A couple of years ago I was dealing with some health issues that caused my liver enzymes to spike to insanely high levels. Reaching the point where my doctors were worried about liver damage both in the short and long term. I went from dealing with my doctors at Spectrum Health here in Grand Rapids to a Liver Specialist at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System.
Long story short, they didn’t find anything and I wound up at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Sadly, that lead to a dead end as well, as there were no doctors who could diagnose the reason for my elevated liver enzymes.
The background here is I have Ulcerative Colitis (UC), which is similar to Chron’s Disease being classified as IBD, and supposedly, this sort of thing can happen from time to time in people who suffer from these issues. I even have a best friend who’s sister suffers from Chron’s and had a similar thing happen to her when she was in her teens!
So, there I was boarding a flight in Rochester, Minnesota with my mom heading back to Michigan and I couldn’t help but feel lost because even the supposed “best Doctors in the world” couldn’t help me. I had no other choice but to take matters into my own hands.
I wanted to get down to the “root issue” and to me at that time, it seemed like that was inflammation. I needed to not just reduce it, but eliminate it. So, I stared with my diet and removed any foods that may or would cause inflammation through online research, and finding anti-inflammatory cookbooks. My wife was also amazing in helping me with this as well.
One day I was listening to a podcast episode of The Tim Ferriss Show and he was telling a story about how Tony Robbins takes a “cold plunge” every morning in the creek or lake behind his house. Tim mentions how he has since incorporated this sort of cold plunge into his daily routine and also mentions Cryotherapy.
This sent me on to do some research and while there was not a ton of content at the time, I did find a few companies promoting the benefits of cryotherapy. I was surprised by the number of professional athletes who were alreadyenjoying the benefits of it. There were some professional NBA and NFL facilities who even had their own cryo chambers at the facility. Former NFL player and 14-year Detroit Lion Vet, Dominic Raiola had even opened his own cryotherapy center post-retirement, so I started to see there was something to this whole cryotherapy/cold therapy thing.
A few months after doing this initial research, a cryotherapy center opened up here in Grand Rapids and I decided to go test it out. (It has since closed, unsure if it was COVID-19 related or not) The first time I went was after playing basketball one Saturday morning. The experience was different, but I really felt like it worked. I walked out of there after playing full-court, 5 on 5 basketball for 2 1/2 hours straight, and felt like I was fully rested and could go do another workout. And that was the side benefit!
The real benefit was that I felt amazing and that any UC inflammation I had walking in there felt like it was completely annihilated.
But there was an issue. Cryotherapy machines, as you can imagine, aren’t the cheapest things out there being they’re new and to the medical community still “unproven” and thus are not really widely used other than those who can afford to buy one. These “retail” cryotherapy stores, like the one Dominic Raiola opened, help to make the cost a little bit cheaper, but can still be somewhat pricey (similar to an extra gym membership monthly) if you wanted to go on a somewhat regular basis.
That said, I’ve been through ups and downs with UC and have been off and on various medications, there have been plenty of times I would have been more than willing to pay the cost to go to cryotherapy regularly just to help get me back to feeling better. Sometimes it’s less about the cost and more about helping to stop yourself from suffering.
Cold Water Therapy
Even with the cost potentially being worth it, I still wanted to find a way to get the benefits of cold therapy on demand or at least a weekly basis. One way to do that is a good old fashion ice bath, sometimes known as cold-water immersion therapy.
Cold-water immersion therapy is most commonly used as a workout recovery method for various levels of athletes. Post-workout, the athlete will submerse most or all of his or her body in a bath or large tub of cold water usually filled with lots of ice to help keep the water as cold as possible. While this method does work, (pre-quarantine thought) who the hell has time to draw a cold bath every day, fill it with ice, and then sit in it for a while?
Dave Asprey, of course, being the bio-hacker he is; goes into this whole thing about how to do cold-water immersion in the shower, where you turn your shower as cold as it gets and stand under it while the freezing cold water hits your face, neck and chest region. I figured if I could use what Dave Asprey was talking about in the shower, maybe that could help me achieve similar results.
I knew the cold shower water wasn’t going to be able to get as cold as a cryotherapy chamber or ice bath could, but the article from the aforementioned Dave Asprey helps you understand how and why the shower still works by activating your vagus nerve.
Cold Showers Day One
I got up early, did whatever workout I was doing at the time, and hit the shower. I quickly took a normal shower with warm water to clean up and ease my way into it. Then came the hard part. First, please understand I am a very active individual in my low 3os and eat pretty healthy most of the time. I also do not have any heart conditions, so please be sure to consult your doctor before attempting any cold immersion therapy.
