Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!
Print

Science

Maintaining body temperature

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  1. Next

The hypothalamus is the processing centre in the brain that controls body temperature. It does this by triggering changes to effectors, such as sweat glands and muscles controlling body hair. Heat stroke can happen when the body becomes too hot; and hypothermia when the body becomes too cold.

Temperature control

Temperature control is the process of keeping the body at a constant temperature of 37°C.

Our body can only stay at a constant temperature if the heat we generate is balanced and equal to the heat we lose.

Thermogram of body at correct temperature and thermogram of body at cold temperature

The warm thermogram (l) shows the body at normal temperature 37°C (red) - the extremities are cooler (peach and pink areas). The cool thermogram (r) illustrates how the body diverts heat to the core organs to aid survival - the extremities are the coldest areas below 25°C (dark blue).

Although our core temperature must be 37ºC, our fingers and toes can be colder. This is because energy is transferred from the blood as it travels to our fingers and toes.

How our body maintains a constant temperature

Temperature receptors in the skin detect changes in the external temperature. They pass this information to the processing centre in the brain, called the hypothalamus.

The processing centre also has temperature receptors to detect changes in the temperature of the blood. The processing centre automatically triggers changes to the effectors to ensure our body temperature remains constant, at 37°C.

The effectors are sweat glands and muscles.

If we are too hot or too cold, the processing centre sends nerve impulses to the skin, which has two ways to either increase or decrease heat loss from the body's surface.

Cross section of skin showing hairs and the muscles that control them.

Tiny muscles in the skin can quickly pull the hairs upright to reduce heat loss, or lay them down flat to increase heat loss.

  1. Hairs on the skin trap more warmth if they are standing up, and less if they are lying flat. Tiny muscles in the skin can quickly pull the hairs upright to reduce heat loss, or lay them down flat to increase heat loss.

  2. If the body is too hot, glands in the skin secrete sweat onto the surface to increase heat loss by evaporation. This cools the body. Sweat secretion slows when the body temperature returns to normal.

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  1. Next

Back to Homeostasis index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.