Cold Therapy and the Immune System
So many of you already know this, but I’ve been taking cold showers regularly for over two years now. During that time I’ve noticed a lot of benefits. Believe it or not, I've noticed that I don’t get sick nearly as often as I used to. Now that got me wondering, does cold exposure change the immune system, and if so, how?
A study dating back to 1996 in The European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology exposed a group of research participants to cold water immersions 3 times per week, over a six week period. The researchers found that the participants had significant increases in the production of immune cells such as T and B lymphocytes, T-Helper cells, and T-suppressor cells.
A more recent study published in 2016 looked at how regular cold showers affect workplace absenteeism. The study, which had over 3000 participants, showed that daily cold showers reduced self-reported illness-related absenteeism by 29% compared to the control group.
So what’s going on here? How does exposing yourself to cold temperatures improve your immune response?
When your body encounters the cold, cellular metabolism increases by producing more heat in the body. This increase in metabolic rate triggers the immune system. If you’re curious to learn more, there’s a fascinating field of research called immunometabolism, which examines the link between cellular metabolism and immune activation. I’ll leave a link to that below the article.
Also worth mentioning is the connection between the immune and lymphatic systems. The lymphatic system is kind of like your circulatory system’s safety net. Fluid leaks out from the bloodstream and is brought back through the lymphatic system. The problem is that the lymphatic system doesn’t have a heart to pump fluid. It relies on external conditions such as body movement to prevent lymphatic fluid from becoming stagnant. Stagnant lymph fluid can cause joint pain, infection and disease.
When exposed to cold water our muscles involuntarily contract and stimulate lymphatic flow. Once this lymph fluid starts circulating again, the body activates white blood cells to clean up any unwanted toxins and waste products.
Therefore, cold showers have the potential to radically transform our health by giving us a more adapted immune response. Thanks for tuning in to this edition of the cold shower mini-series. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of cold therapy, be sure to check out our YouTube channel for more cold therapy content.
Until next time, happy hacking.
YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdksAUiNBeijnQ_T3w35gag
Janský L, Pospísilová D, Honzová S, et al. Immune system of cold-exposed and cold-adapted humans. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;72(5-6):445-450. doi:10.1007/BF00242274
Buijze, Geert A et al. “The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” PloS one vol. 11,9 e0161749. 15 Sep. 2016, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161749