Doctor checking patient’s temperature

For as long as any of us has been alive, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit has been known as the average, normal body temperature. In fact, the figure is so ingrained in modern culture that sales of a song called “98.6” reached what you might call a fever pitch in 1967.1

Is it time to change accepted wisdom?

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine think so. They say the average human body temperature in the U.S. has dropped steadily since the 19th century. And while there could be a variety of factors to explain the drop in body temperature, the researchers identified at least 2 causes: less inflammation in the body and more consistent indoor temperatures thanks to modern heating and cooling technology.2

The figure 98.6 dates to 1851, when German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich obtained millions of armpit temperatures from 25,000 patients in Leipzig.3

The Stanford researchers cited a recent British study indicating a more accurate temperature for the human body might be around 36.6 degrees Celsius, or 97.9 degrees Fahrenheit.4

So what does this mean to the average person? Lower body temperatures, the Stanford researchers said, are an indicator of improved overall health and a longer life.5 And that seems pretty cool to us!

Sources:

  1. “Hot 100—1967,” Billboard, Dec. 30, 1967, page 42, last accessed Feb. 26, 2020, https://books.google.com/books?id=aSgEAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA1&rview=1&pg=PA42#v=snippet&q=singles%201967&f=false, opens new window.
  2. Myroslava Protsiv et al., “Decreasing Human Body Temperature in the United States since the Industrial Revolution,” last accessed Feb. 26, 2020, https://elifesciences.org/articles/49555, opens new window.
  3. “Decreasing Human Body Temperature in the United States since the Industrial Revolution.”
  4. “Human Body Temperature Has Decreased in United States, Study Finds,” Stanford University, last accessed Feb. 26, 2020, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/01/human-body-temperature-has-decreased-in-united-states.html, opens new window.
  5. “Decreasing Human Body Temperature in the United States since the Industrial Revolution.”