Some thoughts on cold exposure

Richard Nickoley/Free the Animal has posted a follow-up post entitled Cold Therapy and Adaptation and Ray Cronise.  Although he comments a few times, this comment addresses Ray's thoughts on it all.  So far I see no need for a warning label on this one ;-)  In any case, Ray presents some excellent information on the topic and I urge my readers to go take a look before diving into the icy water and trying to work up to hours on end in same.  For my part, after reading Ray, I think I may well get an inflatable pool and some pool dumbells and such and put it up in the back yard to exercise in this summer.  There's a town pool here, but if I have to drive somewhere I know compliance suffers, and although I have access to facilities where I work, no student gets to see me in a swimsuit!!

I admittedly don't know much about Ray as, in all honesty, I've only recently heard of him and Wim Hof what with all the recent buzz.  But he sounds knowledgeable and measured.  He has also apparently done extensive self-experimentation with appropriate equipment.  For example he seems to have looked at his body's metabolic rate response to various durations, etc. of cold exposure.  For all the recent hoopla over Kruse's TEDx talk, surgery and MRSA *epic* biohack, we learn from comments (if Lerner could save me the time to link again in comments that'd be great) that he didn't do the usual hormonal panels, etc., and he's not doing the metabolic rate measurements, etc.  We've apparently gotten all the documentation/proof we're ever going to get on that front ... Jack has moved on to using CT to treat patients and made some videos there.  

One thing I really liked about Ray's recent comments -- and hopefully they take hold -- is that this more is not better attitude need not be applied here, and this could almost totally eliminate any danger.   Of particular interest:
Cool vs Cold?
Here is where I think the big gap exists. I think chronic cool trumps acute cold in terms of metabolic function. It sounds like the cliche turtle and hare argument, but metabolically it is much different.
He goes on to describe some experiments.  With all this talk over at FTA of folks bathing in 50 degree water for an hour or so it seems we're in peril of rejecting something that could prove to be helpful to "the masses" by extremes most will never even desire to attempt.  By this I mean that Cronise is defining even your standard 80'ish degree pool -- not even uncomfortable for most -- which, lest we forget, presents a 20-ish degree temperature gradient that is effective when between the body and water (vs. air).  Even if one is not a swimmer, they could easily walk, run (in place or through a shallow end) or some other activity.   You could hang off the ladder and kick, tread water, whatever.  The point is combine a modest temperature differential with movement and you have the equivalent of the "wind chill factor" of sorts at play.  

So I wanted to write this post because I don't want my readers to reject this idea because quacks like Leptin Man are bastardizing them for whatever reason.  There is some real potential benefit here, and the best part is that you don't have to start making tens of pounds of ice each day and lie under it in your tub.  My common sense radar says this is probably not all that beneficial and potentially harmful (e.g. reduced blood flow, numbness, etc.) even short of frostbite and hypothermia.   

That said, I doubt cold therapy will be the be-all-and-end-all treatment for all ills any more than the last touted one was.  And it certainly stands to reason that individual results would vary widely.  Many of the claims are inseparable from confounding variables.  For example if CT seems to improve IR, it is simply because it can accelerate weight loss or metabolic rate (as exercise does) ... or does it really have anything to do with insulin production, clearance or receptor sensitivity?  This is the sort of thing I'd like to see studied, and I hope Jack's antics don't cause it to be relegated to the trash heap prematurely.  

It seems to me that a goodly portion of metabolic "derangement" derives from calorie excess.  Whether that's inherent defect (rare), sedentary behavior, overeating, etc., surely revving up the metabolism using heat generation as the means is worthy of experimenting with.  And there's no reason to believe that we wouldn't see improvements just as we do with different forms of exercise.  And let's not forget that moving more is vastly superior for obese folks in the water vs. on land!  

