Cold water therapy is nothing new, in fact the ancient Romans used temperature controlled baths to treat a host of different ailments and disorders. It was used widely even in the US until the early 1900’s when it fell out of style to make room for more pharmaceutical practices, but it never disappeared completely and is on the rise again.
Athletes have been using this technique for decades to speed recovery times from intense physical exertion. Ice baths are common post-game ritual for football players and other athletes because the vascular reaction that it promotes.
The initial submergence into the ice cold water, shocks the system to immediately regulate blood flow to the surface, opening your capillaries at the surface of the skin. As exposure continues after the shock wears off, blood shunts to the internal glands and organs a phenomena known as the Hunter’s reflex. This full reversal stimulates the autonomic systems and exercise smooth muscles and veins in a way that is otherwise difficult to accomplish. And it does it all naturally.
The technique is thought to have a host of different benefits that include boosting immune function, decreasing inflammation and pain, increasing blood flow to the organs, decreasing recovery time after intense exercise and even improving sexual performance. Though only a limited number of these benefits are fully proven, like pain relief and muscle recovery time, there are people using the therapy for the full range of benefits.
One of the most interesting claims for the therapy is an increased metabolism and as an aid to weight loss.
Exposure to cold, particularly cold water submersion increases metabolic rate for as long as the person is exposed. The body can increase metabolism between 25% and 40% of average during exposure. Given the mechanism of brown fat however, these benefits do not extend to after the body’s temperature has stabilized at a more normal point.
Brown fat is an organ, situate around the neck, collar bone and spine of adults. It was previously thought to be absent in adults and found only in newborns and infants but that has changed in recent years. Its job is to help maintain body temperature and it does this by burning energy for heat, mainly fat store.
Cold exposure makes brown fat work, burning extra calories to keep the body warm. The more often somebody is exposed to the frigid waters of cryotherapy the better adapt their body becomes by increasing the amount of brown fat available. Brown fat is literally a fat that burns fat; it is associated with leaner body shapes and less fat stores all together. Those who are obese rarely have any brown fat at all.
Cold water hits the body’s fat stores twice. Along with stimulating brown fat to burn, cold water therapy improves leptin sensitivity in those who are struggling with weight loss. In fact the leptin biofeedback loop is one of the most difficult parts of the weight loss journey to overcome. As fat stores deplete, the body stops producing leptin and you become hungry. The trick is if you don’t eat the body slows metabolism. Those who are overweight produce enough leptin, but the difficulty comes in their sensitivity. Cold exposure increase the body’s leptin sensitivity making it easier to loss the excess weight and keep it off.
Cold water therapy is a natural stimulant to the sympathetic nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system the part of the body you don’t control consciously). Cryotherapy makes the main focus on a strong internal physiology as opposed to an attractive external physiology. The health benefits, while tangible are not necessarily visible. You will just feel the immense difference in yourself and your health.