Feeling cold all the time isn’t fun, but it’s not always something you can control. Getting to the root of temperature regulation issues isn’t always straightforward, but in some cases vitamin deficiencies may be the culprit behind cold hands, feet, or just an all-over feeling of coldness in the body.
In this article, we’ll discuss how your body controls temperature regulation and the vitamins that may play a role.
Thermoregulation is the term used to describe your body’s internal thermostat. It’s an important part of homeostasis, or your body’s constant function to maintain a stable, balanced state.
Body temperature regulation is crucial for healthy cellular function, enzyme actions, immune system responses, brain health, and more.
Vitamins and minerals fuel many of the body’s metabolic activities, enzyme conversions, energy generation, and more. Without adequate access to certain nutrients, the organs and systems that regulate body temperature may be affected.
The causes can range from changes to how the blood transports nutrients to how nerves send messages throughout the body and more.
In some cases, inadequate intake or absorption of essential nutrients can affect your body’s sensory perception or regulation of body temperature. Let’s explore the science behind nutrients that can influence your 98 degrees.
Vitamin B12 is an important water-soluble nutrient. The nervous system relies on it because it’s needed for myelin, the protective layer that insulates nerves in the brain and spinal cord. B12 also helps to manufacture red blood cells which are required to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. B12 also helps with proper DNA synthesis and methylation, which support a healthy methionine and homocysteine balance in the body.
When the body doesn’t get enough B12, anemia can occur. This can lead to many symptoms besides feeling cold, including numbness, tingling, sensory changes, fatigue, dizziness, walking problems, mood changes, vision issues, unintended weight loss, and more.
B12 is found in many foods, though mostly those of animal-origin. Vegan and vegetarian diets are typically low in B12, since there are few natural plant-based sources of this crucial nutrient.
B12 deficiency is treated with dietary supplements in many cases, unless the specific B12 deficiency is caused by an inability to break down the protein in the digestive tract. In that case, vitamin B12 injections are typically prescribed by healthcare providers to bypass the digestive system’s inability to absorb it.
Aging, genetic factors, and gastrointestinal absorption issues can make it harder to absorb B12 from food alone, but supplements may help.
Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia. Without enough iron, we cannot produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is required for transporting oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body. A lack of hemoglobin and oxygen can cause symptoms like feeling cold all the time, tiredness, physical weakness, and low mood. In some cases, only a person’s hands or feet may feel cold, or instead of cold, they may feel more numb or have reduced sensations.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are lower in iron than those including animal-origin foods. Additionally, iron relies on vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and B12 to be properly absorbed in the small intestine. Even if your iron intake is good, inadequate levels of other nutrients could still mean that your body can’t absorb and use the iron that it needs.
Iron levels are one of the easiest labs to check. Your medical provider can run an iron panel to determine if you’re low in iron or ferritin (the stored form of iron). If you show signs of anemia, but your iron, ferritin, and other tests in an iron panel are normal, you could have a B12 deficiency or vitamin-related anemia.
If you need to increase your iron intake, you can eat foods like beef, lentils, spinach, tofu, beans, cashews, and fortified breakfast cereals.
People who menstruate, are pregnant, frequently donate blood, have gastrointestinal disorders or health conditions, or follow plant-based diets have a higher risk for iron deficiency. Dietary supplements, as standalone iron or as part of a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, can help to address iron deficiency and support healthy nutrient intake.
The sunshine vitamin isn’t only needed for healthy bones, it also supports a healthy nervous system, balanced immune function, and more. The link between vitamin D and thermoregulation is less obvious, but still important.
Body temperature balance is regulated by the hypothalamus and aspects of the involuntary nervous system. Vitamin D plays a stabilizing role for many systems in the body, including the autonomic nervous system. It also functions alongside vitamin B12 in many immune and nervous system functions.
