is much more important than one might think, and I especially recommend ginseng (the Asian/Korean kind, instead of the American ones) and other highly nutritious foods that we tend to only eat when we are sick, like hot chicken broth. Meats, eggs and other animal products on the whole are helpful to me. If you are vegan though, you may want to stick to exercise.

    The key to exercise is not to exercise occasionally and vigorously, but rather to incorporate bits of exercise every day, like walking to work, or perhaps tai chi, as suggested earlier.

    There is also another less orthodox method that relies on the mind. Some time ago, I read a story of an American doctor who was trapped in a blizzard, and survived by meditating on the idea of “heat”. I’m not sure if it works for everyone though. Use at your own discretion.

    Aryn, April 26, 2013 at 4:34 am
  28. Half of these posts make no sense, such as this post: “can anyone help me and tell me the reason feeling always fewer”, and this “my friends body is hot when ours are cold and it is cold when ours are hot”. Huh, what the heck, are these spam bots, trolls or what.
    Yes, I’m sitting in an office that is TOO COLD, but this is due to an idiot “gym rat” that jacks the AC to around 68 degrees because he is a “muscle bound moron”. This yoo hoo drinks protein shakes 4 times a day and eats 11 meals a day. It’s hard to work in this environment, so I turn on my portable heater and shut my door!!! I really dislike this guy, he’s such a turd.

    T, May 2, 2013 at 10:07 am
  29. Sorry but I am offended by the “hypochondriacs” comment! I wear at least 5 layers of shirts plus a jacket or sweater, and am still cold. I am on thyroid medicine and my levels are ‘normal’, take vitamins, don’t have Raynauds, etc. and I am still cold! My body temp is 96.5, which is supposedly normal, and my blood pressure is 90/60, which everyone says is “great”! I can never wear cute clothes because I am too cold.Any advice is welcome, but not hypochondriac comments!

    Terri Bargerhuff, May 14, 2013 at 9:55 am
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    liberties told sales, May 26, 2013 at 6:45 pm
  31. hi,
    Am suffering from hypothyroid and i can’t bear cold for more than 15 minutes , if i sit in AC everyday , by end of the month i notice my body looks as if swollen , i am not able to make it out if its really swelling all over , however it automatically reduce gradually in normal climate and temperature and then my body is fine , but i always have muscle ache ,, i don’t know how to explain my muscle ache or pain .. but there is a pain. all i do is avoid AC and so am not working now . when i sit in ac my fingers gets cold and then numb , my head starts getting heavy. i gain weight gradually there after .
    i would like to know if anybody still manage to sit in AC though they are not able to bear the AC and if so how they manage ? does that cause any extra pain?
    rajnivimala@gmail.com

    Rajani, April 4, 2014 at 1:18 am
  32. I’m always freezing! I live in So. California where it can get pretty hot yet I still freeze. Lol, people I worked with used to run from me as they didn’t want me to touch them with my cold fingers! That’s how cold I am most of the time. When it’s 100 degrees, I feel fine.

    sandy, May 17, 2014 at 1:25 am
  33. Oh my goodness….I, too, am cold all the time, low body temperature, low BP and on Thyroid supplement. The air conditioner literally makes me sick, nauseous, headaches, and I hurt and ache all over. I am not a hypochondriac, go work every day, fairly healthy…don’t drink, don’t smoke, no sugar and eat a balanced diet of meat, veggies and fruit, and very few carbohydrates. Cold unless I am outside in 90 plus degree weather or long johns, long sleeve shirts and sweat shirt…Yes coats in every car and in my office…heated seats are my best friend~ Glad to see I am not alone~

    K. R. Marshall, June 19, 2014 at 9:02 pm
  34. Sensory processing disorder (and anything it’s a symptom of, like autism) can cause this, too. It can also cause the opposite, being hot all the time.

    Being skinny can cause it, too, but probably to a much lesser extent.

    I used to be hot all the time. I was the stereotypical autistic kid who’d throw a fit if told to put on a jacket. Then I got hypothyroidism and went in the complete opposite direction. Now I take artificial thyroid hormones and am back to being a human space heater. It’s not as bad as when I was younger, but I still can’t wear a heavy coat unless it’s in the 20s or colder (unless it’s windy).

    anon, June 25, 2014 at 10:27 pm
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