Is the Observed Decrease in Body Temperature During Industrialization Due to Thyroid Hormone-Dependent Thermoregulation Disruption?

Frontiers in Endocrinology
From Pieter Vancamp and Barbara Demeneix


Protsiv et al. used three sets of data to demonstrate that human core body temperature had decreased by 0.03°C per decade since the industrial revolution in the US (1). They proposed that a 1.6% temperature drop over a period of almost 200 birth years had occurred. Anthropometrics, gender, or race were excluded as potential factors. The authors postulated that the principle contributor to this reduction was reduced inflammation, reflecting better, healthier environments and improved hygiene measures (1). Although hygiene has increased and hence reduced death from infectious disease, other factors in our environment have also changed significantly. Here we propose another plausible and potentially testable mechanism, that of the contribution of factors interfering with thyroid hormone (TH) metabolism.

TH is an essential physiological cue that acts at central and peripheral levels to affect internal temperature in endotherms (2). Humans strive to live at thermoneutral conditions, in which peripheral muscle metabolism generates sufficient heat as a by-product to maintain temperature without the need for additional heat-generating mechanisms (3). For us, the resting metabolic rate (RMR) is thus a crude proxy for core body temperature. TH directly affects the RMR by altering mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative phosphorylation via TRα1, the principle TH receptor isoform in muscle (Figure 1) (4). TH fluctuations within the normal range alter the RMR in humans (56), suggesting that subtle changes in TH homeostasis could have consequences for body temperature. Recent data indicate that TH also safeguards core body temperature at the central level. 

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