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Uncommon Cold Book

Science & Experience of Cold Plunge Therapy

Uncommon Cold book cover - Thomas P Seager

My ice bath book is advancing towards publication of a limited first edition that will only be available at CryoCon2024 or through Morozko Forge. This edition is the integration of hundreds of scientific studies and a dozen personal stories of health transformation I’ve conducted with readers of this blog. It has chapters on cancer, testosterone, sexual performance, autoimmune disorders, Type 2 diabetes, exercise performance, Alzhiemer’s and more.


I’m publishing the Introduction here, in its entirety, so you can get a better idea of my personal motivates for writing the book, and the difference that it might make in your own health. For the Preface, visit https://seagertp.substack.com/


Uncommon Cold: Introduction

I did not set out to become an expert in the science and practice of ice baths. I was desperate for answers to what seemed like unsolvable problems and was ready to try almost anything. I arrived here because I was reading every personal self-improvement book I could find, and one of them said I should take cold showers.


I felt stronger and more capable after a cold shower, which was my goal, but I hated every minute of them. Cold showers made me angry. Only later did I discover an obscure study out of Finland explaining the difference between partial- and whole-body cold water immersion and why one would work for me and not the other.[1] However, the fact that my cold shower practice didn't last more than a few months was not due to my inability to persevere. The problem was that I lacked cold water for my showers. I live in Phoenix, AZ, where the lowest tap water temperature can rise 85°F+ in the summertime.


So, when Jason Stauffer, a former engineering student at Arizona State University, invited me to do a Wim Hof-style ice bath (with actual ice) in a horse trough in his backyard, I enthusiastically accepted. It turns out that I like whole-body cold water immersion way better than cold showers. The problem with the ice baths was that 200 pounds of ice from the local gas station in the Phoenix summer lasts only about ten minutes before melting in the desert heat. At the time, there was no commercially available ice bath, let alone one that made ice, so being engineers, Jason and I set out to invent one. That was the beginning of Morozko Forge, LLC – the first true ice bath company in the world – and still the only one in the Western Hemisphere.


Unfortunately, once we got design and manufacturing up and running in 2018, our Morozko ice bath was hard to find online. Jason and I knew far more about engineering than marketing, advertising, or sales. That meant that the people who found us had to work really hard to do so. Our first customers were incredibly motivated to solve their own seemingly unsolvable problems. Two individuals who immediately come to mind had multiple sclerosis (MS) and were desperate to alleviate their symptoms. What I didn't know then, but sure do now, is that there are nearly twenty different FDA-approved drugs for managing MS symptoms – and none of them appear to work as well as ice baths.


Another early adopter was Dean Hall - an Oregon man who became our first out-of-state customer. He told me an unbelievable story about curing his cancer by swimming the entire length of the cold Willamette River in Portland, OR. I told him I knew nothing about cancer or the impacts of ice baths on it, but I'd be happy to ship him a Morozko. Months later, curious about his miraculous turnaround and facing my own health scare, I discovered Professor Thomas Seyfried's studies on the metabolic origins of cancer, the benefits of the ketogenic diet, and how whole-body cold exposure can inhibit tumor growth. I was just beginning to scratch the surface of what cold plunge therapy and ice bathing can do for health.


I'm an engineer, not a medical professional or a salesman – and for those reasons, you won't find either medical advice or any sort of guarantee in this book.

What you will find are references to clinical trials blended with individual stories. The point of writing this was to consolidate and share what I have learned, including both general information and anecdotal insights into a wide variety of conditions that afflict countless people, while describing the potential mechanisms through which cold therapy may be beneficial. Thus, I encourage you to consider this book a guide for your N=1 journey into cold plunge therapy.

 

When I tell you about the dissolution of my marriage and the problems it posed for my mental health and well-being, it's not because I've discovered a magic elixir for failing marriages. Ice baths did not save my marriage. But they did help me with my relationships following my divorce.


Sex, Love, Romance

In the chapters on love, sex, and romance & reproductive health, you'll read about how an ice bath with your romantic partner can produce the same hormones and neurotransmitters that are associated with the different types of love identified by Helen Fisher, Ph.D.[2] You'll learn how ice baths can boost testosterone, enhance sexual function and libido, increase a sense of connection, and make us more attractive. You'll read about how cold plunge therapy can help women and men seeking to conceive a child, and how pregnant women who get some cold exposure are statistically likely to have better birth outcomes as well as hear from two women who used ice baths during their pregnancies with great success.


Stress, Mood, & Psychological Resilience

In the chapter on stress, mood management, and PTSD, you'll read about how ice bath therapy can help you manage stress, maintain your composure under pressure, enhance your thinking, and improve the single most important physiological measure of psychological resilience — heart rate variability. You'll meet Sarah, who has resolved her persistent depression with winter swimming and read about the research that explains why it works for her. You'll also learn about heart rate variability and somatic routes to trauma recovery, as well as how to optimize ice bath temperatures to maximize the psychological benefits and what happens to your brain waves when submerged up to your neck in freezing water.


