Week 11 Tip: Cold Thermogenesis

By: Carla Meine CFNC

| March 14, 2022

Welcome to Week 11 of our Full Year of Resolutions! Each week we are sharing all sorts of tips for achieving optimal health. We want to give you many ideas of things you can choose to try on your health journey. Most of these tips are things we’ve liked and incorporated into our own lives. Some are things we know are healthy, and that work for others. This week’s tip is something I know is very good for me, but I still struggle with it. Tip #11 is cold thermogenesis.

In this week’s video, I’m showing you how to do an ice bath. Yep, you heard me right, I fill my tub with cold water, dump in a big bag of ice, and then, of my own free will and choice, I get in the freezing water. Why am I willing to do this? Why would I sit in ice-cold water when I have hot water readily available through the turn of a tap? Because the health benefits of cold thermogenesis are amazing! 

What IS Cold Thermogenesis?

Cold thermogenesis, or CT, is the intentional exposure of the body to the cold for short periods of time. Through this exposure, the body kicks certain adaptive, healthy responses into overdrive. The Greek word ‘thermos’ means heat and the word ‘genesis’ means the beginning or production of something. Together, they mean the production of heat.

When we are exposed to cold, our body works harder to maintain homeostasis and to keep itself at a core temperature of 98.6F (37C). When the body gets cold, it produces more energy to stay warm, burning calories to produce extra heat. This increases our metabolism and burns fat. 

Methods of practicing CT

You’ve probably heard of cryotherapy, as it’s become a buzzword among celebrities and very popular in athletic and wellness groups. Practicing cryotherapy means getting into a tank filled with liquid nitrogen that is somewhere between -200 to -250F degrees. But there are many other safe and practical ways to practice cold thermogenesis, including:

  • Taking cold showers
  • Wearing body-cooling gear
  • Sleeping in a cold room
  • Keeping your house chilly
  • Splashing cold water on your face
  • Drinking extremely cold water
  • Ice baths

Why COLD can be so good for you

I’ll be the first to admit, I’d much rather sweat it out in my sauna than suffer through any form of cold therapy! This is a hard one for me to regularly do. But, when I follow proper protocols and do this consistently, I really do feel some amazing results. 

Ben Greenfield, a wildly popular human performance consultant and bestselling author, discusses these benefits in his book, Boundless: Upgrade Your Brain, Optimize Your Body & Defy Aging

“By engaging in regular cold exposure such as cold soaks, cold showers, splashing cold water on your face, wearing body-cooling gear like the Cool Fat Burner vest, sitting in cryotherapy chambers, and even keeping your home a bit chilly, you can:

  • Restore BBB (blood-brain barrier) health by causing increased blood flow and nitric oxide delivery to your brain, which increases BBB integrity and suppresses BBB degeneration
  • Increase cell longevity
  • Support a robust immune system
  • Induce rapid fat loss in the absence of exercise
  • Lower your appetite and strengthen the appetite-regulating vagus nerve connection between the gut and brain
  • Cause internal temperature fluctuations that will send blood and nitric oxide to your brain”

The Blood-Brain Barrier

Let’s talk a bit more about Greenfield’s first bullet point above, the blood-brain barrier. This is one of the most important protective elements in the body. As the name suggests, it’s a barrier between the brain’s blood vessels (capillaries) and the cells and other components that make up our brain tissue. 

This barrier is our defense against circulating toxins and pathogens that can cause brain infections, while still allowing important vital nutrients to reach the brain. It also helps maintain constant levels of hormones, nutrients, and water in the brain. 

When this protective barrier is breached and toxins leak into the brain, it opens the door to conditions like Alzheimer’s, ALS, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Cold thermogenesis, however, can strengthen and restore this very important protection of the brain. That’s a pretty powerful benefit for a few minutes of being cold!

Longevity and Heart Health

Another well-known physician and bestselling author I follow is Dr. Mark Hyman. He is currently writing a book about longevity and includes cold therapy in his research. In one of his interviews, he is speaking with Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete known for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures.

