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Cold Plunge Research

Correcting misconceptions in ice bath science


In my talk at March 2024 talk at CryoCon in Dallas TX I claimed there was a "revolution going on in the science of cold exposure."


Summary

  • Cold plunge practices are fraught with popular misconceptions that only scientific research can correct.

  • The best cold plunge research of my lifetime has been done in non-NATO countries beyond the reach of NIH and pharmaceutical funding. The data from these countries suggests that a regular practice of ice baths can be more effective than many drugs for treating cancer, major depression, Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.

  • To strengthen the research community in the United States, Morozko is partnering with the Neural Control Lab at Arizona State University to plan a Cold Plunge Research Conference for June 2025 in Phoenix AZ.



My Son's Diabetes Data Contradicted Medical Advice

When my son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 6, I was a naive doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering. Because I was also a dutiful father, I took my son to all of his recommended appointments with his endocrinologists and dieticians. Over the years, we drove hours together to visit specialists in Syracuse NY, Boston MA, and Indianapolis IN. To guide his care, I kept scrupulous records of his blood glucose readings, insulin injections, food intake, and exercise levels.


But no matter which board-certified expert we visited, a consistent pattern of misconceptions and outright lies emerged.

What we were told:

What the data said:

"You can eat whatever you want, as long as you inject enough fast-acting insulin for it."

There is no amount of insulin injection that seems to compensate for the blood sugar spike that an Oreo cookie will create in the body of a 6-year-old boy.

"Eating protein does not increase blood sugar. It's impossible."

A few hours after a near-zero carbohydrate meal (e.g., cheeseburger with no bun, no ketchup) my son would experience an increase in blood sugar that required extra insulin.

"Ketosis is a dangerous metabolic state that requires immediate medical attention."

Ketosis is a healthy metabolic state that can be self-managed in Type 1 diabetics who have sufficient knowledge of their own metabolism.

As my son matured, and new technologies like the insulin pump and continuous blood glucose monitors (CGM) were introduced, he gained the capacity to manage his Type 1 diabetes without my constant oversight. That was when I realized I'd been so worried about his health that I'd neglected my own.


What I Had to Learn About My Own Metabolism

By the time I became a tenured Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State in 2010, I had ballooned up to almost 250lbs. A few years later, my wife was no longer attracted to me and my marriage was falling apart.


I resolved that it was finally time to start taking my own health seriously. I started exercising, taking cold showers, skipping meals, and quit alcohol.


I lost more than 50lbs.


Then a routine blood panel revealed that my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were about 7 ng/ml -- about twice what might be considered "normal" for a man my age. At the time, I didn't know what that meant except that I should go to a medical doctor, have a prostate exam, probably a biopsy, and maybe a prostatectomy.


I wrote about that experience in a series of articles designed to help inform middle-aged men who might otherwise be subjected to the same kind of bad medical advice my son and I got about his diabetes. Here's a sampling:



Instead of doing what every medical doctor would have insisted I must do, I started doing ketosis and a 34F ice bath for several minutes every single day. My testosterone went up, my PSA went down, and I found myself in the best health I'd been since I was married more than twenty years earlier.


My experience got me wondering about what other kinds of medical misconceptions I'd been harboring all that time when I was letting my health decay. So I turned my research skills towards learning about alternative ways to improve my health.


I learned some amazing things:

Lies I used to believe:

What I found out was true instead:

Sunshine causes skin cancer.

Sunshine is associated with lower risk of mortality from cancer. It is seed oils and artificial lights that weaken the immune system and damage skin.

Seed oils like canola and cotton are healthier than butter and other animal fats.

Animal fats are healthy, and so-called "vegetable" oils that are actually extracted from inedible seeds are poisonous.

To get in great shape and lose weight, you have to do lots of cardio.

Resistance training is more effective for general health than cardio, and it probably doesn't take more than 60 minutes/week of weight training to get into good shape.

Weight loss requires calorie restriction and hunger. Weight gain is due to a surplus of calories.

