(HealthyResearch.com) – How “normal” is the average body temperature? It’s common knowledge that a healthy person should measure at precisely 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Right?
Well, not necessarily. As it turns out, body temperature is a lot more complicated than a single number — but even if it were so simple, most of us still wouldn’t read a “perfect” 98.6. Several factors can determine your normal, but if your temperature falls within the average, you might be surprised by the actual numbers.
The Current Average
A recent study challenges the long-standing belief that humans have an average body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. An analysis of over 35,000 people in Great Britain found the average to run closer to 97.8. The researchers believe this is evidence of a slow but steady shift in body temperature — that, for reasons we’re still exploring, human beings may be getting cooler. No one’s quite sure why this is, but there are a few theories.
The Role of Inflammation and Infection
One possible reason our average temperature seems to have lowered could be differences in infection management. Back in 1851, when German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich established the average temperature at 98.6, the average life expectancy was 38 years old and infections from now-treatable diseases may have caused chronic illness in much of the population. The resulting long-term inflammatory states may have been enough to make a difference in the average temperatures for that time period.
But if chronic inflammation were responsible, then why wouldn’t the current scourge of chronic inflammatory diseases keep the scales tipped? Chronic inflammation resulting from poor lifestyle has skyrocketed over the past decades, and autoimmune diseases and similar chronic illnesses have also become far more common.
Factoring in Gender and Age
Gender and age differences in a sample group might also affect temperature outcomes. Women tend to have slightly lower body temperatures than men, for example — except during ovulation, when basal temperatures can increase by as much as a degree. Our body temperature also decreases as we age.
Given the lower average life expectancy during Wunderlich’s research, it’s likely he had a more limited range of ages in his 25,000-person study sample. The most recent sample included 144,379 temperature readings from people between the ages of 20 and 40, but it also had 283,059 readings from participants between 40 and 60 and 249,985 readings from people between 60 and 80. It’s possible that differences in sample ages, alone, could account for the differences between past and present findings.
The Effects of Environment
Decades of being spoiled with climate-controlled homes may also have changed us. It takes a lot of energy to regulate body temperature, and extreme weather can mean tons of extra work to keep it from succumbing to dangerous temperatures. Reduced exposure to extreme fluctuations may have altered something in our metabolism that’s resulted in lower average temperatures.
Perhaps we really are cooling off, or maybe previous readings were faulty. Regardless of the reason, our average body temperature is no longer the 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit Wunderlich proposed in 1851. What’s your average temp?
~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!
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