Longevity, Aging, Chronic Illness

In the chapters on longevity, autoimmune disorders, and obesity, you'll learn about aging as a metabolic disorder and how insulin resistance is associated with every leading cause of death from chronic illness in the United States. Even better, you'll learn what you can do to prevent or reverse insulin resistance. You'll discover the seemingly miraculous benefits of brown fat— a fat that makes up more than a quarter of a baby's total stores but wasn't recognized in adults until 2002. You'll review two decades of ground-breaking brown fat research that has followed this discovery and its critical role in reducing the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, thyroid disorders, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Most importantly, you'll learn how you can activate your brown fat with no more than 11 minutes a week of ice bath therapy.


Brain Function, & Dementia

In the chapter on brain power, you'll read about the metabolic origins of major depression and Alzheimer's dementia and the evolutionary biology of comfort. You'll learn about how a regular practice of ice baths can correct metabolic dysfunction and boost brain energy and how cold exposure stimulates the production of the neuroprotective hormone called FGF21 in brown fat that can accelerate healing from traumatic brain injury.


Cancer

In the chapter on cancer, you'll read a critique of the prevailing theory of cancer and learn about the alternative explanation of a metabolic mechanism. You'll read about how glucose serves a fuel for the majority of tumor types and how starving tumors of glucose can inhibit their growth or even shrink them.


Exercise & Athletic Performance

And since I get more questions about athletic performance than any other cold-related topic, I've included chapters on testosterone & sports performance and recovery. I'm no athlete, but I've learned that cooling before or during a workout can result in a 25% or more boost in peak power production and increased endurance. The advice in this chapter will probably go against everything your high school coaches ever taught you. Still, when you try it for yourself, you might become convinced you should usually do your ice bath before exercise (not after) to optimize gains and speed recovery. I'll also show you how I accidentally boosted my testosterone levels by almost 50% without drugs.


Human Biology of Cold - Brown Fat

And, to help you contextualize all this information, I start with an exploration of how our human ancestors may have spent more time in water than we ever imagined and evolved to expect cold – and how not getting enough of it can be detrimental to bodies that are adapted to expect it. 


Dangers, Risks, Contraindications & Precautionary Protocols


Finally, in the chapter on Dangers & Contraindications, you'll read about who shouldn't attempt ice bathing without first consulting their doctor as well as learn best practices for mitigating known risks and ensuring safety in the ice bath.

Woven throughout all of the information are stories that people have shared with me about their own experience with cold plunge therapy, as well as many of my own which help put a human face on this research and are the reason why sharing this info with as many people as possible is so important.


Warning: Ice baths are not easy

A word of caution: Nothing in this book is to be attempted by the faint of heart, or by those with significant medical issues without first discussing it with your physician.


In her book, The Upside of Stress, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, describes a standardized diagnostic for measuring stress response called the cold pressor test.[3] It works by having the subject submerge a hand in a bowl of ice water while a researchers monitor vital signs like heart rate, breath rate, or fingertip perspiration. The longer the subject can stand to keep their hand in the freezing water, the more stress they are thought to be able to handle. She writes the following to give her readers some idea of the difficulty of the cold pressor test. 


Below five degrees (Celsius, about 41°F), water becomes so painfully cold that it feels like it is burning your skin. If you were to immerse your whole body in water this cold, it would kill you in less than a minute.3 -McGonigal 2012, p186

Well, Dr. McGonigal was wrong about the "kill you in less than a minute" part. I've done ice baths in 34°F water, submerged up to my neck for over 20 minutes, and I'm still here. So are Wim Hof, Scott Carney, Joe Rogan, and countless others who have spent twenty minutes or more submerged in freezing cold water. So, while McGonigal is being hyperbolic about the lethality of cold plunge therapy (and, in the process, inadvertently emphasizing my point about the role experience plays in science), she gets psychology right. Although the cold won't kill you, it can feel like it will.


Cold can be painful. Cold can be shocking. Cold can be scary – which is why it is so transformative.

When you leave your warm, comfortable world to enter the ice bath, even if only for a minute or two, you embark on a miniature version of what Joseph Campbell called The Hero's Journey.[4] You have accepted a call to adventure. You leave the familiarity of your pleasant, ordinary environment and enter an extreme, alien world that requires you to face your fears. Every cell in your body will protest. You will feel an overwhelming urge to jump out of the ice water and return to safety and comfort. And when you resist that impulse, you change into someone who can do really hard things – anytime you choose. And you won't simply feel transformed into a more capable, more empowered person – you will become one.

 

References

  • [1] Korhonen I. Blood pressure and heart rate responses in men exposed to arm and leg cold pressor tests and whole-body cold exposure. International journal of circumpolar health. 2006 Apr 18;65(2):178-84.

  • [2] Fisher H. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Macmillan; 2005.

  • [3] McGonigal K. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. Penguin; 2016.

  • [4] Campbell J. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press; 1949.


 

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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