Cozying up on the couch under layers of blankets can be a comforting way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, but if you’re bundling up regularly because you’re cold all the time, that’s something worth looking into.
“Feeling cold all the time is not normal,” says NOW Wellness Expert and functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Will Cole, D.N.M., D.C. “Your body is brilliantly designed to regulate your temperature depending on your environment (within reason).”
So, if you’re constantly cold, it could be an indicator of an underlying health condition. “In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, problems regulating temperature is often one of the first signs that something is going on beneath the surface,” Cole notes.
If you find yourself needing to bring a sweater everywhere you go, here are five possible explanations—and what you can do to better regulate your body temperature.
1. You Have an Underactive Thyroid
In the condition known as “hypothyroidism,” an underactive thyroid leads to low levels of thyroid hormones. When this occurs, you may feel unusually cold, tired, and sluggish.
“When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, it can cause a drop in your body temperature because thyroid hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism, which controls your body’s temperature,” Cole explains. Oftentimes, cold intolerance is one of the earlier signs of an undiagnosed thyroid problem, he says. Other symptoms of an underactive thyroid include excess fatigue, brain fog, and moodiness.
Read More: ‘I Had My Thyroid Removed—Here’s How I Stay Healthy Now’
If you’re experiencing frequent chilliness plus any of these additional symptoms, it’s time to check your thyroid levels. “A functional medicine practitioner can run a full thyroid panel to help determine the underlying cause of your specific thyroid issue,” Cole says.
You should also make sure you’re eating enough thyroid-supporting foods. “Selenium and iodine are necessary for your body to produce thyroid hormones,” says Cole, who recommends eating Brazil nuts and sea vegetables, like seaweed and kelp, regularly to support thyroid hormone production.
Applying warm compresses over the thyroid gland (which is located at the front of the neck) can be helpful, as doing so increases circulation to the gland. “Place a warm wet cloth over the area for five minutes and then quickly switch to an ice-cold wet cloth over the same area for 10 minutes, covering the area with a towel or scarf to keep warm and avoid chills,” recommends Dr. Kathryn Firisin, naturopathic doctor and Medical Director of Coastal Natural Medicine.
2. You Have Poor Circulation
If your hands and feet, in particular, are always cold and stiff, poor circulation might be to blame, as it decreases blood flow to your limbs. “Causes of poor circulation can include obesity, diabetes, and blood clots,” Cole explains.
Another cause of poor circulation: Reynaud’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes blood vessels in the fingers and toes to narrow in response to cold. “People with this condition are extra sensitive to colder temperatures as their blood flow can’t reach their extremities as quickly,” Cole says.
If you have poor circulation, it’s important to speak with a doctor to address the underlying cause, especially if you’re also experiencing numbness, tingling, swelling, or pain.
As long as you’re in the clear, you can help promote healthy blood flow at home. “Regular exercise like daily walks, limiting time spent sitting, wearing compression socks, and dry brushing can help encourage proper blood flow,” Cole suggests.
Supplementing with cayenne—and even applying it topically—can also help boost circulation. “Capsicum, the component of hot peppers that generates heat, is used in both supplements and topical applications like creams and salves to improve distal or peripheral circulation to hands and feet,” Firisin explains.
Ginger provides similar warming effects. “Adding ginger to food, drinking ginger tea, or soaking a compress in ginger-infused water and applying it to an area with poor circulation can also be helpful to improve circulation,” Firisin says.
3. You’re Anemic
Poor body temperature regulation and increased coldness can also be indicators of anemia, which is often caused by iron deficiency. “Iron helps carry oxygen to our cells and plays a pivotal role in supporting our metabolism and blood circulation,” Cole says. When you have an iron deficiency, there aren’t enough red blood cells to provide oxygen to your body’s cells and tissues, which results in heightened sensitivity to cold.
“Labs can determine if iron deficiency or anemia is an issue for you,” Cole says. “If so, you can add in more iron-rich foods like dark leafy greens, cashews, organic grass-fed beef, and chicken, to your diet. It might also be helpful to take a high-quality iron supplement as an added boost depending on your level of deficiency.” The body can’t produce iron naturally, so it’s up to you to make sure you eat enough iron-rich foods or incorporate an appropriate supplement in order to meet your needs.
Read More: 6 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Iron
If you’re interested in supplements, speak with your physician to get the green light and their advice on how best to take it and your ideal individual dosage, says Firisin. Fun fact: Taking iron with vitamin C will enhance its absorption and effectiveness.
Important to note here: Though iron deficiency is a common culprit behind anemia, it isn’t the only one. “There are several pathologies that can cause anemia so proper medical evaluation and treatment is important,” Firisin explains. Low levels of vitamin B12, as well as underlying chronic issues like autoimmune disorders, infections, certain medications, decreased red blood cell production in bone marrow, and the genetic condition sickle cell anemia can all contribute.
4. You Have Diabetes
“Diabetes of any form is one of the biggest contributors to feeling cold all the time,” says Cole. “It can not only cause poor circulation, but if left unchecked, can also result in permanent nerve damage in your feet.”
Managing your blood sugar through diet is key, so it’s important to be vigilant in monitoring sugar intake and counting carbs. “Instead of opting for carb-heavy meals, choose clean, whole food sources of healthy fats like wild-caught fish, nuts, and avocados, as well as non-starchy vegetables like dark leafy greens,” Cole suggests.
Firisin also recommends maintaining a regular exercise routine that includes strength training to build more muscle. “Exercise and increasing skeletal muscle mass can improve the body’s ability to regulate body temperature,” Firisin. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, because of the role muscle plays in generating heat within the body, people with more muscle mass are less likely to feel cold and experience heat loss. (They’re even less likely to have chilly fingers after being out in the cold.)
5. You’re Seriously Dehydrated
“Mild to moderate dehydration generally does not cause cold intolerance, but if you have more severe dehydration, you may experience cold or clammy hands,” Firisin explains. “Water holds and retains heat, so if you’re dehydrated you may be more susceptible to cold.” If you’re feeling frigid and experiencing symptoms like dry mouth and tongue, lethargy, or headaches, serious dehydration could be to blame.
Read More: Are You Dehydrated Without Even Knowing It?
The obvious solution here? Hydrate by drinking more water and increasing your electrolyte supply. “Adding trace mineral drops and drinking more alkaline water with a higher pH can be helpful in our body’s ability to retain the liquid we consume,” Firisin says.
We all get cold once in a while, but constantly feeling like you need to bundle up is another issue. While these are just a few health problems that can cause dysregulation in body temperature, they show how important it is to listen to your body and get to the root of the problem in order to fully address the underlying health condition at play and treat your symptoms.