I am finding this new concept – or at least new to me for sure – of evolutionary medicine quite fascinating. The philosophy basically uses our understanding of how humans evolved to figure out why they may get sick and fixing the underlying causes of disease – creating health – rather than figuring out how they got sick and merely treating the symptoms. It’s the essence of restoring health rather than curing disease. Given that modern humans are seeming to succumb to diseases that don’t appear evident in the wild or humans in the pre-modern era, things like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, etc., practitioners of evolutionary medicine attempt to figure out why these trends are occurring.
Cold thermogenesis is a concept deeply rooted in evolutionary ideology. I’ve found a smattering of information about it on the web, but this is really another one of Jack Kruse’s babies, probably the one he’s most famous, or infamous, for. The definition of cold is obvious, but “thermogenesis” means the creation of heat. The idea is that exposing yourself to cold creates a physiological adaptation where the body creates a lot of heat to keep you warm in a colder environment. According to Kruse, our bodies have this adaptation hard-wired into our system from evolution, it’s just not something we tap into very often anymore in our modern, warm-adapted world. And why is this all hard-wired into our system? Kruse believes it all stems from life’s adaptation to survive during massive climate shifts, like ice ages, in our earth’s past. In order to adapt to the cold, the mammals from which we evolved had to become more metabolically efficient to survive on less food (since there wasn’t much around during ice ages) and create extra body heat to stay warm, heat that came from the burning of fat. Even though most humans don’t face the cold very much anymore, we still have this adaptation programing within us, carried down from our ancestors…our very ancient ancestors, ones that pre-dated humans themselves.
If you want the whole story, philosophy, and science behind it, Dr. Kruse is your man (quantum physics, reducing entropy, evolution and epigenetics, etc.). He has a long blog series on Cold Thermogenesis including his protocol of how to implement it and an FAQ section. If you already want to try it, go to the protocol and FAQ sections. If you want to be convinced first, read the rest of my blog post here and Dr. Kruse’s full blog series on the topic. I’m simply going to give you a summary of the purported benefits of it and my experience in the last three weeks.
So why put yourself through this? Why subject yourself to cold? Those were my questions too before going down this path as I hate the cold more than almost anyone I know (which turned out to be a great indicator, actually, as to why I’d benefit so much). Here are the claims:
1) Boosts metabolism, circulation, and mitochondrial function (increased ATP energy production) by inducing an environmental shock adaptation. This is very similar to weightlifting for muscles; stressing the system forces your physiology to adapt and become better.
2) Induces ketosis for fat loss by first burning through your glycogen stores (again like exercise) and then forcing your body to burn fat for heat to keep warm.
3) Reverses leptin resistance, the culprit behind metabolic syndrome and obesity, especially in tandem with a high-fat, low-carb, ketotic diet (more good reading: Jack Kruse’s Leptin Rx).
4) Reduces stress by lowering cortisol.
5) Increases growth hormone and testosterone production, possibly as a byproduct of reducing cortisol (when your body is making lots of cortisol – your fight-or-flight response – it stops producing your anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone to channel all your resources into running away from that tiger).
Before I go on with other possible benefits, I want to address that testosterone thing for a bit, mostly for the ladies. Many folks have the idea that testosterone is male and estrogen is female, and it is true that males have a higher testosterone to estrogen ratio than women on a whole, but testosterone isn’t a bad thing for women, and they do have some. If your estrogen gets too high and your testosterone too low, you’ll typically wind up with less muscle and more fat, not to mention increased risks for cancer. Many folks facing neolithic diseases today, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome, have too much estrogen and not enough testosterone. Ladies, cold thermogenesis and a little extra testosterone won’t make you bulky with chest hair. It probably will, though, reduce your waist size a little and give you more energy and perhaps more sex drive. And for men that think they don’t need any more testosterone because they’re not football players or bodybuilders, it’ll still keep you from getting man boobs, help you heal better, help you sleep better, and help you just kick more ass in all walks of life. The research is out there on the web; check it out. Okay, off the soapbox…
6) Boosts thyroid function.
7) Enhances your body’s semiconductors for better energy transfer via coherent water (remember the stuff from the previous EMF blog?).
8) Improves your resistance to environmental stressors, especially non-native EMF.
9) Improves oxygen uptake and respiratory function which also helps athletic performance.
10) Improves sleep both in ease of falling asleep as well as in depth and quality of sleep.
11) Makes you more resilient to cold, and wouldn’t that be nice not to dread winter, constantly shiver when the room temperature is less than 80 degrees, or have cold hands and feet all the time?