There’s not as much research on the direct links between vitamin D and temperature regulation, although a case study highlighted the link between vitamin B12 and vitamin D inadequacy. Other research stresses the importance of vitamin D for the regulatory, involuntary functions of the body, from digestion to the brain to the heart and beyond.
Folate is as important as vitamin B12, and a deficiency can happen, although less frequently than with B12. Folate is needed for healthy DNA synthesis, methylation, and normal neural tube development during the early weeks of pregnancy.
A lack of folate can also result in signs of vitamin-deficiency anemia, like red blood cells that are too large and inefficient at transporting oxygen. Signs of folate-related anemia can include fatigue, feeling cold all the time, weak muscles, irritable mood, and changes to pulse.
Folate is found in many foods, including many fruits and vegetables. Some of the best dietary sources of folate are spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, romaine, avocado, broccoli, and mustard greens.
The danger with folate is that if someone is deficient in B12, but they’re getting adequate or ample amounts of folate (as can frequently be found in plant-based diets), the normal folate level can mask the signs of B12 deficiency. This can result in longer term complications, which is why a B-complex supplement is often an ideal solution for addressing B vitamin inadequacy. By supplementing the nutrients together, an unknown B vitamin deficiency isn’t going unaddressed.
People who have small intestine conditions or other gastrointestinal malabsorption may not absorb folate effectively. High alcohol intake can also influence how much folate is absorbed and used.
Vitamin C deficiency is extremely uncommon in developed countries, although it may still occur if a person’s diet is highly limited from food allergies or other restrictions that make it hard to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
In situations where thermoregulation (this is the process of maintaining a steady internal body temperature even when external temperature conditions change) is affected, it’s not usually because of a vitamin C deficiency. Vitamin C, however, is essential for normal iron absorption, and it also supports the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. Vitamin C is an important component needed for collagen synthesis, which helps to maintain the integrity of tissues throughout the body. Healthy digestion relies, in part, on a healthy gut lining.
Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables. Some of the best sources include red bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, spinach, kiwi, and strawberries. Vitamin C supplements can also help to support optimal nutrient intake.
Iron and other nutrient imbalances can play a major role in feeling cold. But they are not the only triggers.
If you feel cold more often than you should, or it feels like a recent change, speak to your doctor. Because there are other causes, your healthcare provider will likely do a physical exam, ask questions about your symptoms, and run some basic laboratory tests.
Other possible issues linked with feeling cold all the time include thyroid hormone imbalances, inadequate food intake, malnutrition, kidney issues, poor circulation, nervous system signaling issues, and more.
Not all vitamin deficiencies can easily be checked with a blood test.
A medical provider can check some nutrients with a laboratory visit, such as iron and vitamin D. Vitamin B12 and folate do have laboratory tests, but they may not be fully accurate, since the range of normal for these can widely vary. Some medical providers will order other tests to see if your body has access to the vitamin B12 and folate that it needs. These can include methylmalonic acid (MMA), homocysteine, and a complete blood count (CBC).
In other cases, a medical provider may be able to tell you’re deficient in a nutrient based on diet logs or physical symptoms.
It’s important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor so that possible deficiencies or other contributing factors can be looked into.
The best way to increase vitamins in your diet is to eat a wide variety of healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Unless you are restricted by food allergies or other specific dietary limitations, it’s best to consume foods from all food groups.
If you do have food allergies or restrictions, or you follow a plant-based diet, some dietary supplements may be recommended to enhance your daily nutrient intake. These may include multivitamins, prenatal vitamins, B-complex, vitamin C, vitamin D, or other important nutrients. A medical provider can help determine which dietary supplements might be most impactful for your needs.
Feeling cold all the time is irritating at best, and can be incredibly distracting and unpleasant. If you’re feeling cold or that your body temperature regulation just isn’t working quite right, you should see a medical provider. There are many possible causes, but some nutrient deficiencies, like iron or B12, can be common. If you do have a nutritional reason for feeling cold all the time, focusing on a healthy dietary intake and consuming dietary supplements can often help to address nutritional imbalances effectively.