Back in September of 2017, before Jason C Stauffer and I started ice baths, I had a health scare based on an elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test result. Normal for a man my age at that time was less than 3.5 ng/ml.
Mine came back at 7.
I started doing some reading and I came to learn that only 25% of elevated PSA results are indicative of cancer. Still, at my last prostate exam ten years earlier, my doctor commented that my prostate was enlarged and it was probably nothing to worry about, but she'd like to "keep an eye on it."
I haven't had any exams since.
Prostate cancer typically grows slowly, so I thought it was conceivable that whatever enlargement was detected ten years ago had grown into a full-blown cancer.
Was I becoming incontinent? Feeling the urge to pee all the time? Experiencing difficulty urinating?
I didn't even know. I became hypersensitive to any perceived change in my urination habits, and that didn't help me at all. The more I tried to be aware of difficulties in urination, the more paranoid I got about my pee.
Although the normal thing to do would be to go back to my doctor for another exam. I wasn't so sure.
I decided to talk to other men, first.
You might be surprised how little men talk about the aspects of their anatomy they all have in common. There's no customary way to raise topics of male reproductive health among other men. Yet here I was, trying to chat up any man approximately my age, and especially my older friends, about the condition of their prostate.
As it turned out, almost every man had a story to tell, Some had their prostates removed. Others had biopsies. Others had radiation.
Each and every one of their stories sounded like a nightmare to me. I resolved to treat my elevated PSA without further contact with the medical establishment, which I became certain would set in motion a cascade of catastrophic and painful procedures that would eventually render me impotent.
I decided that before I had a biopsy, I'd try a ketogenic diet.
I didn't share my diet decision with anyone but one of my closest confidants. At that time, the idea that a ketogenic diet could treat or reduce the risk of cancer was still very controversial, and because most of my older male friends are academics with doctorates like me, they don't trust anything that seems to contradict established medical science.
But the metabolic theory of cancer isn't new. In medicine, it's called the Warburg Effect (e.g., Liberti & Localsale 2016) and it's been documented by scientific studies for over 90 years. It demonstrates that cancer cells require glucose to grow, because most forms of cancer are incapable of metabolizing fat. Instead, they thrive on excess glucose in the bloodstream.. A ketogenic diet starves the cancer cells of glucose because it requires reducing carbohydrate intake to levels that are insufficient to maintain basic metabolic function with glucose alone. At near-zero carb intake, the body switches to a fat-based metabolism that produces ketones.
I found that out the hard way in 2001, when my 6 year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Because his pancreas wasn't producing insulin, he was incapable of glucose metabolism, and his body was producing so many ketones that he was at risk of ketoacidosis -- a life-threatening condition that results from changes in the pH of the blood.
It is partly because ketosis can be dangerous for Type 1 diabetics that the diet has a bad reputation. Many medical doctors will discourage their patients from experimenting with ketosis, but I already knew from 15 years of managing my son's diabetes that ketosis presented no danger to me.
The ketogenic diet for treatment of cancer has become much more popular since publication of Tripping Over the Truth: The Return of the Metabolic Theory of Cancer (Cristofferson 2016). As it turns out, a ketogenic diet not only starves cancer cells, but kills them outright as if ketosis was the body's own natural chemotherapy (e.g., Weber et al. 2018, and Weber et al. 2020).
Since at least 1965, medical science has understood that one of the fastest ways to produce ketones is acute cold exposure (Hanson & Johnson 1965).
Because I live in Phoenix Arizona, there is no such thing as a cold shower in August. Phoenix is the hottest major city in North America, and the tap water here reaches temperatures in the upper 80's during the summer.
But temperatures start to cool off by November, and I started thinking I might produce more ketones if I dropped the water temperature of my showers.
I'd already read Mike Cernovich's 2015 book Gorilla Mindset and experimented with the cold showers he advocated as a psychological challenge. I hated it.