Here's where it gets interesting because we've got a split along the longevity fault in the community as well.  Most of the longevity research favors metabolic milieu that slow metabolism and favor fat over lean mass (though not excessive fat accumulation, as a proportion it is higher in general).  What most of us, especially those trying to lose weight, maintain losses, etc., however want just the opposite.  A higher metabolism and more lean mass.  I've said this before, I don't care if it shaves some time off my life to remain functional and enjoying the life I do live.  Many have chimed in here with similar thoughts.   Many have also tanked their metabolisms with chronic dieting -- yours truly included, though I'm happy to report I seem to be able to eat quite a bit more these days than in 2009 at about the same weight.  So there's hope for that proverbial damaged metabolism.  Also on a personal note, this encourages me that there are more strides to be made without the misery of extreme calorie restriction.  Yes ... I'm encouraged! 

So ... let's not throw the baby out with this bath water! There may well be a potential tool for you here.  But I believe Kruse is the wrong messenger going forward, for all the many reasons I and others have outlined.  I am hopeful that the community is waking up to this fact.  


I don't think health vs longevity is the only fault ... there's also a performance variable in there too.

Disentangling what helps you get to non-natural levels of body fat or gets your best time at some competition from what helps folks have a good quality of life is also what makes it interesting!
Unknown said…
Eating food cold rather than warm ... metabolic advantage?
CarbSane said…
Agree! If I'm going to go to tie one variable to health, however, it's performance over longevity. That's where, even though I'm not after optimizing performance per se, I'll go with those over the longevity peddlers. What are your thoughts?
Nigel Kinbrum said…
The lengths that people will go to, to live an extra day.

I don't mind:-
Eating natural foods, cooked to (my) perfection.
Doing a bit of exercise.

I do mind:-
Going vegan, vegetarian, ketogenic, taking drugs or eating nasty foods that tweak my metabolic pathways, deliberately restricting calories or deliberately making myself cold.
Doing lots of exercise.
CarbSane said…
Perhaps slight. Although if you're talking very cold, I do wonder if additional disruptions in digestion could add to a "metabolic" advantage that was really due to inefficient breakdown/absorption.
Lerner said…
Here is linking to my question to Jack about documentation, and his disappointing answer, which I regard as an unfortunate evasion... i.e., his much publicized talk (complete with press release) about his ballyhooed experiment was now suddenly not "newsworthy" -- comments 100 & 101 here:

Note that from what I garner that his experiment was not about weight loss. It was about:
1) super immunity to MRSA
2) not needing painkillers post-op (he has variously said that he did and did not have general anesthesia)

Therefore to my mind, obligatory documentation would be things like video of the sutures, a statement from the surgeon*, video of the injecting, etc. To make extraordinary claims with zero evidence is so... inadequate. That's a shame, Jack.

More later...

[drama script]

*No surgeon with any desire to preserve his financial assets and license would operate without anesthesia, and no hospital would allow it it.

Question at the trial: Surgeon, why did you operate without anesthesia?
Surgeon: Because the patient told me not to.
Lerner said…
It would be slight, and easily out-eaten. Logically, in summer when you are expending energy for cooling yourself, you'd switch to hot food/drink to burn more calories.
Lerner said…
Cold-Activated Brown Adipose Tissue in Healthy Men

1) Go right to Fig 1, the FDG PET (which shows areas of increased metabolic activity). Note the small area of activated BAT, especially curiously at supraclavicular regions. How much weight will that small area lose for a person?

2) The "cold" used is only 60 degrees F? Holy crap, when I'm cold-adapted in winter, 60F would be like Miami Beach.

Also, I have personally (as opposed to any guru nonsense) discovered that (for me, at least) to get adapted to cold quickly, I have to exercise in the cold. Then the reverse applies for the summer heat.
Lerner said…
Different strokes, Nigel :) In winter, when you move vigorously, your internal furnace comes on and you can do anything. I would sometimes lay shirtless in the snow for a brief time, and it's so easy, like nothing at all. Just to do it, for a kick. It can be invigorating, but I doubt there's any major advantage - aside from the possibility that doing adventuresome things can maybe bring a fountain-of-youth surge of internal biochemicals.

