Thermoregulation is a process that allows your body to maintain its core internal temperature. All thermoregulation mechanisms are designed to return your body to homeostasis. This is a state of equilibrium. The average person has a baseline temperature between 98°F (37°C) and 100°F (37.8°C). The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain which plays an essential role in regulating body temperature by acting as a thermostat. Thermoregulation is also called heat regulation.
Importance of Thermoregulation
The mechanisms of thermoregulation are all designed to return the body to homeostasis or a state of equilibrium. This process helps in controlling the loss or gain of heat and maintaining an optimum temperature range by an organism.
However, if the body temperature drops from 37°C to 35°C or lower, then a person may suffer from a medical emergency of hypothermia. This condition leads to cardiac arrest, brain damage, and even death. The factors affecting hypothermia or lowering the internal body temperature include metabolic conditions, such as an under-functioning thyroid gland, usage of alcohol, and other drugs.
The factors affecting hyperthermia or raising internal body temperature include exercise, fever, digestion, hormonal changes, and other infections.
As a refresher, animals can be divided into endotherms and ectotherms based on their temperature regulation.
- Endotherms, such as birds and mammals, use metabolic heat to maintain a stable internal temperature, often one different from the environment.
- Ectotherms, like lizards and snakes, do not use metabolic heat to maintain their body temperature but take on the temperature of the environment.
Both endotherms and ectotherms have adaptations, features that arose by natural selection—that help them maintain a healthy body temperature. These adaptations can be behavioral, anatomical, or physiological. Some adaptations increase heat production in endotherms when it’s cold. Others, in both endotherms and ectotherms, increase or decrease the exchange of heat with the environment.