Science of Cold Showers
"think outside the pill"
It was the middle of last winter when I began appreciating the benefits of taking very cold showers. I must admit, the first 3 times were hard, but soon after it became so enjoyable that my body was actually asking for them. As the cold water touched me, I felt completely wrapped in the present moment where I was no longer doing, but rather just being. I felt 1000 times more alive showering like this than if I was engaging in any comfort habit like watching TV. The unique, intense sensation of the cold water rushing over my body was the feeling produced by my mitochondria multiplying through the process of mitochondrial biogenesis. Do you see? Our mitochondria will do absolutely everything to maintain body temperature at homeostasis (~98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) so that we don't die from hypothermia. Exposure to cold is one of the extreme conditions under which humans have evolved. Our physiology and biochemistry literally requires some exposure to more extreme conditions to function optimally and cold is one of those. This is the hormesis effect. Humans come to the world prepared with a good amount of brown adipose tissue to keep us warm. However, in our modern life, we have worked very hard to make our existence more comfortable and these choices have some consequences. Avoiding environmental extremes results in decreased metabolic resilience and makes us more fragile.
On the flip side, under hypothermic conditions, our mitochondria will quickly and naturally activate a process inside of our white adipose tissue (the fat storing cells that are packed in and around our vital organs) called mitochondrial uncoupling. This produces brand new mitochondria that specialize in thermogenesis (heat production) as a way to generate more heat to keep our bodies safe from the dangers of to cold exposure. Another part of uncoupling that keeps us warm, and essentially alive, is the transformation of our white adipose tissue into brown adipose tissue. Why is this important? It is important because this process translates into greater mitochondrial activity (energy and heat production and enhanced metabolism). Another benefit is as white becomes brown adipose tissue, the toxins that are locked within the white adipose tissue are released and removed from the body. These are some of the positive metabolic results that we can realize from stepping out of our comfort zone like taking cold showers and these reasons are why cold showers help reverse chronic disease, like metabolic syndrome.
There are very good metabolic and mental reasons why I will continue the beneficial habit of taking cold showers, especially during wintertime. Don't underestimate the amazing metabolic powers of incorporating cold showers in your life. It is something I look forward to! The reason is because cold showers make me feel rejuvenated and stronger. The feeling I get every time I get out of a cold shower is unparalleled. I always feel energized and awake, and my mind feels clear and sharp. These benefits last for hours. Science can tell us a lot about the benefits of cold showers, ice baths and/or other methods of hormetic cold therapies. To fully understand these benefits, you must first know that not all stress on the body is negative. An example of positive stress is a cold shock, which the body naturally perceives as a stressor. Despite this, at the right dose, a cold shock has a hormetic effect or beneficial effect. (Have you heard the expression, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? This is something that people intuitively understand but there is a science behind it). To understand this concept better, let us continue with the example of cold shock. At the right dose, a cold shock has a hormetic effect, meaning that the stressor (cold shock) activates physiological and metabolic mechanisms that produce benefits that are far greater than the damaging impact (net gain). To continue the example, let’s focus on the benefit of cold showers for people who suffer from depression. Studies have found that cold showers can trigger mild electrical impulses in the brain which can increase the release of noradrenaline, a hormone that is known to alleviate depression. Besides this, cold showers are known to relax the body and mind, stimulate weight loss, increase alertness, ease stress, lower insulin and blood pressure levels. Cold showers also improve muscle relaxation and recovery, refine hair and skin, relieve depression, and promote good blood circulation. Most importantly, cold showers increase white blood cell activity and strengthen our immune system by stimulating our lymph nodes to eliminate the toxins that they have been accumulating. These are just some of the many benefits that cold showers offer and these benefits occur because cold showers stimulate mitochondrial production in the adipose tissue. Please remember that you must consider the role of these stressors in the context of your general condition. Your body has signaling mechanisms which tell you when a stress is unsafe. You must listen to the signals!
Now can you understand why I take cold showers often? But how can I get my body to get used to cold showers? You can start once you’ve finished with your normal shower by gradually moving the handle towards ‘cold’ until reaching the coldest. Stay in the water for as long as you like or as long as you can tolerate. It can be a bit tricky and hard the first few times, but you’ll notice it starts to get easier and that your body will begin to ask for them. Try and do it as often as you can - the more the better! Remember, you can do anything you put your mind to!
Clearly, by getting outside of our comfort zone, we will expose our body to this kind of awesome metabolic, hormetic, stress, which will help us to become stronger, happier, faster and more resilient. It will help us get one step closer to becoming biologically fit.