Research Highlights Distinct Difference in Cold Sensitivity Between Men and Women: Do Women Really Feel Colder?

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It is a widely accepted stereotype that a woman at room temperature always seems to need a coat. Yet, does science support this?

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Despite common assumptions, only a handful of controlled experiments have examined the cold tolerance differences between sexes.

Surprisingly, a study by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed no significant differences in how men and women perceive cold environments, with minimal differences in their physiological reactions.

In the experiment, 28 individuals, both men and women, spent five hours in a room where the temperature varied from 17 ºC to 31 ºC, dressed in standard-issue shirts, shorts or skirts, and socks. Their physical responses and comfort levels were monitored daily.

Contrary to NIH researchers’ expectations, women exhibited a marginally higher core body temperature than men in cooler conditions.

No differences were noted in glucose metabolism, muscle electrical activity, skin temperature, or the body’s heat-generating response to cold.

Despite being physically smaller and generating less body heat, women’s higher body fat percentage appeared to offset these factors.

NIH researchers found that the comfortable temperature threshold for women is around 22 °C, slightly lower than that for men, suggesting that women can tolerate colder temperatures without needing to generate extra warmth, resulting in a more “arctic” thermal profile.

However, this significant sex difference provides minimal advantage. As temperatures dropped to 17 ºC, no differences were observed in shivering onset or the comfort levels reported by participants.

Previous theories have posited that women feel colder than men at higher temperatures due to differences like lower heat production or higher heat loss, but these don’t align with the new findings.

While this small study might not settle the debate, it signals a shift from relying on anecdotal evidence to grounding understanding in solid scientific inquiry.

To date, few studies have rigorously tested how men and women differently regulate body temperature. Traditionally, male physiology has often represented all of humanity in this research area, ignoring broader biological variances.

A more nuanced approach, considering factors like hormonal fluctuations and medication, which can vary by sex or gender, is essential.

“Physical attributes such as body size and composition, possibly influenced by sex, are key determinants of individual thermoregulation differences,” NIH researchers assert.

They recommend replicating these findings in larger, more diverse groups to improve their applicability.

The findings were published in PNAS.

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