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Body Temperature and the Brain

The list of symptoms related to Wilson’s Temperature Syndrome (WTS) is long and varied; one of the many possibilities is diminished memory. Some WTS patients may say that they feel like they are in a mental fog, and forget simple things, like what they were going to retrieve when they walked into another room. They may also experience difficulty with concentrating on tasks and completing them. These changes in brain function are linked to low body temperature and underperforming thyroid function, but usually, resolving temperatures to normal will resolve the problems.

The question is, are there long term consequences to the brain in cases of chronically low body temperature? Are more severe cognitive problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease also linked to low temperature?
Interestingly, some research does connect low body temperatures to more severe cognitive problems- specifically Alzheimer’s disease (AD). AD is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder that attacks the brain, causing memory loss and difficulty with processing thoughts and language. Currently, statistics say chances of developing AD are 1 in 9 if over 65 years old, and if over 85, it’s one in three. The list of possible causes includes brain inflammation, hormonal factors, oxidative stress, environmental toxins, and even infection. It’s not very well understood, but the cause is most likely is a combination of several of these factors, and maybe even others that haven’t yet been discovered.

Several studies have explored the link between AD or dementia and body temperature. One older study in particular looked for a connection between body temperature and the sleep-wake cycle in elderly patients with dementia or AD. The patients were nursing home residents, and the researchers monitored the patient’s sleep- wake cycle and their body temperatures over a short period. They compared the data to a group of residents with mild or no dementia. The residents with dementia were found to have irregularities in their sleep- wake cycle, some so severe that their day-night rhythms were completely reversed. In contrast, the group of residents without severe dementia generally had consistent, regular sleep cycles.

They also took body temperature data for participants in both groups. For the residents without dementia, body temperature had smaller variation throughout the day. The patients with dementia had greater variations in temperatures throughout the day, and the peak temperature times varied day by day, whereas the residents without dementia had a consistent cycle. Several of the dementia patients had recorded extremely low body temperatures at various times of the day.

The study leaves us with many questions about body temperature and Alzheimer’s disease, but shows that it is a topic worthy of further exploration. It would be interesting to learn if AD patients had chronically low temperatures in their younger years, or if it started later. Hopefully scientists will continue to research this important topic which may help lead to developing good strategies for AD prevention.

Sleep, Vol. 14, No.6, 1991. Circadian Rhythm Disorders in Sleep-Waking and Body Temperature in Elderly Patients with Dementia and Their Treatment. Okawa, M.

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