Why Am I Always Chilly?

I am always cold. No matter what the temperature, summer or winter, my body inside is always on ice. What could be causing this?

– June 4, 2007

People can feel cold all the time for several different reasons. Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism) could be responsible. If you haven’t had your thyroid function tested recently, it would be worth your while to ask your physician to test you – all that’s required is drawing some blood. In addition, be sure to get your complete blood count done. You could be anemic, another possible explanation for feeling cold. If both tests are normal, here are some other possibilities to consider:

  • Weight: If you’re thin, you have less body fat to insulate you than does a heavier person and therefore may feel the cold more acutely. If you’re underweight, gaining a few pounds could help,
  • Body composition: Muscles produce up to 25 percent of your body heat. So the more muscle mass you have, the warmer you should be. Focus on building muscle mass (as opposed to gaining fat) to help your body better regulate temperature. If your exercise program doesn’t include strength training, be sure to add it in. Schedule a session or two with a personal trainer to learn how to work with free weights or machines in the gym.

If your thyroid is normal, you’re not anemic, underweight or out of shape, you may just be cold sensitive, perhaps because of the pattern of blood vessels in your skin. (Cold perception comes from skin temperature, but it’s your core temperature that’s important, and it’s probably normal.) Stress can be the culprit here, because it leads to overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system, and that constricts blood vessels in the skin, especially in the hands and feet. For this problem, I recommend a course of biofeedback training to learn to warm your hands.

Of course, you can also learn to keep yourself warm – wear layers of clothing, drink hot liquids – ginger tea or foods spiced with ginger and red pepper are especially warming. You also could try taking cayenne pepper in capsules to increase metabolism and stimulate circulation. Breathing techniques can also be helpful, especially the Bellows Breath from yoga tradition.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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