Body composition is controlled by hormones, not by calories. Ultra-processed foods are more dangerous than excess calories.

Cancer is a genetic disorder that originates in aberrant mutations in nucleic DNA.

Mitochondria have their own DNA, separate from the cell nucleus. Many types of cancer originate in the mitochondria, not the cell nucleus.

Changes in the Science of Cold Plunge

Had my earlier experiences with my son's diabetes not prepared me to be skeptical of official medical advice, I might never had tried ice baths, much less learned how to use cold plunge therapy to reduce inflammation, reverse Type 2 diabetes, support cancer therapy, manage auto-immune disorders, and boost low testosterone. Nonetheless, the whole time that I was struggling with trying to figure out everything for myself, there was a revolution going on in the science of cold plunge therapy that almost no one in the United States was talking about... until now.


The best scientific work in the last twenty years has been done in the countries that were not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the cold war -- especially the former Soviet bloc countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain, but also the border countries Sweden and Finland that were never part of the Soviet empire, but weren't part of the NATO alliance, either. I've often wondered about that coincidence, until I finally realized:


The best medical science research on cold plunge therapy is performed in countries that were beyond the reach of American pharmaceutical money until at least the mid-90's.

In the table below, I've compiled several examples of the misconceptions and lies associated with cold plunge that have been overturned by new studies and listed some examples of studies that helped reveal the truth.

Popular myths, lies, & misconceptions:

The truth:

Source:

Adult humans do not have brown fat.

Regular cold exposure will retain or restore brown fat in adults and confer metabolic and neurological benefits.

An ice bath after exercise is best for recovery.

Ice baths before exercise will boost performance, increase muscle gains, and speed recovery.

Sakamoto et al. 1991 (Japan), Jurecka et al 2022 (Poland), Fenemor et al. 2022 (New Zealand)

Cold plunge will curb libido, shrink the penis, inhibit sexual performance and impair erectile function.

Men (and women) report increased sexual satisfaction & libido resulting from cold plunge.

Néma et al. 2023 (Czech Republic)


Ice baths will cause adrenal fatigue, dangerous cortisol spikes, or burn out adrenal glands.

Ice baths likely modulate cortisol -- i.e., increase it when it is too low, and decrease it when it is too high.

Šrámek et al. 2000 (Czech Republic), Leppäluoto et al. 2008 (Finland), Eimonte et al 2022 (Lithuania)

Should Cold Plunge Research Wait for the NIH?

Although it's rare, some excellent work in cold science has been done in the United States as well. For example, in Precool Your Workout, I cited Prof. Craig Heller at Stanford University, who has done some of the best work on cooling for exercise performance. Nonetheless, the best research related to ice baths comes from countries that Tony Fauci and the US National Institute of Health (NIH) never funded. For example, inspection of NIH funding in the fiscal year 2022 reveals that there are no awards in Poland or Lithuania -- where some of the most cited studies have been conducted. Sweden and Finland combined received less than $3 million in awards. By contrast, Ugandan awards total about $12 million and in the United States, my father's former employer the University of Pittsburgh received over $675 million.


One of my goals at Morozko is to strengthen and accelerate US-based independent research related to cold plunge therapy science. For example, there is still precious little reliable information related to female sex hormones, menstrual cycles, and extreme ice bath practices. There are now several case studies related to management of auto-immune disorders and lots of information on the brain benefits of cold plunge therapy, but still no systematic clinical trials. To correct these oversights, we need a research community of scientists, physicians, other clinicians, trainers, and patients who will share knowledge, translate research findings into practice, and guide research priorities.


So I'm creating one by partnering Morozko with the Arizona State University (my full-time employer) and my friend Marco Santello, PhD, who directs the ASU Neural Control Lab. Late June 2024, we will be convening an influential group of thought leaders in cold plunge therapy research and practice to plan the first ever Cold Plunge Research conference, to be held in downtown Phoenix AZ a year later.


What could be more fitting than convening in the hottest city in the western hemisphere, on the longest days of the year, so we can talk about the benefits of being cold?


