Cold showers are nothing new… in fact you could say they’re the original version of a shower. For centuries we would wash in cold water, simply because there was no alternative. Our lives have become so comfortable and we’ve become soft as a result. A cold shower in the morning really helps you embrace discomfort – and it takes enduring a lot of discomfort in your life to get to where you want to be. This tiny baptism of fire (or ice) each morning can really get you in the mindset that you can tackle any challenge.
Cold showers are something I’ve dabbled with in the past. I was personally afraid to continue them due to the fear of exacerbation of fatigue symptoms (cfs/ME, adrenal fatigue) but I now see how they are actually an instrumental part of recovery in many diseases; particularly those with hormonal imbalances and mitochondrial dysfunction – let’s look at the science!
A Scientific Overview
This “scientific evidence based effects of hydrotherapy” study has some REALLY interesting aspects to look at. Firstly let’s look at challenging the theory that cold showers might be ‘too stressful’ for those struggling with adrenal fatigue. This study took blood tests of patients exposed to cold showers at different levels of temperature; I advocate working towards the coldest showers possible so we will examine the results from the lowest temperature (14°C). Norepinephrine increased SIGNIFICANTLY (500%) and with good reason. A cold shower is an acute stress, your body thinks you’re going to freeze if it cant get warm, so norepinephrine is released to increase circulation through increased heart rate and blood pressure. This will put some stress on your adrenals, but stress hormones used acutely can actually have a therapeutic effect on your bodies ability to tolerate stress. Before you get in the shower you might be worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills, whether your yoghurt has set, or if your cholesterol is too high or not, but when that cold water hits you – it’s gone. Surviving the cold shower is all that matters. Once you get out of that potentially life or death experience (to your body at least) all your other worries not only feel more insignificant, but hardly even challenging compared to what you just achieved. This feeling of achievement is also documented well in this study; dopamine levels increased over 250%. other studies show that cold showers are effective for treating anxiety and depression and I’ve no doubt this increase dopamine plays a big part in conjunction with the norepinephrine and endorphins. The aforementioned study also documented cortisol levels, and for those who have done any research at all know they want to be keeping a close eye on their cortisol. Well honestly surprising results for me; cortisol levels DECREASED. For me, this alone makes me think cold showers are suitable and safe for those anxious to stress their adrenals out too much. I try to keep to the science but it’s true anecdotes hold just as much value, and I personally vouch for cold showers actually being beneficial for adrenal fatigue and CFS; speaking of, let’s talk about mitochondria!
Any health complaint with symptoms including fatigue should at some point think about the mitochondria. These little bacteria-like furnaces in our cells are what make most of our heat and energy. I call them furnaces with good reason, can you see why they might be important, and how cold therapy could play a part in their behaviour? This study evaluated mitochondrial biogenesis (creation of new mitochondria) in rats exposed to exercise (swimming) in different temperature water. Both exercise and cold exposure showed significant increases in mitochondrial biogenesis. Understanding that our mitochondria make our energy for us it makes a lot of sense that increasing demand for energy will stimulate biogenesis. Unfortunately for many with fatigue as a persistent symptom exercise isn’t a realistic option initially, but cryotherapy is! Our mitochondria also make our heat for us, so by placing an acute demand for heat, we encourage proliferation of our mitochondria to make more heat for us – and that could never be a bad thing.
Cold showers, anecdotally and scientifically improve immunity. Its reported to strengthen immune system response by increasing white blood cells leading to a reduced experience of sickness. Unfortunately, cold showers aren’t well studied so there’s really no more science to look at as far as immunity is concerned.
The vagus nerve is certainly a very trendy topic right now, and for good reason. not only is there a strong connection between the stress response and the vagus nerve, there’s also a building body of interest in how this connection plays its role in disease. the vagus nerve is a fundamental part of the parasympathetic nervous system and vagal tone (the strength of the activity of the vagus nerve) has a LOT to do with many diseases. It’s well know that our fight or flight mechanism is balanced with the rest and digest mechanism and the latter is primarily orchestrated through the vagus nerve. Anything we can do to improve vagal tone will allow us to relax more easily and help us to calm down from hyper aroused states more quickly. With most (dare I say all?) Illnesses having a strong foundation in the gut anything we can do to improve vagal tone will help here. Improved parasympathetic activity will not only improve stomach acid and enzyme secretions, but also allow for improved and more coordinated gastrointestinal motility – all of which are CRUCIAL when healing gut problems. One of if not the best way to improve vagal tone is cold exposure on the face, head and neck so cold showers have your back here too! The Vagus nerve totally deserves it’s own article, but I’m afraid I have to leave you with a ‘coming soon’
As I touched on a little in the intro; there’s a lot we want to achieve in life and sometimes you just don’t know where to start. For me, for the longest time I could lose focus, passion and inspiration for what I do, and productivity would plummet. Doing something you love isn’t just flowers and unicorns, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and get to work, and when the inspiration isn’t there nothing could help me get back to work. Now I always know where I need to start – the shower. After facing an ordeal like that, changing some links, making a phone call, or writing a post all seem like such trifling matters. Not only does it increase my will to do the work I’m avoiding, it also brings inspiration! Perhaps it’s those endorphins or maybe the dopamine but it just comes. Even better I can enter the flow state MUCH more regularly – I don’t even feel like I’m working; I enjoy myself!
My Challenge To You
30 for 30. That’s my challenge. For 30 days, at the end of your morning shower, turn that temperature all the way down to cold for 30 seconds. At first the hardest part is making that difficult decision to turn it to cold. When I’m getting in the shower and I know what I’m in for, I’m honestly thinking to myself ‘what the hell is wrong with me? I must be insane!’ But afterwards when I’m towling myself off, that sense of wellbeing, hardiness and ultimately the power I have to withstand discomfort makes me feel like a god.
I’m at the point where I ALMOST don’t want to get out when my shower is coming to an end, and I’m slowly extending the length to five minutes (3:30 at time of writing) and I feel this is a habit I will keep for a lifetime. I hope this article helps. Stay sexy, embrace discomfort, happy healing.