I struggled, until I read Scott Carney's account of Wim Hof's remarkable stamina and health in What Doesn't Kill Us (Carney 2017). Carney's description of Hof's breathing technique helped relax me during those showers, and that helped me extend my cold shower practice and stay in ketosis longer.
By December 2017, just 3 months later, my PSA had dropped into the middle of the normal range.
I don't really know if the ice baths brought my PSA levels down, or if they would have come down all by themselves. But I was relieved and impressed and convinced that deliberate cold exposure was an essential part of my improvement.
To be sure it wasn't some sort of anomaly, I tested again six months later. That was the summer of 2018, and by then Jason and I had started a regular practice of ice baths and founded Morozko Forge for the purpose of manufacturing equipment that would freeze water for us and save us the hassle of buying ice from the store.
To my satisfaction, my PSA dropped a little lower.
And something else jumped off the lab results page, highlighted in red.
My total testosterone (T level), after less than a year of deliberate cold exposure, was way above normal, because 1180 ng/dL in a 52 year old is almost unheard of. Back in 2017, when I first got my elevated PSA results, my testosterone measured 768 ng/dL, which would be considered excellent for a man my age.
After less than a year of ice baths, my testosterone was now off the charts.
The figure below shows the results of total testosterone measured in 130 men participating in a 2003 study on erectile dysfunction. In this graph, the units are ng/ml so the results have to be multiplied by 100 to compare with the units in my report. That means that half the study participants had T levels below 500 ng/DL and only 3 reached levels that exceeded mine.
Tsujimura et al. 2003
My urologist was alarmed.
He ordered another test, this time for something called Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which stimulates the natural production of testosterone by the gonads. If my LH levels were also elevated, that would tell my urologist that I was producing these extraordinary T levels naturally. But if LH was low, he'd probably call me a liar and accuse me of taking anabolic steroids.
These were my results, from Dec 2018.
Once again, off the charts.
Although Morozko Forge was still a month away from its first sale, I'd been practicing deliberate cold exposure with ice baths for over a year, and the anabolic hormonal benefits thus far had been practically miraculous.
Studies that investigate the relationship between cold exposure and testosterone in men are rare The few that do typically show that an ice bath will reduce total T levels for at least an hour.
The results in this 1991 Japanese study are typical (Table 1, below).
Notice how the group in column "Experiment I" used bicycle exercise to raise their testosterone from 480 ng/dL to 580ng/dL? But when they got in the ice bath after exercising, their testosterone plummeted to levels lower than before their exercise, meaning that cold exposure wiped out all their T gains and then some. This tells us that cold exposure for exercise recovery is not a good way to boost either T levels or LH.
Now check "Experiment II," in which the order of the exercise and the cold exposure were reversed. In this group, the exercise was used to recover from the cold (rather than the other way around, which is normal).
Just like with the Experiment I group, cold exposure reduced testosterone in the blood stream. But in Experiment II, starting cold exposure before exercise boosted LH levels, suggesting that more testosterone would be produced over the long term.
What even more amazing is this:
When exercising after cold exposure, T levels in the Experiment II group jumped just as much as it did in the group exercising before cold exposure and luteinizing hormone made even further gains.
Because I never use deliberate cold exposure to recovery from exercise, but instead use exercise to recover from deliberate cold exposure, my experience of increased T and LH is consistent with this unusual study of Japanese men. That suggests that I may have accidentally stumbled upon a new technique for boosting my testosterone from levels that were excellent for a man my age to levels normally reserved for oversexed 19 year olds.
It would be easy to write my experience off as unscientific, non-systematic, attributable to changes in my diet, or maybe even my divorce. There is lots of evidence that suggests married men with children have lower testosterone, compared to unmarried men.
Gray et al. 2002.
For that matter, married men in committed relationships have lower testosterone than unmarried men without a commitment to a girlfriend (e.g., Burnham et al. 2003)
On the other hand, Jason is married with children. So, a year ago I asked him to check his testosterone, too.
In Oct 2019, at age 40, Jason's total testosterone was a respectable 550 ng/dL .
A year later, at age 41, he's up to 715 ng/dL.