The workshop is not open to the public, although we will be recording and publishing excerpts of the presentations. For example, we will be hearing from:


  • Marius Brazaitis, PhD (Lithuanian Sports University) who has conducted the most detailed and comprehensive work to date on cortisol response to cold plunge.

  • Marc Cohen, PhD, MD (Extreme Wellness Institute, Australia) who studies the role that ice baths play in the performance and success of elite athletes.

  • Joseph Dituri, PhD, CDR (ret), who served as a Navy dive officer for 28 years prior to earning his PhD in biomedical engineering, suffering a traumatic brain injury, and healing himself with hyperbaric, red light, and ice bath therapy.

  • Kirk Parsley, MD who served as a Navy SEAL prior to medical school, then returned to service as a physician to the Navy SEALS and now uses the ice baths in his medical practice to help heal military veterans with traumatic brain injury.

  • Jacob Perkins, DC who uses ice baths in his Lehi UT medical practice to resolve chronic pain in his patients.


The workshop will also include several patients who have healed from PTSD, brain injury, major depression, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer after adopting a practice of cold plunge therapy.


Cold Plunge Therapy Research Conference

The eventual conference will convene scientists, clinicians, patients, social media influencers, athletes, and business owners in cold plunge and cryotherapy so that we can better steer the research agenda, translate the latest findings into practice, and speed the dissemination of better knowledge that will help heal those suffering from a myriad of diseases. There will not be giveaways, or contests, or coupon codes. The Cold Plunge Research Conference won't be a trade show or charge special speaking fees to people who want privileged access to the audience so they can advertise their products, because that's not how scientific conference typically work. Instead there will be published and unpublished research presentations, new hypotheses, panel discussions, poster sessions, and discussion of how the latest data can inform our efforts to empower people to choose their own health state.


If you're a science geek like me, who pores over the citations to find clues that might help explain the fantastic results people are reporting on social media, then I hope to meet you there.


References

  • Eimonte M, Eimantas N, Baranauskiene N, Solianik R, Brazaitis M. Kinetics of lipid indicators in response to short-and long-duration whole-body, cold-water immersion. Cryobiology. 2022 Dec 1;109:62-71.

  • Fenemor SP, Gill ND, Driller MW, Mills B, Sella F, Beaven CM. Small Performance Effects of a Practical Mixed-Methods Cooling Strategy in Elite Team Sport Athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2023 Oct 2;94(4):1162-8.

  • Jurecka A, Woźniak A, Mila-Kierzenkowska C, Augustyńska B, Oleksy Ł, Stolarczyk A, Gądek A. The influence of single whole-body cryostimulation on cytokine status and oxidative stress biomarkers during exhaustive physical effort: a crossover study. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2023 Mar 14;24(6):5559.

  • Leppäluoto J, Westerlund T, Huttunen P, Oksa J, Smolander J, Dugué B, Mikkelsson M. Effects of long‐term whole‐body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta‐endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females. Scandinavian journal of clinical and laboratory investigation. 2008 Jan 1;68(2):145-53.

  • Nedergaard J, Bengtsson T, Cannon B. Unexpected evidence for active brown adipose tissue in adult humans. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2007 Aug 1.

  • Néma J, Zdara J, Lašák P, Bavlovič J, Bureš M, Pejchal J, Schvach H. Impact of cold exposure on life satisfaction and physical composition of soldiers. BMJ Mil Health. 2023 Jan 4.

  • Sakamoto K, Wakabayashi I, Yoshimoto S, Masui H, Katsuno S. Effects of physical exercise and cold stimulation on serum testosterone level in men. Nippon Eiseigaku Zasshi (Japanese Journal of Hygiene). 1991 Jun 15;46(2):635-8.

  • Šrámek P, Šimečková M, Janský L, Šavlíková J, Vybíral S. Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. European journal of applied physiology. 2000 Feb;81:436-42.


 

About the Author

Thomas P Seager, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University. Seager co-founded the Morozko Forge ice bath company and is an expert in the use of ice baths for building metabolic and psychological resilience.




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