By now, most everyone in the health and wellness community knows that cold exposure therapy does wonders for the human body. Wellness influencer Wim Hof brought the ancient modality mainstream about a decade ago; and since then, more and more health nuts and biohackers have been implementing the practice into their morning routines as a way to wake up, focus, and feel amazing.
Cold therapy is as simple as it sounds, and it’s one of those cherished modalities that doesn’t even need a full scientific explanation to feel the benefits. After a cold shower, ice bath, or cryotherapy session, the body feels streamlined, tight, and powerful. The mind feels stronger as well, as if it is rewarding itself for a difficult task and successful outcome.
Some of the benefits of cold therapy include increased hormone levels, improved fertility, better thyroid function, and much-improved deep sleep quality, among many others.
But did you know that cold therapy also has been shown to directly influence weight loss? All these years all of these snake oil salesmen have been trying to come up with fat-loss schemes and pills that avoid the hard work of daily exercise. And all along, the answer was staring them right in the face whenever the hot water heater broke for a day or two.
Cold showers only take a few minutes, but the benefits last for hours
Brown adipose tissue, or BAT, is primarily found around your collar bones, sternum, neck, and upper back. What makes it unique is that it can generate heat and directly burn the white adipose tissue fat found in the stomach, butt, and hips.
Basically, it’s an evolutionary development meant to keep the body warm during periods of vulnerability (babies naturally have plenty of BAT) or cold exposure. The BAT warms up the body and begins burning the white fat as energy, as opposed to the “normal” method of fat burning: caloric restrictions to burn glucose and glycogen.
If you live in a very cold part of the world, you probably already have some good BAT layers available. For the rest of us, though, the only way to create it is to start shivering.
Cold therapy has also been shown to release a key hormone called Adinopectin, which both breaks down fat and moves glucose into the muscles. The latter benefit can lower blood sugar as a result, as well as provide a nice anabolic effect for the muscle. No wonder that athletes have long dipped into ice baths after competitions to aid in recovery. And in case you’re wondering, low Adinopectin levels have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
The immune system also appreciates cold exposure, as evidenced by increased special blood cell counts. Specifically, the norepinephrine release from a cold shower can induce leukocytosis and granulocytosis, it can increase natural killer cell count and activity, and can help rise circulating levels of interleukin-6. Take more cold showers — you’ll probably get sick less and recover faster.
Researchers are finding links between cell longevity and cold therapy, too. They think the cold has an effect on cellular longevity by similar mTOR protein pathways as caloric restriction and intermittent fasting. If you want to get deeper into the weeds on these types of proteins, check out this article.
And finally, cold therapy has been shown to increase resting metabolic function while simultaneously lowering blood sugar. The body will burn blood glucose rapidly to aid in heating the body — hopefully before the liver releases insulin and transforms the excess into fat. In other words, the body can theoretically digest and burn fuel sources quicker and more efficiently under cold conditions that comfortable, warmer ones.
Finally, if you’re new to cold exposure therapy, you should understand that it doesn’t take much to go a long way. If you have access to a cold plunge of some kind, then five minutes is probably all you need at first. If you’re giving cold showers a shot, jump in and out of the cold stream for ten seconds at a time. The point isn’t to hurt the body, but rather shock it into a new state of better, healthier being.