Mammals are warm blood animals and can regulate the body temperature as per changes in the temperature of the surrounding environment. This process of keeping the body temperature steady at a certain level is called thermoregulation. Disruptions in the process can result in health problems.
Homeostasis and thermoregulation are interrelated. The body creates hear via varied processes like convection, conduction, evaporation, and radiation. They help adapt to changes in the climate and weather conditions, and maintain homeostasis of the body at 37 degree C or 98.6 degree F.
Two examples of this mechanism are discussed below:
- In cold surroundings
- It is important for the body to retain heat in cold environments. The erector pili contract thereby causing the hair follicles to become upright and create an insulating layer which then prevents any escape of heat from the body. The process is commonly known as goose bumps.
- There is significant reduction in sweat gland activity which then results in minimal sweating. Thus there is no loss of heat from the body via evaporation.
- Shrinking of the arterioles causes the blood to redirect to the warmer body core, which then prevents any drop in the core body temperature as well as loss of heat via evaporation. The process is called vasoconstriction. Elevated vasoconstriction can cause the skin to become numb and pale.
- Mitochondrial activities causes the stored body fat to turn into heat which then causes a rise the cell temperature. This is what keeps the entire body warm during winters.
- The hypothalamus is the thermo-regulatory section of the brain. It becomes very active in cold environments thereby causing the affected individual to shiver. Heat gets produced due to shivering. It is one adaptive processes via which humans and animals try to overcome the effects of extreme cold.
- In hot surroundings
- Erector pili or small muscles present beneath the skin help flatten the hair present on the skin surface. This prevents heat from getting trapped in between the hair follicles, leading to increased air circulation and loss of heat via convection.
- The body perspires in hot environments thereby losing heat from the skin and helping it remain cool. The sweat produced by sweat glands come to the skin surface was droplets of water. This is known as evaporative cooling; it helps regulate and maintain the ideal body temperature.
- Hot surroundings trigger vasodilation which then relaxes the smooth muscles occurring in arteriole walls. Subsequently, the rate of arterial blood flow is enhanced leading to rerouting of blood to the shallow capillaries. This eventually results in rapid loss of heat via convection and conduction.
Body temperature regulation complications
Failure of the body to maintain the ideal levels of heat to combat cold or hot surroundings is proof of some abnormality in the body temperature regulation processes. It can also occur due to the presence of an underling illness. Fluctuations in the average temperature of the body occurs due to hypothermia (below normal body temperature) and hyperthermia (above normal body temperature). Either can occur due to varied underlying diseases and conditions.