Brrr! Why does it feel like you're always cold? It might have something to do with your health. If you're lacking certain vitamins and minerals, your blood can't properly transport oxygen to all of your body's tissues, leaving you with either cold extremities or an inner cold feeling.
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If being cold all the time sounds like you, it might be time to take a look at your diet and figure out what's missing. By incorporating a few specific foods or even taking a supplement, you could put yourself back on track to being warm.
What Is Anemia?
Anemia is a deficiency condition in which your body is unable to make healthy blood cells. Without these healthy blood cells to transport oxygen all over your body, you can wind up feeling bad in all kinds of ways — including always being cold. Other symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, paleness, chest pains and headaches.
It's not always an inner cold feeling that comes with anemia. Sometimes, you can feel cold or numb in your fingers and toes. Sometimes symptoms start out gradually and get worse over time. This might explain why your cold tolerance is even lower than it was in the past.
The most common deficiency associated with anemia is iron. Lacking this mineral means that the body is unable to make hemoglobin, which allows your red blood cells to carry oxygen. In addition to iron deficiency anemia, there is vitamin deficiency anemia.
This is usually caused by a lack of folate, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. In the case of vitamin deficiency anemia, red blood cells might be large and underdeveloped. Then, as the deficiency becomes more severe, the white blood cells and platelets will be affected, and they will decrease in number and look abnormal.
The Mayo Clinic explains that unless there is blood loss or a medical condition affecting the absorption of these vitamins and minerals, it's likely your diet is insufficient.
Tips for Iron Intake
Great sources of iron include meat, eggs, leafy green vegetables and iron-fortified foods. Vegetarians and vegans are at risk of being iron deficient not only because their sources of iron are limited but also because heme iron — the type of iron in animal products — is better absorbed by the body than non-heme iron — the type found in plant foods. People getting their iron from plant sources will need to consume more than their daily recommended value.
Read more: 10 Things All Vegetarians Can Totally Relate To
As far as vegetarian sources of iron go, the Cleveland Clinic recommends quinoa, which has 5 milligrams (about one-third of a person's needs) in one serving. Animal sources recommended by the clinic include red meat and oysters, and more plant sources are peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans and dried fruit.
Vegetarians who are having trouble getting enough iron might need to depend on supplements to get the amount they need. It is important to do this with a doctor's guidance because overconsumption of iron supplements can be toxic and cause harm to your vital organs.
For best results, you should take iron supplements on an empty stomach and separate from antacids — doing this will ensure the maximum amount of iron can be absorbed by your body.
For people with chronic anemia, specifically menstruating women and populations with anemia and malaria backgrounds, intermittent supplementation may be more effective than daily supplementation, as explored in a review published in January 2019 in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Better evidence, however, must be examined for researchers to determine the effectiveness of intermittent supplementation.
Vitamin Deficiency Anemia
A lack of iron is the most common cause of anemia, which plagues you with that inner cold feeling. But there are other deficiencies that could be the cause of this. Anemia can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies.
The second most common nutrient deficiency that can cause anemia is a deficiency of vitamin B12, which is found in meats, eggs, milk and cheese.
Vegans need to be especially careful of their vitamin B12 consumption because it is not found in any plant foods, so they must consume foods that are fortified with it (such as cereal) or take a supplement. B12 supplements come in the form of pills, shots and even nasal spray.
Older teens and adults need 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day. Pregnant people need 2.6 micrograms, and breastfeeding people need 2.8 micrograms.
Several factors can affect vitamin B12 absorption, including a lack of intrinsic factor. This protein is secreted by the stomach and then combines with vitamin B12. Intrinsic factor is what carries B12 through the small intestine to be absorbed by the bloodstream.
According to a study published in September 2017 in the journal American Family Physician, vitamin B12 supplementation of about 1 to 2 milligrams taken orally is as effective as a B12 shot, and supplementation can lead to higher absorption rates.
The University of Michigan recommends consuming vitamin B12 at the same time as folate or folic acid, another B vitamin, which is available through leafy greens, citrus fruits and fortified breads and cereal. You should aim for 400 micrograms of folate a day.
People with diseases of the small intestine, such as celiac disease, as well as people who have had part of their small intestine removed, might have trouble absorbing folate. Alcohol also affects its absorption, so heavy drinkers are prone to folate deficiency.
Alcohol can hinder the absorption of vitamin C, too. This vitamin is especially important for keeping blood levels normal because vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. Good sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits and juices, broccoli, melons, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. Aim for 75 to 90 milligrams of vitamin C a day, and try to consume it at the same time you do iron.
Other Health Concerns
Of course, anemia is not the only reason you might be cold. The AARP lists underactive thyroid, called hypothyroidism, and a reduction in calories as other reasons. It is also possible that Type 2 diabetes is causing kidney problems or circulation problems. However, in this case, it won't necessarily be that inner cold feeling — you could feel cold in your hands, feet, fingers and toes.
When Type 2 diabetes escalates to damaging the peripheral nervous system, it causes you to feel as if your feet are cold, even if your skin there isn't cold when you touch it. This is called peripheral neuropathy. Keeping your diabetes under control can help prevent this neuropathy from happening.
Other vitamin or mineral deficiencies might produce symptoms like anemia, but they won't necessarily make you feel cold. A magnesium deficiency and low body temperature aren't frequently associated with each other, but magnesium could lead to loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Magnesium deficiency and low body temperature can further be confused because a lack of magnesium can cause numbness and tingling in your fingers and toes — something you also might feel when you're cold.
If you have low vitamin D and are feeling cold, it likely doesn't have to do with the deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to loss of bone density or even rickets, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Some researchers have linked vitamin D deficiency with diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and autoimmune conditions.
Having low vitamin D and feeling cold might be related to another condition. If you lack fat in your diet, your body could have a hard time absorbing the vitamin D.
In the case of both a magnesium deficiency and low body temperature or low vitamin D and feeling cold, these deficiencies could make you feel lousy, but genuine coldness is likely related to something else.
Read more: 11 Exercise Tips for People With Type 2 Diabetes
You don't need to resign yourself to a life of shivering endlessly and wearing sweaters. If you suspect you might be cold because of health reasons, take a look at your diet to see whether you are lacking iron, vitamin B12, folate, or vitamin C. You can also evaluate if you're eating adequate calories or consider talking to your doctor about thyroid levels.
- AARP: “5 Reasons You're Always Cold”
- Mayo Clinic: “Iron Deficiency Anemia”
- Cleveland Clinic: “How to Tell If You Have Iron Deficiency Anemia”
- University of Michigan: “Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia”
- Mayo Clinic: “Vitamin Deficiency Anemia”
- National Institutes of Health: "Magnesium"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Vitamin D Deficiency"
- American Family Physician: "Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Recognition and Management"
- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Intermittent Iron Supplementation for Reducing Anaemia"