Science Q & A

Does being colder make for living longer?

New York TimesApril 20, 2014 

Q. Does a lower body temperature mean a longer life?

A. Some studies show a correlation between lower body temperatures and greater longevity, though there is no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship in humans.

The first such major study in warmblooded animals, reported in the journal Science in 2006, was an experiment involving mice at the Scripps Research Institute.

Genetically engineered mice with extra-sensitive temperature control switches in the hypothalamus were raised with core body temperatures just a fraction of a degree cooler than those of their litter mates; caloric intake was the same. The researchers found the median life span was 12 percent greater in the cooler males, 20 percent greater in the females.

As for humans, a large study published in 2011 in The Journals of Gerontology compared the ages and body temperatures of 18,630 people, ages 20 to 98, who had oral temperature readings as part of a standardized health appraisal at a health maintenance organization.

Mean temperature decreased with age, with a difference of 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit between the oldest and youngest groups, even after controlling for sex, body mass index and white-blood-cell count.

“The results are consistent with low body temperature as a biomarker for longevity,” the researchers concluded. As for possible reasons for such results, they suggested identifying genetic influences on body temperature and examining the effect of body temperature on multiple cellular processes.

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