5 Fat Burning Cold Thermogenesis BenefitsDec 14, 2021
by Mia Zivkovic and Doc Mok
You have likely heard of professional athletes using ice baths or cryotherapy for recovery. From Steph Curry to Usain Bolt, athletes from various sports make use of these techniques. However, the cold thermogenesis benefits extend far beyond elite athletics and can apply to every one of us.
Defining Cold Thermogenesis
Many of you may be wondering: what is cold thermogenesis in the first place? In general, thermogenesis is how the body creates heat to regulate its temperature, keeping it within a normal range. Cold thermogenesis (CT) accelerates this process, and therefore increases metabolism, by exposing the body to cold temperatures for short periods (Vosselman, 2014). It is not necessary to reach the freezing temperatures of a cryotherapy chamber alone. Instead, cold thermogenesis benefits can occur within the narrow limits of room temperatures (65 degrees Fahrenheit) (Chen et al., 2013).
Mechanisms behind Cold Thermogenesis
So, how exactly does CT work? CT is a form of non-shivering thermogenesis. In other words, CT produces energy by burning brown fat instead of contracting the muscles (Marlatt, 2017). In contrast to white fat, brown fat is a unique type of fat-rich in mitochondria. It is found in the upper back and neck and is more prevalent in children under 10. When activated, brown fat can burn white fat, which is the typically stored fat (e.g., belly fat) (Neuro Athletics, 2020).
Cold exposure increases the metabolic activity of brown fat, which burns a far more significant number of calories than the resting metabolic rate at higher temperatures (Chen et al., 2013); thus, one can burn far more calories by simple cold exposure- no exercise required! CT is a powerful technique, as only 100 grams of entirely activated brown fat can burn 3400 calories per day, according to a 2018 study conducted by the University of Cambridge.
Not only is no exercise required to burn many such calories, but CT can also occur in a relatively short period with little effort. A recent study suggests that the most significant physiological responses to the cold occur within the first 30 minutes of exposure (Acosta et al., 2018). Additionally, increases in brown fat result after subjects spent 6 hours a day for just ten days in 60-degree temperatures (van der Lans et al., 2013). So, exposure to the cold can activate brown fat and increase the amount of brown fat present in the body.
The relative ease with which CT burns a large number of calories in a short period seems to be a hidden treasure of weight loss. Several studies have recommended the potential use of CT to help combat the current obesity epidemic.
Other Cold Thermogenesis Benefits
However, burning calories and fat is not the only cold thermogenesis benefit. It has a positive impact on your health in several other ways as well.
Increased Antioxidant Activity
The first of these additional benefits is an increase in antioxidant activity in the body. The antioxidant effect exists in a 2008 study conducted on recreational ice skaters. The group of skaters exposed to the cold during a 2-hour exercise session for three days a week showed higher quantities of antioxidant defense enzymes than the control group who exercised at room temperature (Hong et al., 2008).
These additional antioxidants work to fight free radicals, which are harmful reactive atoms within the body. As a result, neurodegenerative diseases commonly caused by free radicals, including Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, can be prevented (Cruz-Haces et al., 2017).
Enhanced Immune System
Cold thermogenesis benefits can also extend to the immune cells within the body. Exposing yourself to the cold leads to more white blood cells, which play an essential role in the body’s immune response. CT is also associated with higher counts of T lymphocytes, which help combat cancer (Polizzi, 2019). So, in contrast to the famous saying that the cold makes you sick, exposing yourself to colder temperatures can help you fight disease.
Improved Sleep Quality
CT is associated with better sleep quality, as it improves the ability to fall asleep and increases the depth of sleep (Polizzi, 2019). Cryotherapy has this benefit with only a short time in the cold required to achieve these results. Subjects who participated in cryotherapy for only 3 minutes demonstrated improved sleep (Polizzi, 2019).
Faster Recovery from Physical Activity
Finally, cold thermogenesis benefits also include recovery from muscle damage caused by exercise. A recent review found that 80% of studies showed a reduction in exercise-induced muscle pain following whole-body cryotherapy treatment (Rose et al., 2017). This reduction in pain is because cold exposure causes constriction of the veins, cutting off blood flow to the injured area and decreasing inflammation. No wonder nearly all of the top athletes in the world use this technique!
