How cold would you go to burn fat and cut diabetes risk?

Are you ready for a good swim in an icy lake?


There’s a large body of popular literature claiming that cold water immersion can do all sorts of things: end chronic pain, ward of dementia, reduce symptoms of depression, boost the immune system and help you lose weight.

But the scientific proof for much of this is spotty.

That’s why a group of Norwegian researchers set out to get things straight.

Here’s what they discovered.

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Cold water increases “good” fat

Three Norwegian scientists conducted a detailed search of the scientific literature on the subject of cold water immersion. They analyzed 104 studies and the health claims they made.

The one health benefit they found to be conclusive was that cold water swimming or bathing increases the amount of beige fat in your body.

This “good fat” actually can burn calories, which in turn can help protect against obesity and heart disease.

And one more thing — a cold bath or swim seems to be related to a process that can prevent diabetes.

Several of the studies the scientists examined give credit to the possibility that beige fat improves glucose metabolism by increasing the production of the protein adiponectin. This protein plays a key role in protecting against insulin resistance.

So what about other health claims?

Lead author James Mercer of The Arctic University of Norway explains why more research is needed before broad claims can be made about the health benefits of cold water immersion.

“Based on the results from this review, many of the health benefits claimed from regular cold exposure may not be causal. Instead, they may be explained by other factors including an active lifestyle, trained stress handling, social interactions, as well as a positive mindset.

“Without further conclusive studies, the topic will continue to be a subject of debate.”

In other words, losing weight, feeling less depressed, or having more energy may actually be a result of other behaviors like regular exercise and handling stress well, and cold water immersion may just be “going along for the ride.”

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Should you try cold water therapy?

If you decide you’d like to give cold water immersion a try, and think, “What have I got to lose?” Mercer and his colleagues have a word or two of advice for you.

Education is needed regarding the health risks associated with taking a dip in icy water, say the study authors.

These risks include hypothermia, where your body loses heat more quickly than it can produce it. Body temperature can drop so low that the heart, nervous system and other organs cannot function properly. Hypothermia is considered a medical emergency.

Also, studies show that plunging into cold water without giving the body time to adjust can result in abnormal heart rhythms that can be fatal, particularly in warm weather.

So, while cold water immersion seems to hold promise as a practice with some great health benefits, it’s probably best to talk with your doctor before trying it, and to perhaps pursue other methods of improving your health or losing weight until more research has been done.

However, if you want to give the “live cold, die old” lifestyle a try, you’re only option isn’t jumping into a cold lake with both feet. Drinking coffee and lowering the thermostat have been found to stimulate brown fat as well, not to mention the Japanese study that found fish oil can help too.

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An icy swim may cut ‘bad’ body fat, but further health benefits unclear — Science Daily

Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a continuing subject of debate — International Journal of Circumpolar Health

Heart Attack Warning Over Cold Water  —

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.