I started my cold thermogenesis experiment about three weeks ago. Dr. Kruse’s protocol technically starts with face dunking in ice water for a week or two first, but I skipped that step (those that know me are laughing now and saying “Yep, that sounds like the Brett I know”). I have been using almost entirely cold showers with the occasional outdoor air exposure, barefoot in shorts, when it’s not too cold outside, though days like that have been hard to find in this winter of 2014. And why is too cold a bad thing? Well, maybe it isn’t when you’re more adapted, but you have to work your way up gradually. Bad things happen when you don’t, so heed Dave Asprey’s warning and learn from his mistake! What you’re trying to do is get your skin temperature to 50-55 degrees fahrenheit. It is at that point where your body is alerted that the environment is changing around you and that it’s time to adapt. This is also why Kruse recommends you buy a laser thermometer to measure skin temps while you do this to know that you’re at least getting cold enough to induce the adaptation but not too cold to injure yourself. And the reason for face dunking to start with is both because it’s less intense that a full-body experience and because he says your facial skin is the most sensitive and first to note the environmental change around you. For this reason, I do put my face first in the cold shower and make sure my face is getting the most exposure of any body part during the exercise.
Though individual results may vary, Kruse says the average person becomes cold-adapted at about two-three weeks. It is at this point where many of the benefits start to become apparent, though you don’t want to stop at this point either as it continues to have beneficial effects throughout and can be a vital health tool for the rest of your life. There are some things I noticed right away, though. The first time I tried it was after a gym workout, which I’ve found to be the most beneficial time to do it, both because you have some internal heat momentum going for you to make the cold more bearable, and also because you are in a high cortisol state from the workout stress (which cold can reverse) and ready for healing and recovery that night. When I got out of the shower, probably ten-fifteen minutes long, I felt amazing! My mood was significantly better. I had a sudden burst of energy and felt like I could have gone right back to the gym and ripped off another few sets (in fact, Kruse highly recommends working out right after a cold thermogenesis session). I slept like an absolute baby that night, and when I woke up in the morning, I had significantly less DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) than I typically get from weightlifting, and I had done some kick-ass work including heavy deadlifts which usually make me walk like a feeble old man with a cob up his ass for two or three days! I have to believe the recovery effect is due to a boost of growth hormone and testosterone.
After doing it for two or three weeks, then, I started noticing other things too. I started experiencing that feeling of being less shocked by cold when going outside, things like not shivering as quickly or at all, not feeling like I had to wear my stocking cap as much or at all, and not having the same psychological aversion to cold. Again, those that know me well are probably laughing while reading this. For years I have always been the coldest one in almost any group of people. I always wore my stocking cap when the temps fell below 50 degrees outside. I always wore extra clothing to go outside and avoided outdoor, winter activities. I always asked people to turn up the thermostat a few degrees. This change is taking longer, but it is coming. Some may ask, “Isn’t it all in your head?” and the answer is actually “Yes, it is.” But that doesn’t make all this BS. The adaptation is to the nervous system, both to reduce sensitivity to cold (in other words you “feel” the cold, but it’s not an offensive, fearful entity) but also to kickstart your body’s heat production to maintain your core temperature better. The mind and body are one, folks! It’s all connected. Changes in consciousness can induce changes in the physical body.
I also started to notice less muscle waisting over time, which I also attribute to the likely increase in growth hormone and testosterone (I’m really looking forward to checking my T levels in my next blood test with InsideTracker). Typically, I would lose weight quite fast between gym workouts, especially if I had an extended rest period. I might weigh 210 the day after a good workout and drop to 207 or even 205 within three days after with noticeable reductions in muscle specifically. Since cold thermogenesis, though, I can maintain that same weight or maybe just drop a pound or two, even if going four or five days without lifting in the gym. And I’m also doing it with less food, both in calories and in number of meals per day. I used to eat three big meals per day with a morning snack break, an afternoon snack break, something before bed, and a post-workout shake on gym days. Now outside of my three meals I may eat a morning snack of dark chocolate and some pickled herring or steamed mussels (though some days I’m not even interested), I still have a post-workout shake, and before bed I simply drink water with some collagen protein. I don’t get hungry as often due to the high fat at meals and the cold, both thermogenesis cold and drinking cold water, which is highly important to all this too, especially right before and after the cold shower. And for those of you with weight loss as your goal, this isn’t to say it has the opposite effect you want. What I’m talking about is gaining and maintaining muscle mass after gym workouts. The effects of the cold still induce fat burning alongside maintenance or gains in muscle mass. In short, it improves your overall body composition.
One of the best things I’ve noticed progressing steadily has been my reduced sensitivity to pain. Sitting at my desk in the office has always been horrible for me, and it’s still not good, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I also feel better sooner when I leave for the day and then move around more. My knots and aches in my neck and shoulders are reduced. My low and mid-back pain is less. Almost any type of pain continues to become smaller in scale. I had experimented with cold showers off and on in the past, both from other researching claiming increases in testosterone as well as the old exercise idea that cold showers would reduce the lactic acid buildup in muscles which exercise gurus used to think caused cramps and DOMS. That research connection on lactic acid was a little iffy and seems to have been written off, but clearly the cold, especially continuous exposure, does have an affect. Back then all I noticed was a little reduced pain immediately during and after, which I attributed to simply a numbing of the nerves, and then it would return within an hour and be no better the next day. I also had yet to address other big issues then like my diet, though, so that may have made it harder to see any benefit at the time. Now I know better. It takes a systems approach, and all these things work in concert.