How You Can Induce Cold Thermogenesis Benefits
Since likely, you do not own a cryotherapy chamber; you might be wondering how to stimulate the process of CT yourself. There are several ways you can do so, including:
- Sleeping in a cold room or lowering the temperature of your house: CT can be induced by simply lowering your home’s temperature within reasonable limits. Lowering the room temperature from 75.2 to just 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit activates brown fat and increases metabolic activity (Chen et al., 2013). However, you must not wear increasingly warm clothing to compensate for the temperature drop for this to be effective.
- Using ice baths/taking cold showers: Submerging the body in cold water has been shown to have similar benefits to cryotherapy. You can burn calories using CT by only exposing yourself to cold water for 2-5 minutes a day, three times a week, for 12 weeks (Neuro Athletics, 2020). Additionally, water-based CT is more effective than air-based CT (Underscore, 2020).
- Wearing cooling gear: Cooling gear, such as cooling vests, can also induce thermogenesis. It does so in a similar way to lowering room temperature (Underscore, 2020). Wearing such gear can also be more convenient because it can lower your body temperature in any environment or location.
Cold thermogenesis (CT) has an enormous impact on metabolic activity through the activation of brown fat. Brown fat, when activated, can burn white fat and increase metabolism by a large margin. Cold thermogenesis benefits can benefit individuals looking to burn fat and reach a healthy body weight. CT is used to fight the current obesity epidemic.
CT has additional benefits beyond fat burn, including increased antioxidant activity, enhanced immune systems, improved sleep quality, and faster recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage. It is also easy to implement in your own home and daily life. To induce cold thermogenesis quickly, just lower room temperature, use ice baths, take cold showers, or wear cooling gear.
CT requires minimal effort and is a low-time commitment, but its benefits can be extraordinary. By simply lowering your home’s temperature, taking a cold shower, or wearing a cooling vest, you can do wonders for your health.
Acosta, F. M., Martinez-Tellez, B., Sanchez-Delgado, G., Alcantara, J. M., Acosta-Manzano, P., Morales-Artacho, A. J., & Ruiz, J. R. (2018). Physiological responses to acute cold exposure in young lean men. PLOS ONE, 13(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200865
Chen, K. Y., Brychta, R. J., Linderman, J. D., Smith, S., Courville, A., Dieckmann, W., Herscovitch, P., Millo, C. M., Remaley, A., Lee, P., & Celi, F. S. (2013). Brown Fat Activation Mediates Cold-Induced Thermogenesis in Adult Humans in Response to a Mild Decrease in Ambient Temperature. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 98(7). https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2012-4213
Cruz-Haces, M., Tang, J., Acosta, G., Fernandez, J., & Shi, R. (2017). Pathological correlations between traumatic brain injury and chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Translational Neurodegeneration, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40035-017-0088-2
Hong, J. H., Kim, K. J., Suzuki, K., & Lee, I.-S. (2008). Effect of Cold Acclimation on Antioxidant Status in Cold Acclimated Skaters. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 27(5), 255–262. https://doi.org/10.2114/jpa2.27.255
Marlatt, K. L., & Ravussin, E. (2017). Brown Adipose Tissue: an Update on Recent Findings. Current Obesity Reports, 6(4), 389–396. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-017-0283-6
Neuro Athletics. (2020, July 14). Neurology of cold thermogenesis. Neuro Athletics. https://www.neuroathletics.com.au/cte-/concussion/coldthermogenesis.
Polizzi, M. (2019, December 2). Cold Thermogenesis: How Low Temperatures Boost Long-Term Health. Biostrap. https://biostrap.com/blog/cold-thermogenesis/.
Rose, C., Edwards, K., Siegler, J., Graham, K., & Caillaud, C. (2017). Whole-body Cryotherapy as a Recovery Technique after Exercise: A Review of the Literature. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 38(14), 1049–1060. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0043-114861
Underscore. (2020, September 17). Cold Thermogenesis: Using Cold Water to Burn Fat. Underscore. https://underscore.factor75.com/cold-thermogenesis/.
van der Lans, A. A. J. J., Hoeks, J., Brans, B., Vijgen, G. H. E. J., Visser, M. G. W., Vosselman, M. J., Hansen, J., Jörgensen, J. A., Wu, J., Mottaghy, F. M., Schrauwen, P., & van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2013). Cold acclimation recruits human brown fat and increases nonshivering thermogenesis. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 123(8), 3395–3403. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci68993
Vosselman, M. J., Vijgen, G. H., Kingma, B. R., Brans, B., & van Marken Lichtenbelt, W. D. (2014). Frequent Extreme Cold Exposure and Brown Fat and Cold-Induced Thermogenesis: A Study in a Monozygotic Twin. PLoS ONE, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0101653