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Body Temperature Regulation & Homeostasis

Melissa Bialowas, Robert Egan
  • Author
    Melissa Bialowas

    Melissa Bialowas has taught preschool through high school for over 20 years. She specializes in math, science, gifted and talented, and special education. She has a Master's Degree in Education from Western Governor's University and a Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from Southern Methodist University. She is a certified teacher in Texas as well as a trainer and mentor throughout the United States.

  • Instructor
    Robert Egan
What is body temperature regulation? Learn what regulates body temperature. Learn thermoregulation and homeostasis in humans, and homeostatic body temperature. Updated: 11/22/2021

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What Regulates Body Temperature

No matter the weather, the human body stays within a very small range of temperatures. This is because the body regulates the temperature, allowing a precise range to keep the body alive and working properly. The process actually starts at the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus contains the temperature sensors, as well as the control mechanisms to adjust internal temperatures based on the feedback it receives. The normal range for a human body is 37-37.8 degrees Celsius (98-100 degrees Fahrenheit). This range is considered homeostasis, a stable condition for the body.

The hypothalamus is small, but crucial for body temperature regulation.

Image of the brain with an arrow pointing to the hypothalamus

There are many different factors that can influence the body's temperature. These include illness, infections, outside temperatures, as well as drug and alcohol use. The hypothalamus senses these changes, and tells the body if it needs to start or stop sweating, create bumps and raise arm or leg hairs to hold in more heat, cause shivering, add certain hormones to the body to increase heat, increase or decrease metabolism, and even alter the width of capillaries in order to control blood flow.

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  • 0:06 Homeostasis
  • 1:17 Endotherms and Ectotherms
  • 3:27 Thermoregulation
  • 7:17 Internal Thermostat
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Thermoregulation in Humans

Thermoregulation is the process of regulating one's own body temperature. The body first must sense current temperatures and conditions in order to respond to changes. There are temperature receptors on the skin, around veins, and in the spinal cord area. They send the message to the brain, specifically the hypothalamus, about current inputs. Regulating the body's temperature to such a small range is difficult work. Even if a body is resting in an ideal temperature location, muscles continue producing heat. The heart still beats, the digestive system still processes food and nutrients, and the diaphragm allows breathing to continue. Each of these internal processes produces heat. When people actively use additional muscles or change their environment, there is even more to be compensated for. As data is sent to the hypothalamus, it tells the body how to respond in order to maintain homeostasis.

There are two general possibilities for the hypothalamus to restore homeostasis: heat up the body, or cool down the body. The body heats up through a variety of processes:

  • Shivering and increased muscle activity - This converts stored chemical energy in order to raise heat levels in the body.
  • Piloerection - This forces the body hairs to contract and stand on end. This allows the heat given off by the body to be trapped closer, and reduces heat loss. While human arm and leg hairs are often thin and this doesn't provide much benefit, this same system is seen in other mammals much more effectively. In humans, this is likely a leftover response from our evolutionary ancestors.
  • Vasoconstriction - This narrows the blood vessels close to the skin so that the heat given off decreases.
  • Thyroxin - This hormone comes from the thyroid and raises a person's metabolic rate. This conversion of chemical energy helps create internal heat.

The body must also cool itself in the case of getting too hot. Some of these same processes are reversed, while others are completely different.

  • Sweating - This helps to cool the body by releasing water and salt.
  • Vasodilation - This dilates or opens up the veins wider. This allows increased blood flow near the surface of the skin, transferring more of the internal heat to external sources.
  • Stopping piloerection and thyroxin - Telling the body to have body hairs lay naturally flat and not increasing the metabolism both help cool the body to a certain extent.

Homeostasis in Humans

Homeostasis is the stable, ideal condition of the body. This is achieved at a range of 37-37.8 degrees Celsius (98-100 degrees Fahrenheit). The process of achieving homeostasis is fluid and constantly adjusting. For example, as a person gets colder, they may develop shivers but not piloerection, or they may experience vasoconstriction, but not thyroxin. If the person responds by adding layers of clothing, turning up the air temperature or moving to a warmer location, immediate adjustments can be made to the body's response.

Endotherms

Birds, humans, and other mammals are considered endotherms. An endotherm is a type of animal that uses internal processes to maintain body temperature. Endotherms are also known as warm-blooded animals. Endotherms maintain a high metabolic rate by burning many calories, in order to maintain a body temperature higher than the surrounding air.

Ectotherms

Amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates are considered ectotherms. An ectotherm is a type of animal that relies on external processes to maintain body temperature. These animals typically warm their bodies with sunlight or a heat lamp. Ectotherms are also known as cold-blooded animals.

Thermoregulatory Dysfunction

There are times when the body gets out of homeostasis, and if it stays that way for very long it can cause serious health conditions and even death. Having a temperature out of homeostasis for more than a few minutes is called thermoregulatory dysfunction.

Excess body heat

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four mechanisms for temperature regulation?

The four mechanisms are summarized as convection, radiation, conduction, and evaporation. More specifically they include: evaporation of sweat, conduction of heat from the body's core to the surface, radiation of heat away from the body, and convection by the heart pumping blood throughout the body.

What factors affect body temperature?

The muscles in the body are constantly producing heat. These include the heart, diaphragm, and digestive systems. The outside environment, temperature of food consumed, and illness also affect body temperature.

What is thermoregulatory dysfunction?

When the body cannot maintain homeostasis for temperature, it is considered thermoregulatory dysfunction. This can include a fever, heatstroke, frostbite, or other temperature related illnesses.

What is an example of temperature regulation?

When the body constricts the veins close to the skin in order to prevent heat loss. That is one type of temperature regulation. Another example, is when the body sweats to help cool the body down.

What is regulating the temperature?

To regulate something means to maintain it within stable parameters. In the human body, the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature.

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