There is a growing trend in health circles about cold-water thermogenesis. Cold water thermogenesis, or the idea behind it, is to submerge yourself in very cold water for a prolonged period – let’s say 20-30 minutes. The objective is to encourage your body to produce more heat in response to this cold stimulation via increased thyroid output. It’s theorized to be an effective weight loss tool, or at least Tim Ferriss says so, therefore it must be true, and be useful for other things too. Jack Kruse has proposed using it for all kinds of medical purposes, such as recovery from surgery and other miscellaneous things. It could be yet another, non-invasive tool to have in the toolbox for use against disease.
On one hand, it’s logical. I have spent a lot of time in cold climates, and exposure to cold temperatures certainly increases one’s resistance to cold. The body can adjust to become warmer in cold temps or cooler in hot temps, depending on what you condition it for. And I do think that our modern, thermostat life makes most people’s temperature comfort range very small. So yes, if you are in search of producing more body heat naturally, and being warmer with greater cold resistance – something those with a low metabolism are seeking to achieve, it makes some sense.
But I find the contrary, with all things considered, makes a lot more biological sense.
Cold water thermogenesis is certainly en vogue, but it’s not the only pro-metabolism temperature ideology out there. In fact, Steve Richfield’s work advocates raising metabolism through overdressing and hot showers, thus conditioning your body’s thermostat to be set higher. So there’s certainly more than one viewpoint on this. Ray Peat also makes mention of warm baths as being calming to the nervous system and stimulating to the metabolism – almost as if metabolism is a 2-way street (warm up to raise metabolism or raise metabolism to warm up).
Cold water thermogenesis could certainly trigger some short-term weight loss. It’s a huge calorie burner to drop your core temperature and have your body work overtime to try to bring it back up to normal. Many weight loss gurus recommend drinking copious amounts of cold water just for the extra calorie burn of having to warm up all that ice water. Obsessed much?
But overall, it makes little sense to me as a metabolism tool. It makes little sense when you start to look at the type of adaptations you are asking your body to make in response to any given stimulus. What’s the body’s defense against icy cold temperatures? Body fat – polyunsaturated body fat at that. At the higher latitudes you see more and more polyunsaturated fat, and higher body fat percentages working its way into the local fauna. Even the amount of body fat in a fish is pretty closely tied to the water temperature. That’s why you see omega 3 polyunsaturated fat accumulating in coldwater fish, as well as seals, whales, walruses, and other blubbery cold weather dwellers.
Heck, even cloaking a pig in a warm covering will make its fat tissue more saturated in nature – an appropriate response to warmth. (Prof. Ray Wolfe, “Chemistry of nutrients and world food,” Univ. of Ore. Chem. 121, October 16, 1986.). For newcomers to the site, metabolically-speaking, having saturated fat in your tissues as opposed to lots of polyunsaturated fat is considered to be highly pro-metabolic.
Cold temperatures in winter are not conducive to better health and a higher metabolic rate either – or at least not greater leanness. Winter is fattening and exacerbates most health conditions, whereas the hot temperatures of summer or the tropics tend to favor greater leanness and lessen most health conditions. Most on thyroid meds have to up their dosage in the winter time just to keep hypothyroid symptoms at bay.
None of this of course takes into account the unrealistic idea that one is going to submerge themselves into icy water, intentionally, with any kind of regularity. Talk about going against instincts – especially if you have a subpar metabolism and already have a major aversion to cold.
Anyway, the point of this post is to steer you towards what probably makes more sense for someone with a low metabolism, and will certainly FEEL better and more intuitive as well. And that is to simply keep yourself on the warm side for a while, especially early-going in recovery before you are able to radiate abundant body heat at normal temperatures on your own. There may even be, as Steve Richfield hypothesizes, a beneficial metabolism-resetting property to getting body temp up with hot showers, hot food, and warmer clothing.
In addition to “Eating for Heat,” sleeping for heat, and relaxing for heat – try adding on a few simple measures…
- Start the day with a hot shower to get your body temperature up nice and high.
- Dress warmly, especially around the hands and feet.
- Eat hot food, and maybe even make it a little spicy.
- Take a warm bath or bust out the heating pad before bed if you have a tendency to feel cold late in the evening.
- Spend more time being moderately active – triggering what’s called “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis” or NEAT. Even just raising your heart beat a couple dozen beats a minute is enough to get most people’s body temperature soaring into the 99’s.
That should certainly sound a lot better than submerging yourself in ice water.
And it appears that keeping the body really warm and cozy is very de-stressing. Even if you achieve a higher body temperature through such artificial means it can apparently still trigger many of the same health benefits as doing it in other ways.