Coldness for Wellness?
Stepping into an icy cold shower might seem like the last thing you want to do- especially during the middle of an Edmontonian winter- but there are actually some great health incentives to do so.
Scientists have been studying the effects of cold immersion on the body for a while, and have discovered some fascinating things. When we expose ourselves to cold temperatures in the right way our body often responds with a myriad of beneficial biological reactions. These range from improving circulation, mood, and energy levels to reducing body fat and blood glucose levels.
While the first time taking a cold shower can be unpleasant, many become addicted to the experience as it invigorates the body and mind.
Let’s have a look at some scientific health benefits one can attain from the cold exposure of taking an icy shower.
science-based benefits of cold showers
1 - Reduces Symptoms of Depression
Research has shown that cold-water immersion can activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase blood levels of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, as well as increase the synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. Noradrenaline and endorphins are "feel good" chemicals for the brain.
When you hear people talking about how great they feel during or after a workout this is often due to the brain flooding the body with endorphins. Furthermore, many antidepressant medications work by increasing noradrenaline availability in the brain.
It seems cold showers can act as a great natural anti-depressant without any of the side-effects- excepts for briefly getting a little chilly.
2 - Boosts your Body’s Antioxidant Production and Reduces Acidity
Studies have shown that cold water immersion causes your body to drastically reduce uric acid levels in the blood and increase the production of glutathione. Many disease states tend to thrive when the body is more acidic, whereas good health is often observed when the body is more alkaline. Cold showers can reduce acidity.
If you haven't heard of glutathione before, it is a natural molecule found in every cell of the body and is crucial for your health. I won't get into all of the details but glutathione is well known for being "The Master Anti-Oxidant"- it is able to neutralize free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Scientific research has demonstrated glutathione's importance for humans by showing that cellular glutathione levels are an excellent predictor of life expectancy.
The fact that cold immersion can increase your glutathione levels is a powerful benefit. At Emerald Wellness we often optimize our patient’s glutathione levels through IV supplementation. Cold exposure can actually help your body to naturally produce elevated levels of this essential molecule, which is pretty amazing.
3 - Cold Showers can help burn Fat and Lower Blood Sugar
Immersing your body in a cold environment is able to help you burn fat through a couple of interesting biological mechanisms.
One way is through the activation of Brown Adipose Tissue, also known as BAT or Brown Fat. BAT is a unique kind of fat which is able to make our bodies generate heat by burning regular white fat- the fat we usually want to get rid of. When we expose ourselves to cold temperatures we stimulate our brown adipose tissue to warm us up by burning white fat. This also causes our bodies to produce more BAT for the future and makes us even more efficient at burning fat when exposed to cold. Furthermore, cold exposure seems to be the most efficient means of activating our brown adipose tissue.
The second way that cold showers can help you burn fat is through activating the hormone adiponectin. This hormone is able to break down fat and carry glucose to your muscles during cold exposure. The fact that it shuttles glucose to your muscles results in lowering blood sugar. Low levels of adiponectin are often observed in individuals with diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
4 - Enhances the Immune System
You might remember your mother telling you to stay out of the cold or you are going to get sick. Well, it might be the case that exposing yourself to the right amount of cold can actually enhance your immune system.
Cold exposure has been proven to systemically increase levels of immune system cells that work to fight infection and disease. It is thought that through the release of norepinephrine, natural killer cell count and activity increases, as well as leukocytosis and agranulocytosis- all of which greatly improve your immune system functioning.
5 - Possible Anti-Aging Benefits
Studies are starting to reveal that cold exposure has positive effects on cellular longevity- making our cells healthier and live longer. Maybe you have heard that scientists are able to increase the lifespans of mice and monkeys through caloric restriction. It is speculated that the reason for this is caloric restriction down-regulates the mTOR pathway, which in turn brings about cell autophagy. Cell autophagy in simple terms is the way the body clears out "metabolic garbage" within the cells- allowing cells to be more robust and live longer.
Cold exposure has a similar effect on the mTOR pathway in helping our cells to be stronger and live longer. When our cells are healthier we are healthier. The downstream effect is likely to reduce the damaging effects of aging.
Furthermore, cold showers are excellent for hair and skin health so you they can help you look younger as well!
Starting to see how cold exposure can be great for the mind and body? The benefits mentioned above are by no means all of them. Some other benefits include enhanced self-awareness, increased energy, boosts in testosterone production for men, better adrenal function, and improved blood circulation, which is great for cardiovascular health.
How to take a cold shower
If you are thinking you might want to try a cold shower it is best to start slow. Take your regular warm shower and end with a minute of cold- as cold as your shower can go. Slowly increase the time you spend in the cold day by day. Ultimately, you want to work up to at least 3-5 minutes of cold water exposure without starting with the warm water. Letting the icy water hit you right away, and wash over your face, works to improve your resilience to stress and activates your ‘mammalian dive reflex’.
This being said if you are primarily concerned with improving circulation, alternating your shower between hot and cold may be the most advantageous for your needs. As your body adjusts to the drastic changes in temperature this opens and closes the blood vessels in response. When it is cold your body attempts to direct blood flow to the internal organs and when it is hot blood flows to the skin and extremities. Cycling between hot and cold exposure is an excellent way to increase circulation and have some great cardiovascular effects. Many recommend cycling the water, 20 seconds in the cold, then 10 seconds hot, for around 5 minutes.
If this article has convinced you to jump in an icy cold shower... good luck... but please don’t curse our name when that first wave of icy water streams down your spine...