Let’s face it; there’s nothing pleasant about jumping into a freezing lake or turning on a cold shower. So, if we’re going to do it, there had better be some pretty compelling reasons to do so. It turns out that there are – cold shock therapy has been shown to assist with fat loss, boost immunity, fight inflammation, combat oxidative stress and, potentially, support longevity.
In this article, we take a closer look at the anti aging and healthspan hacking benefits of cold shock therapy.
What is Cold Shock Therapy?
There are a number of different cold shock therapy methods. They include jumping into a cold lake or pool, taking a cold shower or entering a cryotherapy chamber. Each of these methods will place cold stress on the body.
Just like heat stress, cold stress is a type of hormetic stress. It activates a number of genetic pathways that help us to deal with stress.
How Does the Body Respond to Cold Stress?
One of the most immediate reactions that the body has to cold stress is the increased release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter plays a key role in controlling our focus, attention and mood. The more of it that is released, the better we feel. As a result it is used pharmacologically to treat depression and ADHD. Yet, it can be released naturally through cold shock therapy.
Twenty seconds of submersion in a 4.4 degrees celsius bath has been shown to increase the levels of norepinephrine by 200-300 percent.
Norepinephrine also acts as a hormone in the body. It causes vasoconstriction, which is a method that we use to conserve heat when we are cold. Another way we conserve heat when we are extremely cold is to increase mitochondrial biogenesis in fat and muscle tissue. That means that new mitochondria is produced. Mitochondria are the energy producing units inside our cells. The process of generating energy also generates heat and burns stored body fat. (1)
Increased mitochondria in muscle tissue allows a person to more effectively use oxygen. As a result, improved mitochondria in the muscle through the use of cold shock therapy has been seen to improve aerobic capacity. Cold exposure has also been shown to improve endurance performance.
Cold Shock Therapy & Longevity
A number of recent animal studies suggest that cold shock therapy may have a positive effect on longevity in humans. One study showed that reducing the environmental temperature of flies from 27 degrees to 21 degrees doubled their life span. A number of similar studies on other creatures has found a negative correlation between temperature and lifespan. (2 ) (3)
Researchers have postulated that the increased life span that results from cold shock therapy could be due to the concept known as hormesis. This refers to the process of introducing a shock to the body in order to elicit a reaction from the body in order to prepare it for an even more acute form of the stress in the future. This is the same concept by which muscles get bigger and stronger after the stress of exercise in order to prepare for the next workout. (4)
One of the hormesis induced responses to cold shock therapy is the slowing down of metabolic processes. A result of this is that there are a reduced number of metabolic by-products, such as reactive oxygen species that results in oxidative stress. (5)
Cold shock therapy has also been shown to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is not only a key factor in disease and illness, it has also been shown to a major factor in aging. In addition to all of its other properties, the neurotransmitter/hormone norepinephrine has been shown to reduce inflammation. It does so by decreasing an inflammation causing molecule called TNF-Alpha, as well as inflammatory cytokines that cause such inflammatory responses as arthritis.(6)
Cold shock therapy has also been seen to enhance immune function. One of the reactions to the shock of cold therapy is the increased production of white blood cells as well as other immunologically beneficial cells. One of these is cytotoxic T lymphocytes, which have the ability to kill cancer cells. (7)
To the uninitiated, cold shock therapy may appear to be a pointless exercise in self administered pain. To those in the know, however, it is a fantastic biohacking method that has proven itself in terms of anti-aging, fat loss, energy enhancement and mood elevation.