• Alysa Salzberg

Why has the average adult body temperature dropped?

If you’ve ever taken your temperature, you may have been surprised to find that it was lower than 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which has been considered the average body temperature of a healthy adult for two centuries.


It turns out you’re not a medical anomaly.


Over the past few years, scientists have been looking more closely into the average body temperature of adults. They’ve discovered that a significant number of people in the UK and US have healthy body temperatures of 97.5-97.9 degrees.


You might argue that these cultures and gene pools are fairly similar. But scientists have also been monitoring the body temperatures of adults from the Tsimane culture, an indigenous group living in Bolivia. The Tsimane have only been monitored for the past 16 years, but scientists were surprised to discover that since monitoring began, their recorded body temperature has also significantly decreased and is now about 97.7 degrees on average.


This makes a pretty convincing argument that adult humans today have a healthy body temperature significantly lower than 98.6 degrees. But what could have caused this change?


One hypothesis is that due to less developed hygiene and medical knowledge, our ancestors were often fighting infection, leading to a slightly elevated body temperature. As healthcare and access to medicine have improved, our bodies have had to spend less energy fighting to stay healthy.


Read on to learn more about the adult body temperature studies and the infection-fighting hypothesis.


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