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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 research for my 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). (Cold, of course, is not always good! See Internal and External Causes of Disease.)
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. Moreover, I believe it tells you the best way to take a cold shower.
However, I have not seen any research from or claims made by experts in Chinese medicine as to the efficacy of Cold Showers.
So, on this page, and our sister page, How to take a Cold Shower, you are getting my take on applying Chinese medical theory to the matter.
But first, read what cold shower evidence there is.
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 –
… let’s look at what modern science has found out. Note, some of the research was on the effects of cold baths not showers!
This cold shower evidence research (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0891584994900302) examined how people who swam regularly in ice-cold water reacted to stress.
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 deficiency or both, this might be very beneficial. (However, there are less extreme ways of getting the benefits, see below.)
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.
These looked at what hot and cold showers did to the immune system. They found cold showers improved immunity against viruses and bacteria. (Phys Med, 1996; 6: 72-9; 1998; 8: 37-45; Forsch Kompl Med, 2007: 14: 158-66)
Another study looked at what cold applications over some weeks did both for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and for healthy volunteers. As with the other (German) research, the cold applications improved immunity. (Munch Med Wochenschr, 1998; 140: 566-9).
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)
This cold shower evidence research showed that exposure to wet heat (hot showers, saunas and jacuzzis) decreased sperm motility. The researchers considered that you could reverse this 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, above, 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. However, there’s not much actual research by him or done as a result of his proposals, at least, as far as I can see. Still, click the links for lots of citations and suggestions for further reading.
The aim is to stimulate your metabolism to work better by ‘encouraging’ it to react to temperature change. Experience has shown that regular daily routines increase benefits and this is supported by various studies. (Phys Med, 1998; 8: 37-45; Forsch Kompl Med, 2007: 14: 158-66)
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8925815 showed that frequent cold immersions over a period boosted levels of T lymphocytes, for example.
Because these tests were done on ‘athletic young men’, you can’t draw definite conclusions for everyone of course.
Children at kindergarten who regularly play almost naked in snow reportedly have less illness.
However, these were Siberian children. They do physical exercises before going out in the snow. Presumably they get used to it from very early on. But looking at them, they do look cheerful.
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.
Read our page ‘How to Warm Up if You’re Always Cold‘ for more about Wim Hof, and my view that what he suggests suits Pitta and Kapha types more than Vata types.
If you are pregnant, ill or very tired, it is better to take advice before embarking on vigorous hydrotherapy – particularly if you have kidney or heart disease, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and, perhaps not surprisingly, allergy to cold!
Be warned – not all of the following cold shower evidence is research.
There’s lot of anecdote and opinion. Some of it is quite entertaining!
Also, there is some repetition of sources and some of the pages refer to cold baths.
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 had 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. (Our genes are Yin, representing the status quo: Yin changes only slowly. In comparison, our Minds are Yang, so move faster and, if you recoil from the idea of a cold shower, try to accept that your Mind is the most malleable part of you, and you can adapt it to the idea of the benefits of cold showers without that much difficulty!)
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. Also, 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 a rat, you’ll 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 and, probably, your belly button: maybe don’t look too closely at it! Hot water causes condensation, peels wall-paper; promotes damp. So there!)
OK. That’s enough Western Science and anecdotes. Click for what I think Chinese medicine theory says for how to take Cold Showers.
Finally, too much Heat, just like too much Cold, can kill! See Heat Exhaustion and Heatwave.
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Heart Yang Deficiency – Cold, Tired, Depleted Spirits. Signs , symptoms,, aetiology and what to do! And if you ignore it, what happens next.