Last month, I told you about how getting out of your cozy chair and spending more time in the cold could help you lose weight. And now, a group of British researchers think a type of “cold therapy” may even help protect your brain against Alzheimer’s disease (AD)!
I’ll tell you all about that exciting, new research in a moment. But first, let’s back up to consider the long history of using cold temperatures to promote health and healing…
The benefits of stepping out into the cold
People have been using exposure to the cold as a therapeutic approach for thousands of years. In fact, the world’s oldest medical text, The Edwin Smith Papyrus, dates back to 3,500 B.C. and made numerous references to the use of cold as therapy. (While studying for my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, I worked with Trudy Van Houten to publish a translation of this Egyptian papyrus. She is now a Professor of Anatomy at Harvard Medical School.)
Plus, if you’ve ever visited Monticello, then you know that Thomas Jefferson believed that putting his feet into an ice bath every morning would get his heart pumping and improve his longevity. (Jefferson lived to be 83 years old, which was quite a feat for his day!)
Likewise, in 1786, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who knew Jefferson, said bathing in cold water could, “wash off impurities of all kinds from the skin, and thereby to promote a free and equal perspiration.” He also said bathing in cold water could prevent diseases.
Now, modern research is finding cold therapy helps:
- Reduce chronic inflammation, the No. 1 hidden cause of aging and disease
- Boost metabolism and burn fat
- Regulate blood sugar
- Improve sleep
- Combat oxidative stress
- Reduce pain
- Improve anxiety and depression
And, as I mentioned a moment ago, emerging science also suggests that “cold therapy” can even protect you against devastating brain diseases…
“Cold-shock” protein helps regenerate brain connections
For this new line of research, a team of British researchers started by working with lab mice. First, they “cooled” two groups of mice—healthy mice and mice with AD—to the point where they became hypothermic, which means their body temperature went below 95° F (35° C).
Then, when they rewarmed the mice, they noticed that the healthy mice could regenerate the connections between brain cells. But the mice with AD could not. At the same time, they noted that only the healthy mice started producing high levels of a “cold-shock” protein called RBM3.
The researchers believed that all the extra RBM3 in the healthy mice “triggered” the brain neurons to form new connections. And they wanted to test out their theory in humans.
The only problem was…they couldn’t set up a study to randomly submit human participants to hypothermia.
So, instead, they got in touch with a group of outdoor, cold–water swimmers in London who regularly made themselves hypothermic…
Benefits of swimming in cold water
During the winters of 2016, 2017, and 2018, the researchers tested the cold-water swimmers for the RBM3 protein and compared them to a group of men and women who practiced Tai Chi.
It turns out, like the healthy mice, the cold–water swimmers produced more of that helpful “cold–shock” protein. But the people practicing Tai Chi did not. (Even though practicing Tai Chi didn’t trigger production of this special protein…let’s not forget the many other mind-body benefits associated with it.)
It seems Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and all the others were right about the healing benefits of cold-water therapy. Furthermore, it seems humans (and mammals, in general) have built-in mechanisms to deal with big changes in temperature. And triggering these mechanisms may have significant healing effects.
Some cold-therapy tips (and a word of caution)
In an interview, the lead researcher in this study talked about developing a drug to induce the production of RBM3. But how about just recommending some simple “cold therapy,” as practiced by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush? Is that too much to ask?!
Well, since we can’t count on the researchers to recommend their own findings, here are some of my own tips for how you can use “cold therapy” to help promote health and healing…
1.) Go for moderate walks outside in Nature. I’ve always encouraged you to take moderate, brisk walks out in Nature. Even in the winter. You may shiver some at first. But, gradually, your body will acclimate. Just make sure to start out slowly, with moderate walks, and dress in layers.
2.) Consider cold showers. You can really get your blood pumping by finishing up your morning shower with a few seconds under cold water. It really is invigorating. And as Thomas Jefferson believed, it should really help get your blood pumping.
3.) Take a cold dip. If you have a pool or live near a body of water, consider taking the plunge a little earlier in the year than you normally would. The quick exposure to the cold temperatures can do wonders for your circulation…and your brain!
4.) Dial back the heat. Try to keep the temperature in your house a few degrees cooler than what you may have normally. (Especially at night, since research shows colder temperatures help you sleep better.) Again, you may not like it at first, but your body will eventually adapt. And as an added bonus, your monthly heating bill will be noticeably lower!
Now a word of caution…
If you’re not well-acclimated to the cold, suddenly adopting these habits can cause your blood vessels to constrict and your blood pressure to increase. This action could also help trigger a heart attack or other problems in older people, especially if you have heart disease.
So, you should always be cautious at first when going out or swimming in the cold. (You can learn more about the dangers of sudden cold exposure in the December 2020 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter [“Warning: Cold weather is a bigger threat to your health than heat.”] If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one.)
You should also watch your consumption of alcohol, as it’s a vasodilator—meaning it increases blood flow to your extremities and makes you feel warm while actually increasing heat loss.
P.S. You can learn much more about how to reduce your dementia and AD risk in my Complete Alzheimer’s Fighting Protocol. This innovative learning tool outlines dozens of natural steps to help prevent and fight against this dreaded brain disease. To learn more about this comprehensive protocol, or to enroll today, click here now.
“Could cold water hold a clue to a dementia cure?” BBC, 10/19/20. (bbc.com/news/health-54531075)