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Cold Showers: The Real Benefits

Updated: Jan 26, 2019

If you know someone who takes cold showers then they’ve likely already told you about how great it is and all the health benefits involved with it. Chances are they’ve already tried to convert you to their chilling routine. Before you step into the icy abyss, you should ask yourself if the benefits are real, or if people who encouraged you to do this are out of their minds.

According to Dr. Mercola, cold showers are a form of cryotherapy*. She cites how professional athletes use cryotherapy to aid in muscle and joint recovery, but, “may offer health benefits to virtually everyone”, she says. When you immerse yourself in cold water, your blood vessels constrict and your blood circulation improves. If you’ve been injured, it’ll reduce swelling and pain. Similar to the way people use ice packs to provide immediate pain relief if they’ve strained their back or injured their head.

A claim proponents of cold showers usually make is that it’ll improve your immune system, and help prevent diseases. In an experiment, participants who were regularly exposed to cold water showed a “drastic” decrease in Uric Acid, which is a contributing factor in heart-disease, tumor development, and gout. However, according to Nancy Walsh, a senior staff writer on Medpage today, both high and low levels of Uric Acid is hazardous, since it is itself an antioxidant. Low levels can result in something called Oxidative Stress* which,“can predispose to illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes.” Given this, it may be prudent to consult with your physician before you attempt to lower your Uric Acid levels. Although if you know you have high levels of Uric Acid, it may be a viable option.

The final claim made in the article is that cold water may increase your body’s ability to burn fat. Since drinking cold water has been shown to increase your metabolism by forcing your body to warm up the water, Dr. Mercola reasons that cryotherapy may have a similar effect with something called brown fat; fat your body uses to keep itself warm. By exposing yourself to cold temperatures you force your body to react, and work harder to maintain body temperature. However, it’s not that simple, according to Dr. Jon Schriner who works at the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine in Flushing, Michigan. Schriner says, “Being cold does boost metabolism by trying to warm the body, but it's a stretch to sell it as a weight-loss therapy.”

It appears the jury is still out on all the benefits of cryotherapy as medical experts can’t agree on the aforementioned health benefits . If you’ve just finished an intense workout, you may think about trying a cold shower or bath, since it has been proven to aid in muscle recovery and swelling, but if you’re using it to lose body fat, or boost your immune system, you may think to reconsider because you may not get the results you’re expecting.

  • Cryotherapy: sometimes known as cold therapy, is the local or general use of low temperatures in medical therapy. Cryotherapy may be used to treat a variety of tissue lesions.

  • Oxidative Stress: reflects an imbalance between the systemic manifestation of reactive oxygen species and a biological system's ability to readily detoxify the reactive intermediates or to repair the resulting damage.