Cold Shower Evidence


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Is there any good researched cold shower evidence for health? And are cold baths any good for you?

This site is about Chinese medicine and acupuncture so what's a page on Cold Showers and Baths doing here?

The reason is that during my research on a new book "Yin Deficiency - Burnout and Exhaustion: What to Do!" I was looking at ways to increase resilience, including to cold. 

Guess what? Cold immersion turns out to be good for you - just as my father always said (he who when well into his sixties broke his small toe jumping into his cold bath one morning, so perhaps not so good for him on that occasion).

I've nearly always finished off a warm shower with a cold one and so for me, personally, I think cold showers are great. I believe there is strong cold shower evidence for health and that Chinese medicine has its own explanation for why. More, I believe it tells you the best way to take a cold shower

But first, read what cold shower evidence there is.

Benefits of Cold Showers or Baths

You don't have to be a Samurai or Keep-Fit warrior! Men: once women understand the benefits, many get into  the habit and feel great! It's really not that hard to begin.

Before considering from the Chinese medical point of view -

  • why you might benefit,
  • what are the right and wrong ways of taking cold showers 

... let's look at what modern science has found out. Note, some of the research was on the effects of cold baths not showers!

Cold Shower Evidence for helping Stress

Shower head pouring cold water

Free Radical Biology and Medicine March 1994

This cold shower evidence research examined how people who swam regularly in ice-cold water reacted to stress.

  • Huge decrease in their uric acid levels. Uric acid levels are often found in people with kidney disease, obesity and high blood pressure - and gout. When uric acid levels exceed 5.5mls/dL the incidence increases of heart disease and diabetes. These cold swimmers' uric acid levels became very low.
  • Glutathione increased markedly, glutathione being your body's most powerful antioxidant, used to combat all sorts of stress. When glutathione levels are high, your body's other antioxidants also remain high.

The abstract says:

"This can be viewed as an adaption to repeated oxidative stress, and is postulated as mechanism for body hardening. Hardening is the exposure to a natural, e.g., thermal stimulus, resulting in an increased tolerance to stress, e.g., diseases. Exposure to repeated intensive short-term cold stimuli is often applied in hydrotherapy, which is used in physical medicine for hardening."

So the theory says that cold water increases 'hardening' and stress-tolerance. For someone with a weak constitution or with Yin deficiency or Yang deficieny or both, this might be very beneficial. (However, there are less extreme ways of getting the benefits, see below.)

Cold Immersion boosts Brown fat cells

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19357407

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19357405

The results of this cold shower evidence and other research showed that cold, such as in cold baths and showers, benefited creation of brown fat cells, the kind of cell that creates warmth and burns energy, so keeping you trim.

So, far from cold immersion making your body produce extra adipose tissue to keep you warm, actually what it does is increase the amount of brown fat that raises your ability to burn fat!

The implication is that controlled exposure to cold this way helps you slim.

Another study http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131%2814%2900006-0, shows that shivering induced by cold exposure produced something called irisin that, in effect, encouraged brown fat formation and muscle contraction to burn fat.

Cold Showers help Depression

Cold shower evidence Research at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine showed that short cold showers can stimulate the brain's blue spot, the area where most noradrenaline is created. The result? Less depression! (I don't have the reference for this, and would be grateful if someone could tell me.)

(And this was also the result in a statistically insignificant number of people tested - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17993252)

Cold Showers increase Male Fertility?

This cold shower evidence research showed that exposure to wet heat (hot showers, saunas and jacuzzis) decreased sperm motility. The researchers considered that this was reversible by ceasing wet heat exposure.

Research done under the auspices of the British Thrombosis Research Institute apparently showed that the metabolic rate increases after cold exposure. Other German research backs this.

If you look in the research lists, you'll find a good deal of proposed research by Nikolai Shevcuk on the benefits of cold immersion, but not a lot of actual research done on it, at least, as far as I can see, by him or as a result of his proposals. Still, click the links for lots of citations and suggestions for further reading.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2164952/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17335598

Benefit your immune system

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8925815 showed that repeated cold immersions over a period boosted levels of T lymphocytes, for example.

These tests were done on 'athletic young men', so you can't draw definite conclusions for everyone of course.

Down to -30C exposure helps kid be fit!

Children at kindergarten who regularly play almost naked in snow reportedly have less illness.

But these were Siberian children who do physical exercises before going out in the snow so get used to it from very early on. Still, they look cheerful.

Click here for the link to the Siberian Times.

And click this for some research on winter swimmers.

Do it like a Man?

This isn't research but still, quite compelling! 

Of course, this Dutchman has made it some kind of a mission in life, and many of us don't have that time or commitment. But the link shows you how he did it and implies you can too.

More, much more ... at least discussion

Be warned - not all of the following cold shower evidence is research. There's lot of anecdote and opinion, some quite entertaining: also, some repetition of sources and some refers to cold baths.

Genetic inheritance

Before covering what Chinese medicine has to offer, consider that until we discovered fire and found a way to heat enough water to have a hot bath in (and a tub for it), the human race has either not washed or done so mostly in cold water. (But we probably discovered early on that washing cleans wounds and improves body odour.) 

So our genes - which haven't altered that much in the last 10,000 years - are probably still adapted to taking cold baths.

What about HOT showers and baths?

It is amazing how quickly you can persuade yourself that hot baths are better! They relax and warm you. They are easy to stay in. They open your pores allowing you to perspire and feel cleansed. Many soaps dissolve faster in warm water so produce soap suds for washing more easily.

Here's what they found about the effect of warmth on rats:

"Oxytocin levels increase in blood and CSF after various kinds of non-noxious sensory stimulation such as touch, light pressure and warm temperature in both female and male rats." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9401603

So, if you're like the rats, you probably feel warm and cuddly after a warm bath!

From the Chinese medical point of view, warmth can help certain kinds of colds, for instance.

AND ... in a warm bath you can easily persuade children or partners to join you!

(But ... wet warmth encourages fungi, bugs and other undesirables to occupy the shower/bath surrounds too. Hot water causes condensation, peels wall-paper; promotes damp. So there!)

OK. That's enough Western Science and anecdotes. Click Cold Showers for what Chinese medicine theory says about it.


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