Getting into a cold shower first thing in the morning may not be the most appealing thought, but numerous touted benefits surround this practice. If you’re unsure whether cold showers could benefit you, know what researchers have to say about it.
Cold water therapy has its roots in ancient medicine and includes the use of techniques such as cold showers, cold spray, and immersion in cold baths. Cold showers typically involve bathing in water with a temperature ranging between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three minutes at a time.
“Cold showers have been shown to increase immunity, improve mood, and decrease inflammation,” Dr. Kendall Egan, a board-certified dermatologist from Las Vegas, Nevada, told Medical Daily. Here’s what research say about the potential benefits of cold showers.
Taking a cold shower may stimulate leukocytes, the blood cells that help fight off infections such as cold and flu. A study that analyzed the cumulative effect of cold showers on sickness, quality of life, and work productivity found that they may be beneficial in reducing absence from work due to illness. People who switched to cold showers for 30, 60, or 90 seconds for 90 days had a 29% reduction in sickness compared to the control group.
Cold showers can be beneficial for individuals with itchy skin. Improved blood circulation associated with cold showers may help to keep the skin clear and healthy. “When you take a cold shower, the blood vessels in your skin constrict, in an attempt to stay warm. Blood moves away from your skin to your core organs, like your heart and lungs. When your skin warms back up, the blood returns to the skin. This movement of blood washes out inflammation and renews the skin! Cold water also ‘tricks’ your brain and decreases itching. Your skin sends a cold message to your brain and decreases itchy sensations,” Dr. Egan explained.
Showering in hot water may strip natural oils from the scalp, while cold showers may help to calm an itchy scalp. However, it’s important to note that an itchy scalp could be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that requires treatment from a dermatologist.
“Similar to the skin, washing your scalp skin with hot water can cause your blood vessels to dilate and can worsen an itchy scalp! Scientific evidence is lacking on whether cold or hot water promotes hair growth, but what we do know is that inflammation is bad for scalp health. More research is needed to determine if cold or hot water is better for hair growth. For now, itchy scalps tend to do better when hot showers are avoided,” Dr. Egan said.
Cold showers may help in relieving stress and reducing symptoms of depression. Researchers who examined the use of cold showers as a potential treatment for depression have identified their potential analgesic and antidepressant effects. These positive effects are attributed to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the increase in beta-endorphin and noradrenaline levels. Additionally, the antidepressant effect of cold showers may result from the significant transmission of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain. However, it is important to note that further research is needed to classify cold showers as a definitive treatment strategy for depression.
Cold showers for better sleep?
Taking a shower before bedtime can aid in improving sleep. However, research on the effects of cold showers on sleep provides mixed findings. A study that focused on the impact on athletes noted a decrease in core body temperature and an increased amount of deep sleep in the initial three hours of sleep after cold showers. In contrast, another study found that there is no difference in factors such as total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and sleep onset in participants with or without cold water immersion after exercise.
Can they help in weight loss?
When immersed in cold water, the body elevates the metabolism and activates the brown fat associated with heat generation. Studies have shown that higher metabolism can help with burning more calories and weight loss. But, this does not mean that taking cold showers without changing other lifestyle habits such as diet or exercise can help.
Who should avoid cold showers?
Know that cold showers are not approved treatment for any disorders, but may be beneficial as supportive strategies to relieve certain symptoms. Cold showers may be beneficial for many, but for some, they could do more harm than good.
Although routine voluntary exposure to cold water may help people adapt to the temperatures and reduce inflammation and other cardiovascular risks, sudden exposure can induce a shock response in the body. The cold shock can elevate the stress on the heart, which may be risky to individuals with irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias.
According to the National Center for Cold Water Safety, sudden immersion in extreme cold water elevates heart rate and blood pressure in vulnerable individuals, putting them in danger of heart failure and stroke.
“People with hives (urticaria) caused by cold temperatures, heart disease, certain autoimmune disorders, and those with Raynaud’s Disease should avoid cold showers. It is always a good idea to discuss any health concerns with your doctor before starting a new health routine,” Dr. Egan cautioned.