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Cold Plunge Therapy for MS

Updated: Feb 17

Ice baths treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis


  • Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that results in dysfunction of the central nervous system. There is no cure.

  • Cold water therapy can alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and enable patients to participate in exercise and family activities.

  • Former Navy SEAL Justin Hoagland uses a practice of daily ice baths to leave his wheelchair behind, begin working out again, and show up for his family.

Cold plunge helps multiple sclerosis patients

Although there are nearly two dozen FDA-approved medications for treating multiple sclerosis, perhaps none of them work as well as whole body cold water immersion.

The dangers of overheating are well known to both those who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) and their doctors. For example, Guthrie & Nelson (1995) described a myriad of mechanisms and complications that arise in MS patients exposed to high temperatures -- a phenomenon that has been well-known for decades (e.g., Nelson & McDowell 1959).

Might it stand to reason that, since heat is bad for MS, then cold therapy might be good?

Two of our best customers at Morozko Forge think so.

Former Navy SEAL Justin Hoagland (pictured above) and FUMS, Inc. Founder Julie Blew have both chronicled in other articles their experiences using ice baths to maintain their super-active life styles despite otherwise crippling diagnoses of MS (see below).

However, medical science has largely overlooked the mechanism by which cold water immersion offers relief from the same symptoms that high temperatures create. For instance, Miller et al. (2016) discovered that treatment of MS by whole body cryotherapy was particularly effective in treating symptoms of fatigue -- a finding recently corroborated by Alexandra et al. (2021) -- but neither study speculated about the mechanisms.

A recent review article (Khatir et al. 2020) offers some clues.

Researchers believe that hereditary, nutritional and environmental factors may be involved... in the emergence of MS. The most accepted theory of the cause of MS is considered an autoimmune mechanism, in that an environmental factor such as viral infections stimulates the immune system and forms antibodies against the myelin of the nervous tissue, thereby destroying the nerve myelin and leading to nervous symptoms... . - Khatir et al. 2020

Myelin is made up of fat and protein and is used to cover and aid in nerve fiber conduction. In MS, plaques (sclerosis) form on the nerve fibers of the central nervous system (CNS). When myelin destroys as a result of plaque formation, nerve fiber conductance reduces or absent. This phenomenon, demyelination, causes nerve messages not sent from the brain. Some nerve fibers, or axons, never recover from the effects of demyelination and are damaged resulting in axonal destruction.

In other words, it is well understood that the mechanism of demyelination causing multiple sclerosis is plaque formation. Given the fact that atherosclerosis (formation of plaque in the arteries) and Alzheimer's disease (in which plaque forms in the brain -- e.g., Abeysinghe et al. 2020) share a common underlying cause, perhaps therapies that prevent excess plaque are worthy of further investigation.

Especially since none of these conditions respond well to drugs, a more promising pathway for new hypotheses might be to test whether alternative therapies like deliberate cold exposure might prove useful for treating all of these diseases.

Brown fat protects against sclerosis

One of the best protections against atherosclerosis is activation of brown fat via deliberate cold exposure (e.g., Berbée et al. 2015). Moreover, the interaction of insulin resistance and Alzheimer's has recently been documented (Kellar & Craft 2021) and one of the fastest ways to treat insulin resistance is deliberate cold exposure.

That means the mechanisms by which multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer's emerge might all be related to metabolic syndrome. And the mechanisms by which an ice bath can correct metabolic syndrome might also be those that treat each one of these diseases.


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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