Here is an excerpt from his interview on the benefits of cold therapy:

“A cold shower does wonders, miracles. Our biggest enemy in western society, killer #1 is cardiovascular-related diseases. Bad blood flow. Too much stress inside. Millions of little muscles in our 70K miles of vascular channels and capillaries contain all these little muscles, when they are stimulated through cold showers, they help the blood flow. Heart rate decreases. Stress goes out, blood flow is better to all cells; oxygen, vitamins, nutrients to cells, you get more energy and less stress. That’s what the body needs to live healthier, longer.” – Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman

Weight loss, cold therapy, and the benefits of brown fat

One of the benefits of cold thermogenesis that many are drawn to is fat loss. When our body is exposed to cold temperatures, it works to bring it back to normal. It does this by activating the ‘good fat’ in our body. When we’re cold and begin shivering, it’s like stoking a fire as this good fat leaps into action. Let me explain.

The body contains two types of fat: white fat (WAT) and brown fat (BAT). WAT is principally storage, like the love handles and belly fat that everyone wants to get rid of. This fat has a lower rate of metabolism, and too much of it contributes to obesity.

Brown fat, or BAT, is a highly unique metabolic active tissue that keeps us lean and healthy. It is primarily found in the neck, sternum, and back. It is rich in mitochondria, which are the ‘power plants’ of the cell and produce energy that we use.

Brown fat burns white fat by releasing heat to warm the body. When we’re cold, brown fat activates and begins to burn calories either from glucose or stored white fat in our body in order to create and maintain body temperature. And it’s pretty powerful stuff – when fully activated, a mere 100 grams of brown fat can burn 3,400 calories a day

Safe ways to practice cold thermogenesis

Now that you know about the many health benefits that come from being cold, let’s talk about safe ways to do it. Don’t just go and fill your tub up with ice water and jump in! And, if you have any health conditions, please be sure to consult your doctor before beginning a CT regimen. 

The safest way to do any form of cold therapy is to work up to it. Start small. Maybe begin by splashing your face with cold water. Then turn your shower to cold for the last 30 seconds you’re in there. Work your way up to 1-2 minutes. Eventually I worked up to doing 5 minutes of cold water at the end of my showers. Here was my protocol:

  1. Face the shower and let cold water run over you for 20 seconds.
  2. Turn to the side, lift arm (there’s lots of heat stored under there), let cold water run under your arm and down your body. Do 10 seconds with arm up, and 10 seconds with arm down. 
  3. Turn and let cold water run down your back for 20 seconds, getting shoulders and neck. If you’re okay with getting your hair wet, stick your whole head under.
  4. Turn and do the other side, arm up and arm down. 
  5. Repeat.

I worked up to doing 3 rotations for a total of 5 minutes in the cold shower. 

Then I felt ready to advance to the ice bath. I started slowly, working my way up to a minute, then 2, and eventually up to 5 minutes in the tub. At first I left my arms out, but I eventually put my arms in the water and got down to my neck. Eventually, I ducked my head. It is so cold!! But you really do start to acclimate. The body is pretty amazing that way.

If you’d like to learn more, there are additional cold thermogenesis protocols and tips available. Check out this Cold Thermogenesis Easy Start Guide by Dr. Kruse, who advises 2-5 sessions per week after working up to that point.

I’m recommitting to cold therapy

When I regularly practiced cold thermogenesis through cold showers and ice baths, I felt a remarkable boost of energy afterward. I’d get out of the tub and feel amazing! I slept significantly better. And, when I did it consistently, it really did start to get easier. My body started to adapt to the cold.

I’m recommitting to trying cold therapy again. I’m not sure I’ll go all the way back to the ice bath plunges, but I’ll start with a few minutes of cold water at the end of each shower. This is a small way I can access additional health benefits on my More Than Healthy journey.

Have you ever done a cold water plunge? We’d love to hear about it! Leave your comments and questions below, or on any of our More Than Healthy social media sites. And we’d love to have you join us for our free More Than Healthy coaching calls. Simply text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to get a link for our next session.