B Vitamin Deficiency Increases Your Cold Sensitivity
Your body controls its temperature basically like this: Your hypothalamus, a part of your brain, acts as your body’s thermostat, working with other temperature-regulating parts of your body (your skin, blood vessels and sweat glands) to adjust your temperature ever so slightly as needed to maintain that healthy 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). How hydrated you are (the better hydrated, the better your temperature control), how much body fat you have (lose body fat, and lose its heat-retaining benefits) and how toned your muscles are (better toned muscles generate more heat even when you’re resting) also all contribute to how hot or cold we feel.
And so does what you eat.
Researchers have found that people who are B vitamin deficient may find themselves more sensitive to cold temperatures.
B vitamins are considered the “energy vitamins,” because they play an important role in how your body converts food into energy. But their benefits don’t stop there. B vitamins are also important for a healthy immune system, healthy red blood cell production, healthy digestion and a healthy nervous system. When the body is deficient in vitamin B12, a condition known as pernicious anemia, it can’t make healthy red blood cells that are needed to carry oxygen throughout your body, and the result is coldness in your hands and feet and a general intolerance to cold temperatures. A B12 deficiency can be caused by malabsorption problems, autoimmune diseases, gastric bypass surgery, the lack of the hormone needed for the body to synthesize B12 (this is called the intrinsic factor) or by a diet lacking in balanced nutrition.
And speaking of balanced nutrition, iron also plays a role in whether or not you’re feeling chilled, and it’s iron-deficient anemia rather than pernicious anemia that you’re more likely to hear about. Symptoms of an iron deficiency (iron-deficient anemia) may include fatigue, weakness and dizziness as well as pale skin and intolerance to cold temperatures (and cold hands and feet). If you’re bothered by cold intolerance and warm beverages and an extra blanket aren’t enough, consider seeing your doctor who will be able to pinpoint the problem.
The Case for and Against Taking Fish Oil Pills
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), some 16 percent of Americans adults take omega-3 fatty acids in supplement form. With tens of millions of Americans popping fish oil pills, spending millions of dollars, the manufacturers of these supplements aren’t going to go quietly on suggestions that their products don’t work.
“This study was about high-risk cardiovascular heart disease individuals, and determining if omega-3 fatty acids would act, essentially, like a drug, a nutritional drug, to help prevent future cardiac events,” say Douglas “Duffy” MacKay, the senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs for the CRN, the leading trade association for the dietary supplement and functional food industry. “But the bottom line for the general population is, this is still an essential nutrient that plays incredibly important roles in human nutrition. Balancing inflammation. It’s part of cell membranes. It’s part of cells communicating with one another. And Americans just don’t eat a lot of cold-water fatty fish that provide these important nutrients.”
Thus, MacKay contends, if sardines and flaxseed aren’t on your weekly shopping list, you ought to consider supplements. Even if they don’t stop heart attacks in high-risk cardiovascular cases.
“When you ask people about what they eat, do they eat anchovies? Do they eat sardines? Do they eat wild-caught salmon on a regular basis? Typical Americans don’t,” he says. “So for a typical American, eating the standard American diet, supplementing with these important fatty acids is incredibly important to make sure you’re getting what your body needs.”
For his part, Gerstein, a professor in the department of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, agrees that omega-3s are essential. A diet high in omega-3s indeed may be beneficial, he says, although science behind that is still unsettled.
“There is some evidence from the dietary literature that there may be a benefit to it. This research does not in any way refute that,” Gerstein says. “When you think of the dietary literature, though … if somebody decides that they’re going to eat a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, that means they’re also reducing other things, such as maybe red meat and other things. So if there’s a benefit, maybe it’s because they’re replacing harmful things [with the omega-3s].”
The main question comes down to whether people are getting enough omega-3s in their diets and what can be done about it if not.
MacKay says most people don’t get enough and suggests supplements (in consultation with a doctor) as a possible answer. Gerstein says they do, and if they don’t, it’s something that should be discussed with a doctor.
The good news is that taking a regular fish oil pill as a supplement doesn’t seem to do any harm. Except, Gerstein says, all those extra fatty acids, not to mention all the money spent, may end up, quite literally, down the drain.