There are some other things I observed that aren’t necessarily “benefits” per se, but I think they are clues as to what was happening with my physiology and cues others may want to pay attention to when trying it themselves. The second time I did it, the day after my gym day, it was much tougher to handle, and I couldn’t stand it for as long. I started shivering profusely about five minutes in, mostly in my low back. I don’t know if others experience shivering in the same places, but my low back has always been a big holder of stress and tension for me, so perhaps that’s why it also would bear the brunt of my shivering. The next day my low back was extremely sore, and I almost abandoned this altogether, but hey, I’m no quitter! As days wore on, the shivering continued to be delayed each time and sometimes was gone altogether. Shivering used to be the point at which I would decide the session was over, but now I go until I start to really feel my cardio and my breathing kick in heavily. If you’ve ever jumped into cold water, you know the feeling where you start to really breathe, hard and deeply (that’s what she said!). That’s now my cue that I’ve gotten the stress response from the cold and that I can end it for the day.
I’ve also noticed now when I go to bed that a few minutes after lying down my head, hands, and feet start to get really warm and radiate heat. The feeling on my face is almost like that of a slight fever, though I have no pain or discomfort. My hands also aren’t as cold during the day while working on my computer at the office as they normally would be. This is certainly a sign my body is adapting and starting heat generation. Night time is when the body begins to really burn fat for heat to stay warm while sleeping and dump excess fat stores it doesn’t need (at least it should when working properly). Kruse’s take on this was very enlightening to me. Humans are designed to regulate energy intake and fat storage, though our modern environment and departures from our natural circadian rhythms throw this off for many of us. In addition to daily cycles, we also normally have seasonal cycles of warm and cold in the summer and winter. Historically mammals would eat carbs during summer to build fat stores and then eat fat and protein – or nothing at all (hibernation) – in the winter using the stored fat to burn for heat. When we no longer face true cold and winter, our body stops burning the fat. Additionally, when we continue to eat carbs throughout the winter, we continue to put on more fat. This is the essence of leptin resistance and your body losing its natural fat-burning capacity. It now makes a lot more sense why fat and cold are key to energy and fat regulation and why overeating carbs and sheltering yourself from cold can make you tired and fat. Kruse even argues that diabetes (type II, metabolic syndrome) is more of an epigenetic adaptation for surviving cold than it is a disease, but when you never face cold and still eat carbs to put on more fat during winter, it becomes chronic and never reverses as it is supposed to in the winter months. If that just blew up a lightbulb in your head, you’re not alone! It really clicked for me after understanding that too.
The last cool observation I found was that after a good session of cold thermogenesis, I got that swollen, vascular feeling the same way I did after a gym workout, though it was a little less extreme. This evidently happens for two reasons (at least two that I have pieced together through reading, maybe more), one being the improved circulation and two being the fact that the cold depletes muscle glycogen stores the same way exercise does! I think this connection is another reason it is enhancing my workouts and recovery, and it also helps explain why cold can be just as effective, if not more so, for fat loss than exercise. I thought the improved circulation was a little counterintuitive at first given that cold usually slows things down, which it does at the moment of the cold-stress event, but the rebound effect of your body’s adaptation appears to bounce back even stronger.
In summary, I’ve found cold thermogenesis to be one of the most profound health-boosting experiences I’ve had to date. It may even be more profound than my dietary changes, although it’s hard to decouple those since they work hand-in-hand, and I had fixed my diet already over a year ago with continuous tweaks thereafter. The specific tweaks I’ve made recently to go along with cold thermogenesis, per Kruse’s recommendations, are to eat more fat and less carbs (even more strict than I did before), eat more seafood (including sea vegetables like kelp) for higher electron content, DHA for the brain, and iodine for the thyroid, and drink my water cold and void of fluoride to increase semiconductive energy transfers in my body (that quantum physics stuff again…bazinga!). I also added a filter to my shower to reduce fluoride and chlorine as it can be absorbed through the skin and lungs very easily as well, which also had a great side benefit of reducing my dry and itchy skin during the harsh winter!
Since this has been a rather long and dense post, here’s a little list of notes and items you may want to find and/or research. Kruse’s protocol is the general map, but I learned a few things on my own that may be helpful for others as well:
1) Work up slowly, probably starting with face-dunking (even though I didn’t). You don’t want to wind up with frostbite.
2) When on to cold showers/baths, go for at least ten to twenty minutes. Eventually you can do about an hour.
3) Water is important and probably worth a bunch of posts on its own:
a) Get a shower filter (I started with a Sprite filter from Home Depot, but there are better ones)
b) Drink non-fluoridated water (reverse osmosis system or bottled, or a ZeroWater filter works ok)
c) Drink your water as cold as possible and lots of it
4) Eat cold-water seafood as much as you can, especially oysters and other crustaceans. Lots of sea vegetables are good too, and I found bags of dried kelp at Whole Foods which last for years and actually taste great as a snack alone, a bit like chewy beef jerky with the sea salt!
5) Eat lots of healthy fats like grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, coconut oil, etc.
6) Try cold thermogenesis after a stressful day rather than alcohol or other less than healthy “stress relievers,” and you’ll be surprised how well it works.
7) Get a laser thermometer to be sure you’re getting cold enough for adaptation but not overdoing it.
Good luck, and stay cold!