A Functional MD Explains Why Taking A Cold Shower Is A+ For Immunity
I'll go ahead and assume you're not the person who happily jumps into an ice-cold shower during the winter months (if you are, you are much stronger than I). Perhaps you've unintentionally taken one or two, say, if your faucet has a malfunction that leaves you shivering under the spray. Been there; unfortunately, done that.
However, board-certified OB/GYN and functional medicine specialist, Kyrin Dunston, M.D., says you might want to dabble in cold showers—on purpose. As she shares on the mindbodygreen podcast, a short spurt of icy water could enhance your immune function. (A great reason to brr, if you ask us.)
Do cold showers really support immunity?
"Cold showers have been documented to increase natural killer cells, which is a high marker of immune resilience in your body," Dunston says. Specifically, she's referencing a 2014 study that found a douse of cold water released epinephrine (aka, your adrenaline hormone), which then caused an increase in IL-10—an anti-inflammatory cytokine that regulates your body's response to infection. Additionally, a randomized controlled trial in 2016 found that participants who took hot-to-cold showers lowered their sickness-related work absences by 29%.
Of course, much more research is necessary before we make a clear connection. But cold showers and their link to health are nothing new: If you're familiar with the "Iceman," Wim Hof, perhaps you know his stance on an icy spray: He touts "cold therapy" as helpful for managing inflammation, improving sleep, easing pain, and alleviating anxiety and depression.
Functional medicine doctor Frank Lipman, M.D., author of The New Rules of Aging Well, is also on board, specifically for longevity reasons. "These little short bursts of stress stimulate longevity genes in your body," he shares on the mindbodygreen podcast. "Fasting is one way, but temperatures are another way—a sauna to a cold plunge or a cold shower."
How should you take a cold shower?
Here's a win for those less than enthusiastic about enduring an icy shower: You don't have to be cold the whole time!
A hot-to-cold shower might elicit a better stress response, anyway (with respect to Lipman and those longevity genes). Dunston agrees: She recommends starting with 30 seconds at the end of your shower—that's it!—and working your way up to one minute, maybe three. Turn the nozzle as cold as you can stand it, just so you can "elicit that shiver response," she notes. Step out, towel off, and munch on some immune-supporting foods, for good measure.
Do cold showers enhance your immunity? There's still not enough hard data to say for sure, but plenty of experts think so. Regardless, it's a pretty low-lift practice to add to your daily routine—as long as you can stand 30 seconds of chill.
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Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.