EFFECTS OF COLD SHOWERS ON HEALTH
By Kelvin Manyega
If you have to take cold showers like me then this might be of interest to you. I always want to take a cold shower but I dread the smell of running cold water, it reminds me of flu. The fear is worse when you don’t have a shower-head in your bathroom so the water comes down like a waterfall. Enough said about fear, now there is a lot of information circulating in the net about the numerous benefits of cold showers. These include stress relief, weight loss, boosted immunity, healthy skin among others. An interesting one is that it boosts testosterone and improves fertility in men. I am tempted to believe them but I choose to maintain my suspicions. Closely linked to cold showers is cold weather and its perceived effects on health. I can’t help but suggest an association between cold weather and the number of sneezes at a morning class in July. Being rained on is just similar to taking an involuntary cold shower. To seek objectivity in this matter I opted to do a search for scientific evidence supporting these said benefits or refuting them. This evidence is not comprehensive but it should be enough to bust a few myths about cold showers.
Effects on mood and mood disorders
A serial blogger on the net claims that cold showers builds will power, increases alertness and increases emotional resilience. On the contrary, I believe taking a cold shower in the morning requires tremendous will-power. It consumes mental energy that you could as well use for more productive tasks like studying or working. Well, research proves that a cold shower is an effective treatment for depression. This occurs due to stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Besides this, the numerous cold receptor of the skin send electrical impulses to the brain producing relief of depressive symptoms. Apparently, this is further supported by the theory that the lack of necessary thermal exercise (brief exposure to extreme temperatures) which is an acquired evolutionary habit of primates has made modern human beings’ brains dull and more prone to emotional stressors. The blogger also alludes to James Bond’s ‘Scottish showers’- start warm then finish cold; they made him hardy. If you want to be like James Bond cool, sharp and hardy then cold showers are the way to go.
Skin and beauty
Some reputable dermatologists believe that a cold shower will cause your skin to shrink thus reducing stretch marks and wrinkles making you appear younger. It also helps the skin and hair retain natural oils. This is good news if you want to remain ‘forever young’.
Respiratory disorders and asthma
Cold weather is associated with an increase in respiratory related clinic visits about two weeks from the day of cold weather as per the results of a study carried out in the UK. Whether there is a direct causative relationship between low temperatures and respiratory disease is still not proven. I assume that taking a cold shower or being rained on in cold weather could increase the risk for respiratory disease. My assumption may be wrong if we consider the findings of a research conducted in the USA. This research shows that building dampness and mould is associated with an increase in respiratory disorders and asthma. Building dampness and mould increases during the rainy season therefore an indirect relationship, as opposed to direct, may be present between cold rainy weather and respiratory problems. On asthma, a study published by the American Physiological Society demonstrates that direct inhalation of cold air is a more significant trigger for bronchoconstriction (airway thinning) as compared to cutaneous (skin) exposure to cold as the case is in taking a cold shower. This is important for asthmatics in that taking a cold shower may not necessarily trigger an asthma attack. The same study points out that only exposure to low temperatures on the face could cause bronchoconstriction and not other parts of the body like the chest, thighs or upper arms. So do you still believe that taking a cold shower could give you flu or an asthma attack?
Cardiovascular effects and diseases
A frigid shower may help encourage circulation and therefore improve cellular health and nutrition. Immediate cardiovascular outcomes of cold shower resemble those of a vigorous aerobic exercise. Here we’re talking about elevated blood pressure, pulse rate and cardiac output. The above effects are caused by stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Whether these effects are positive or negative depends on an individuals’ age and health status. For individuals with heart disease a cold shower may be a direct ticket to the death bed. This is according to a review of evidence published in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal where a clear line is drawn linking cardiovascular disorders with exposure to low temperature. High blood pressure is a known risk factor in stroke. A cold shower will elevate blood pressure and trigger a stroke in patients with cerebrovascular (brain vessels) abnormalities. So what would you tell your old grandfathers who swears upon the healing effects of a cold bath? He might as well get a stroke while having one. This is tricky.
Elderly patients (above 65yrs) appear to be more at risk of both respiratory disease and heart related events after exposure to low temperatures. Surprisingly both heat and cold related cardiovascular mortality is observed in elderly patients as suggested by a 2006 study in England and Wales. Cold showers may be tolerated by younger individuals but surely not an appropriate prescription for senior citizens.
Muscle soreness after exercise
There are claims that a cold bath improves recovery from muscle soreness after a period of vigorous exercise. These are claims are trashed by a controlled study involving experienced marathoners where it was discovered that there was no difference in recovery from soreness between the cold shower group and the control group. The cold showers in this study were taken prior to running.
I bet now we are better informed of the effects of cold showers on our health. If you require reading more around this theme consult the resources listed below.
- Shevchuk N.A. 2007. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical Hypotheses. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052
- Hajat S et al. Associations of cold temperatures with GP consultations for respiratory and cardiovascular disease amongst the elderly in London. International Journal of Epidemiology Volume 31, Issue 4Pp. 825-830
- Berk JL et al. Cold-induced bronchoconstriction: role of cutaneous reflexes vs. direct airway effects.
- Laing MT et al. Effect of cooling on muscular health prior to running a marathon. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association [2001, 101(4):219-225]
- Hajat S. Heat-related and cold-related deaths in England and Wales: who is at risk? Occup Environ Med 2007;64:93-100 doi:10.1136/oem.2006.029017
- Keatinge WR. Cardiovascular responses to ice-cold showers. Journal of Applied Physiology Published 1 November 1964 Vol. 19 no. 6, 1145-1150
- 2014. 15 Benefits of Cold Showers That Will Blow Your Mind. http://www.menprovement.com/benefits-of-cold-showers/
- Fisk WJ et al. Meta-analyses of the associations of respiratory health effects with dampness and mold in homes. INDOOR AIR doi:10.1111/j.1600-0668.2007.00475.x
- Braga ALF et al. The Effect of Weather on Respiratory and Cardiovascular Deaths in 12 U.S. Cities. Environmental Health Perspectives • VOLUME 110 | NUMBER 9 | September 2002