This post is a modified version of a newsletter that I wrote. Every week I share nutrition insights and tips, along with a recipe and recommendations for things to read, listen to, or try. Sign up here.

Deep dive on cold therapy

TL;DR: Cold exposure has benefits from reducing inflammation to elevating mood, and can easily be done for free at home through cold showers and ice baths. Plus, tips for your cold shower!

Do you ever wonder how humans survived the ice ages? It amazes me when I think about it. 

Our bodies are actually built to handle these types of extremes, but in today’s temperature controlled world our bodies barely practice the skill of surviving the cold. 

Inside of all of us is the capability to survive an ice-age, so let’s find out how (and also why). 

Benefits of cold therapy

Wim Hof celebrates his 61st birthday in a 61 minute ice bath.

Cold exposure is known as a hormetic stress. A hormetic stress is a mild, short-term stress on your body that stimulates your body to adapt and thus become more resilient. 

“This is known as hormesis – a biphasic dose-response phenomenon in which exposure of a cell or organism to a low dose of a stress agent or condition stimulates adaptation & consequentially promotes physiologically beneficial effects” — Source

Cold exposure, heat exposure, fasting, and exercise are all examples of hormetic stress. Just like a sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for you, a temperature controlled one isn’t either…

Cold exposure:

  1. Reduces inflammation: Cold exposure elevates norepinephrine and noradrenaline. Both are shown to be anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is known to be the root cause of almost every disease, so this is important. Read about an anti-inflammatory diet.  
  2. Helps burn fat: Your body consists of both white and brown fat. White fat is there primarily to store energy for future use, brown fat is there to burn energy to keep you warm. We lose a lot of our brown fat as we get older, but cold exposure is one way to increase brown fat, which increases your metabolism and burns white fat. 

“A 2009 research review concluded that brief immersions (5 minutes) in water less than 59°F (15°C) did increase metabolism. But there haven’t been any large studies proving that repeated icy plunges result in significant weight loss.” — Source

  1. Increases focus, energy, and mood: Cold water emersion increases endorphins and norepinephrine, which are known to have benefits on focus, energy, and mood. And it even may have a positive effect on depression.
  1. Improves circulation: The muscles required for good circulation in our bodies are underutilized today. Cold exposure and cold-hot exposure forces your circulatory system to quickly adapt by trying to keep your organs warm. This is like a workout for your circulatory system, improving its effectiveness over time.
  2. Improves immune response: studies have shown that cold showers increase the amount of white blood cells in your body, helping protect your body against diseases. 

“Norepinephrine reduces inflammation through the inhibition of inflammatory cytokines including TNF-alpha (tumor necrosis factor alpha), a molecule involved in almost every human disease from type 2 diabetes to cancer. Inflammatory cytokines also play a role in anxiety and depression, therefore cold exposure may have mood enhancing capabilities.” — source

So there are some serious benefits! How can you take advantage of this…


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Five ways to get cold exposure

  1. Take a cold shower: this is the most common and simplest method to do at home. More details on this below. 
  2. Take a cold bath or ice bath: Simply fill the tub with cold water, and add ice optionally. Then…take a bath. 
  3. Enjoy the cold outdoors w/o warm clothing: I’ve been doing this in the mornings when I take walks with my dog. When it’s a cold morning, I leave my coat at home and enjoy the cold. Then I come home and jump in a hot-to-cold shower.
  4. Jump in a cold lake or ocean: Finding yourself near a natural body of cold water? A great opportunity for cold exposure. Be careful though and do this with a buddy! Especially if the water is very cold, you should be very careful and never go too deep.
  5. Try cryotherapy: In a cryotherapy chamber you expose your body to liquid nitrogen and temperatures below -100c. Because these temperatures are even colder, there may be even more benefits. Many athletes use cryotherapy and cold therapy to speed up recovery.

In all cases it’s smart to gradually build up to longer exposure times and even exposing more parts of your body. You can even start with just doing an ice bath for your hands for example. 

Start with just 30 seconds one day and build up from there. Two to three minutes is enough to get the benefits!

How to do a cold shower

Here is some guidance on exactly how to do a cold shower. 

  1. Start with a warm water shower for a couple of minutes
  2. Turn the water cold
  3. First expose your extremities: hands, feet, arms, and legs to the cold and massage your arms and legs
  4. Then place your whole body under the cold water
  5. Focus the water on your forehead, chest, and upper back. Your forehead and chest will help you really feel the cold, and your upper back is where your brown fat is stored.
  6. Gradually increase how long you expose yourself to the cold shower. You can start with just 30 seconds on your first shower and then work your way up to 3 minutes or more. 
  7. Optionally you can switch between hot and cold water a few times during the shower to add to the good stress 

You may want to skip the cold shower after an intense workout as it can decrease the positive effects of the exercise. Wait about an hour after.  

Be careful

Be careful with cold therapy, you can take it too far and not everyone’s body will respond the same way. You should consult your doctor before trying this, and test your body gradually. 

A recipe

Making a salad dressing from scratch can be very simple, and is also so important so you can aviod store bought salad dressings (usually loaded with crap) and spice up a salad.

My framework for making a good salad dressing is:

  1. Three parts fat: EVOO, avocado oil, toasted sesame oil etc.
  2. One part acid: white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, etc.
  3. Half part sweet: Honey, jam, sweet rice wine
  4. Salt and spices to taste: Garlic, pepper, soy sauce, chili flakes, etc.

I mix and match the above to make an easy dressing. You can make it as simple as fat + acid too, but some sweet and spicy can help make a more interesting dressing when you have the time. 

Read more about making a salad dressing here + 2 ideas for making a dressing with this framework.

Share this with a friend! 

Three recommendations

The Biggest Little Farm Documentary
  1. Watch: The Biggest Little Farm (Trailer) — You can watch on Hulu for free, or you can rent it from a bunch of different streaming services. 
  2. Listen: The surprising science behind cancer prevention – The Doctor’s Farmacy Podcast
  3. Try: Golde Turmeric Latte Mix [$5 off your order] – We literally use this every day, sometimes twice a day. I like the Turmeric and Cacao Turmeric mix. This is a friend referral link so you’ll get $5 off and you’d help me get $5 off my next order too, this is not sponsored.
    1. We like to make it hot and cold. To make it cold we usually do: 2 tsp of the mix, 1 tsp honey, 1 cup almond milk. Then stir or blend it up good and pour it over ice. 

Thanks to all who read this far! I appreciate you.

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