But I agree that doing CRON or CRAN would not be worth it.
Lerner said…
Nigel just made me wonder: just as some glucose-intolerant people can have trouble fasting (if e.g., they can't mobilize liver glycogen well), can it also be that some have trouble getting their 'internal furnace' to light up?

Also, I'd ask something maybe related: does everybody get exercise induced vasodilation (which I think is uber-healthy). E.g., you're walking for a while, and your hands feels suddenly puffy, any rings get tight, and you can easily see veins on the back of your hands? I have assumed that is ubiquitous, but maybe not.
garymar said…
I was rather impressed with the sanity of the discussion about CT at Free The Animal, particularly Ray Cronise's level-headed comments and even Nikoley's self-experimentation.

This winter I did a few bike rides in summer shorts (but with ear muffs and gloves and upper body warmly dressed) in temperatures just above freezing and found it very invigorating. And this week after my resistance training I stepped into my 50-plus degree bath for 5 minutes. No problem, I could probably do it for 10-15 minutes. I think it reduced muscle soreness and hastened recovery (ritual gesture to ward off the placebo spirits).

The Empress Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire used to bath every night in 7 degree water as part of her beauty protocol. Of course, that didn't prevent her being assassinated by an anarchist. And Nikoley's an anarchist! Wheels within wheels...
Nigel Kinbrum said…
My internal furnace is always on. My ex-G/F used to use me as a hot water bottle!

I get puffy hands while walking. I wondered what that was all about.
Lerner said…
"Wheels within wheels"? I like that -- I've been saying "worlds within worlds" for a long time; I'll borrow your phrase, too :)

Now, I see there are two disparate things here:
1) furnace on, do (almost) anything
2) idle like sitting in a tub? well, that's a different thing to my mind
Lerner said…
"My ex-G/F used to use me as a hot water bottle"

haha, sounds familiar :) I also had (and do have) a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and that knee would always be warmer for years and years.

(puffy hands = NO release from intravascular shear forces on endothelium. I'd wager therefore your BP is good.)
Wheels within wheels! Anywhere Frank Herbert is quoted is a blog worth checking.

FWIW, I agree from personal experience that cold therapy can help us lose weight, but not as scripted by Devany and the other Paleo 1.0 folks (meaning not for BAT reasons).

I believe it helps weight loss in a roundabout way by helping us regain hypothalamic and vagal nerve tone. This is definitely something we civilized folks don't have anymore due to warm showers, climate controlled homes and compressed high-tech fabrics.

I think resensitizing the hypothalamus to your actual exterior environment will lower appetite and affect bodyfat setpoint. This is why just a little cold exposure can go a long way. Notice how pacific islanders are ripped even though their climate is hot. They get 24/7 direct wind and water contact on the skin, which I believe over time really adds up.

You don't have to be Wim Hof, just take your jacket off and turn off the heater to get the limbic system working again. Just my take...
CarbSane said…
Interesting ideas there Gunther!

" Notice how pacific islanders are ripped even though their climate is hot. They get 24/7 direct wind and water contact on the skin, which I believe over time really adds up. "

Water mist in warm windy climates are heat sucks big time, we just don't feel uncomfortably cold. But getting hit by water mist at 80 degrees that evaporates quickly in the wind is sorta (not quite) like rubbing alcohol.

Oooooh! I can come up with my own CT protocol using rubbing alcohol ..... >>>>> Off to write it up quick before anyone scoops me, I'm sure it dissolves some subcutaneous fat away too!
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mist and a little warm breeze will definitely do fine for giving the hypothalamus a workout. Like any other part of the body: "use it or lose it".

Since bodytemp is regulated in the same brain area as bodyfat, seems if you get one working you are also fixing the other one.

Long-term meditators who can lower their heart rate are probably also inadvertently "toning up" all other hypothalamic processes. Hence they eat less/burn more/want to move more.
I'm with you on performance as it ties to quality of life; I was thinking more along the lines of what Keith Norris was talking about here, when pursuit of performance may be counter to health.