Starting out, my goal was to turn the shower as cold as it gets and stand there as long as I could. I turned it as cold as it would go but also ensuring to keep a fair level of water pressure. Having cold water sprayed on you is way better than having it slowly drip out of the showerhead, so remember to keep some water pressure. Some mornings, especially in the winter, I’ll turn the shower to slightly cold to start, then turn it really cold.
So what happened?
Well, the first 30 -60 seconds is really tough… to say the least. Especially if the showerhead is spraying right onto your face as Asprey describes. I was literally gasping for air and instantly breathing very deeply. I did my best to control my breath but it’s not easy to and the cold water, of course, shocks the hell out of you.
I was able to stay under the cold water for about 45 seconds before I turned it off. So yeah, it was pretty terrible starting out… but what came after were the benefits that made it all worth it.
Benefits to Cold Showers
That day I was the most alert and awake I had felt in a LONG time. Due to my having UC, I am not able to drink even the smallest amount of caffeine as it irritates my GI system, so I don’t drink coffee, tea, or energy drinks much if ever. That said, I’ve been caffeinated up plenty of times, and the cold shower not only gave me a way better feeling, but I felt like it lasted throughout the day with no crash compared to caffeine.
So I tried it the next day, the day after that, and quickly ended up making this a regular routine for myself. The first few days are difficult to even keep your face in the water because of the gasping for air, but after day 3 or 4 you start to get used to it and can last longer. When it gets hot in the summer, sometimes I’ll even just take an entire cold shower vs changing to cold at the end and absolutely love it!
Aside from feeling more awake and alert, I felt like any digestive inflammation I was suffering from was drastically reduced or eliminated. After a week of this and I was feeling FANTASTIC. Cold water therapy for inflammation is so simple, yet practical and effective.
I don’t even think I can fully quantify how much cold showers and cold water immersion has helped me from an inflammation perspective. I personally find destroying inflammation with a cold shower right away in the morning to be very beneficial for cognitive health as well as my overall feeling and mood. It seems to enhance my mood and almost instantly makes me feel ready to take on my day. I felt like I could focus more during the day on my tasks, and I even was sleeping better!
My attitude after a cold shower is always lifted, and after I’ve survived a freezing cold shower first thing in the morning… WHO GON’ STOP ME?! NOBODY!
I go into the day feeling bulletproof because (all things considered as I write this during quarantine) I’m likely not going to face anything else in my day worse than ice-cold water being blasted on my face for 2 minutes, so I’m ready to tackle any issue thrown at me.
Wim Hof Method
Recently, I started reading and seeing shows on TV talking about the Wim Hof Method. I’ve read into this a bit and think Wim Hof is an absolute pioneer when it comes to cold therapy. He has a breathing exercise that goes along with various cold therapy treatments that seem to be very beneficial as well.
Full disclosure, I have not been able to take his courses yet, he does offer some online, but I have had some friends try his breathing exercise and enjoyed it. I’ll be sure to update this post when I do test Wim’s methods.
Alternating Hot and Cold Water Therapy
While I’m mentioning various cold water therapy methods and treatments I’ve researched, I want to also mention I’ve heard a lot of podcasts lately with various athletes or even The Model Health Show talks on how instead of just cold therapy, a person or athlete would use both hot and cold water and alternating temperatures. So they’d do 4 minutes in warm water then 2 in cold, then 4 min warm water and alternate like that 3-4 times.
Third Coast Cold Water Therapy
One of the great things about being in Michigan is the Third Coast, of course! Lake Michigan and our other Great Lakes really don’t get much warmer than about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. So the Great Lakes are perfect for cold water immersion therapy, especially in the spring and fall. Try that if you own or visit a lake house. Get up first thing in the morning and jump in the water. Try that, then tell me (even if you’re hungover from the night before) that you don’t feel at least somewhat better!
Wrapping it up
So, there’s my experience with cold therapy. It’s been about 2 years since I started this, and while I did cold showers daily for a while, I eventually switched to doing them every other week, or every 3rd week. The shower water is extra cold in the middle of winter and there were plenty of mornings I wanted to just be warm, so alternating keeps it enjoyable. I’m at a point now where I can just feel myself needing them on occasion and that’s when I’ll take them.
So in my humble opinion, cold water therapy is one of the best things I’ve ever discovered and will continue to use. I’m excited to try out some of Wim Hoff’s methods above and will drop the update in this post.
Have you tried cold water therapy? What is your experience? Let us know in the comments!