Is 97.5 The New Standard? Why Body Temperatures Are Dropping and What It Means for Your Health

For as long as I can remember, my temperature has always been slightly below the “normal” reading. Instead of the medically established 98.6°F, my regular temperature usually sits at around 97.6°F. If you’ve ever noticed the same, you might be wondering if anything is wrong with your body. Surprisingly, it appears that lower body temperatures are on the rise, and maybe even becoming the new normal.

Studies show a downward trend

It was back in the mid-1800s when German physician Carl Wunderlich first determined that the average body temperature was 98.6°F, based on measurements from 25,000 people. Fast forward to the last 20 years, and studies have started showing that “normal” body temperature is gradually shifting downward.

A 2017 study of 35,000 UK adults found the average temperature to be around 97.9°F, while a 2019 study in Palo Alto, California, measured the average body temperature at 97.5°F. Another comprehensive study analyzed temperature records from three time periods spanning 157 years and found that average oral temperatures dropped more than 1 degree. Alongside these findings, researchers concluded that the “new normal” body temperature is closer to 97.5°F.

Possible reasons for the shift

So, why is this happening? Researchers believe multiple factors could be contributing to the decrease in average body temperature. One idea is that the modern healthcare system and lower rates of mild infections compared to the past have contributed to the decline. Interestingly, similar drops in body temperature were observed in rural Bolivia, where infection rates remain high. This led researchers to consider other possibilities.

Thomas Kraft, a postdoctoral researcher, suggests our bodies may not have to work as hard to regulate internal temperature due to air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. Greater use of anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen might also be a factor, reducing inflammation and thus lowering body temperature. Still, the exact cause remains unclear, with researchers suspecting it’s a combination of factors pointing to improved living conditions.

Implications of the temperature drop

There’s no need to panic about the falling average body temperature. However, it’s important to remember body temperature is one of the vital signs healthcare professionals measure to assess overall health. Since the body heavily relies on chemical reactions that require steady temperatures, it can’t tolerate wide fluctuations in temperature.

If you’re concerned about your body temperature, don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor. Keep in mind that some conditions can affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature, including:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Poor nutrition or anorexia nervosa
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Severe arthritis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Trauma
  • Spinal cord injuries

Overall, more research needs to be conducted to fully understand the implications of changing body temperature norms. In the meantime, it might be time to reconsider the long-held idea of 98.6°F being the “normal” temperature for our bodies.