Cold Thermogenesis: Using Cold Water to Burn Fat

Have you heard of cold thermogenesis?

In short, cold thermogenesis is a form of cold therapy that may also provide the body with a metabolic boost.

Let’s explore further, shall we?

Cold Thermogenesis 101

Cold temperatures trigger cold thermogenesis

Cold thermogenesis hinges on the idea that exposure to cold temperatures helps increase your metabolism and burn body fat.

So, how does cold thermogenesis work?

To survive, your body needs to maintain a normal temperature range as it can only endure a 5-degree rise and a 10-degree drop in temperature. Similar to the way that you sweat to stay cool, cold thermogenesis increases your body’s metabolic rate to keep you warm under cold conditions. [1]

But how does that increase metabolism?

Research shows that during cold thermogenesis, your body activates brown fat cells. Brown fat cells create heat in cold conditions by increasing the body’s metabolic rate (aka energy expenditure). [2][3]

What are brown fat cells?

Brown fat cells are commonly found in hibernating mammals and children 10 years old and younger.

Until recently, it was believed that, among human beings, brown fat cells were only found in babies, not grown adults. But it turns out that cold temperatures can help activate brown fat cells in some grown adults. Humans who are leaner also tend to have more brown fat cells.[3]

Why are they better than white fat cells?

Brown fat cells have far more mitochondria than white blood cells. These mitochondria contain thermogenin, a protein that enhances the calorie-burning effect of brown fat cells.[3]

Potential Benefits of Cold Therapy

Man entering an ice batch at freezing temperatures.

Cold therapy is any practice that intentionally induces cold conditions on your body to improve health and wellness — such as cold thermogenesis and cryotherapy.

Upon first look, the potential health benefits of cold therapy are exciting! But most researchers are quick to point out that more data are needed to draw conclusions. That said, here are the potential benefits of cold therapy.[1]

Activate Brown Fat Cells

Cold thermogenesis can help activate brown fat cells, which increases the rate your body burns calories.[4]

Boost Metabolism

Cold thermogenesis may cause an increase in metabolism associated with shivering, which can lead to a 3 to 5 times increase in the body’s normal resting metabolic rate (RBR).[5]

Alleviate Sore Muscles

Cold therapy can help alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can last up to 96 hours after intense exercise bouts.[6]

The Science Behind Cold Therapy

Man touching an ice block in freezing temperatures.

While studies on cold therapy have shown some promising results, most clinical research has been performed on healthy young subjects with few temperature variations. So, to learn what we do know about cold therapy, and to help you draw your own conclusions, here’s what the research says:

At-Home Cold Thermogenesis Practices

Women taking a cold shower

OK, now that you know about cold thermogenesis, you’re probably wondering how you can safely get the benefits from home, right? Here are a few at-home options:

1. Take Cold Showers*

Cold showers (or cold baths) are considered one of the easiest and safest biohacking techniques that may offer the calorie-burning benefits of cold thermogenesis.

Research suggests that even a mild reduction in ambient temperature can increase the rate your body burns calories. Also, water-based cold therapy has shown to have a greater impact on caloric expenditure than air-based cold therapy. However, whether or not regular cold showers or cold baths can stimulate weight loss is still up for debate, as more research is needed.[7]

2. Hop in an Ice Bath (for The Adventurous Crowd)*

Full-body ice baths lower the body’s core temperature, which may help activate calorie-torching brown fat cells.

Ice baths are among the chillier at-home self-induced cold-thermogenesis techniques. The increased cold may cause additional shivering compared to a cold shower or bath, which may cause the body to burn more calories. However, research examining the different techniques is limited.[1]

3. Turn Down the Thermostat*

Similar to cold baths or showers, lowering the temperature in your house may be a safe and easy way to help increase the rate your body burns calories.

One study showed that reducing the temperature from 24 to 19°C (75.2 to 66.2°F) for 36 hours increased people’s energy expenditure and brown fat activity. However, further evidence is needed.

4. Sport a Cooling Vest*

Cooling vests are a low-key way to lower your body’s core temperature to help stimulate a thermogenic response.

One benefit of cooling vests is that they can be worn almost anywhere, and the temperature can be adjusted to meet your personal preferences. Cooling vests may provide comparable calorie-burning benefits to lowering the temperature of a room.[8]

Dangers of Cold Therapy & Self-Induced Cold Thermogenesis*

Self-induced cold thermogenesis and other cold therapies are not safe for everyone. Do not practice cold thermogenesis if you are sick or have any pre-existing medical conditions. Even healthy Individuals should consult with a doctor before trying any form of cold therapy.



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