FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has written that “It’s not chicken soup. Believe it or not, a much more unorthodox therapy of warm-and-cold showers has recently been proposed–though not proven–for the prevention of the common cold.” The article goes on to identify water therapy researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D., who wrote  about shower therapy: “An efficient, practical and inexpensive prophylaxis [preventive measure] against one of the most frequent (and ‘expensive’) diseases has been identified at last.” In a 1987 research study comparing a “cold shower”group with a control group for 6 months, Ernst found that the cold shower group’s colds were “significantly fewer, significantly milder, and slightly shorter.”

Well, even if not “proven” to the FDA’s satisfaction yet, cold showers are worth considering as flu season looms ever closer, and here is some research evidence. As noted before in this space, however, cold showers may not be for you if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a circulation problem, so always check with your doctor first!

35 Comments

Filed under cold shower health benefits, colds and flu, Health, Water

35 responses to “FDA and the Cold Shower Remedy

  1. Leon

    Well, I take cold baths. Can the FDA recommend cold baths during this cold and flu season? I feel this should have been mentioned years ago when so many people were getting sick. I feel there would be more healthier people. Cold baths are so powerful and effective against colds and flu. It strenghtens the immune system, the lymphatic system, and the mucous membrane. Along with nasal cleansing, the practice of taking cold baths is a perfect weapon against allergies and asthma.

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  2. Norm

    is a cold bath as beneficial as a hot bath for reducing blood pressure. Thanks,Norm

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  3. In the long run, cold showers normalize blood pressure – lowering too high pressure and increasing too low pressure.

    But it is also true that initially during a cold shower, blood pressure spikes momentarily. Therefore one should not take cold showers with uncontrolled blood pressure, meaning untreated hypertension or sky-high pressures. If you are on a pill and reasonably controlled (meaning your doctor seems more or less satisfied), you can take cold showers.

    As to full baths – warm or cold – they are less beneficial than a shower since the water pressure on the abdomen puts additional burden on the heart. Also, the hotter the water temperature, the greater the dangers of high pressure.

    The mechanism that in the long run lowers blood pressure (and increases immunity – among other benefits) is not so much the cold but cold-warm difference. The body reacts to the new situation. That reaction, repeated with every hot shower that ends with a cold one, “trains” blood vessels and immune system into greater efficiency, leading to normalized blood pressure and fewer colds.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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    • Alexander

      Can you please explain how you know this to be true?

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      • Dear Alexander,

        As the above contains several different statements: Which is the point especially important for you? I might be able to answer you in more detail.

        There have been studies done, usually in German. Generally, some cold water studies have also been done by the military – usually long immersion in cold water – much longer than I would ever recommend. But some of their results can be extrapolated to shorter exposure. What all studies clearly show is that cold water affects the body on a molecular level.

        Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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      • David I

        Hey, Alexander–

        You might want to check out this (free!) article in QJM:
        “Haemodynamic Responses and Changes of Haemostatic Risk Factors in Cold-Adapted Humans”
        http://qjmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/92/9/509.full

        Big study (428 people) of cold-water immersion at London’s Thrombosis Research Institute. Cold-water immersion lowers blood pressure and improves a wide array of cardiovascular risk indicators.

        The authors note that exposure to cold weather is a problem for heart patients–but that cold adaptation (through cold-water immersion) is beneficial (though it’s necessary to be careful if there are pre-existing cardiovascular problems).

        The same authors also used cold adaptation to treat hypercholesterimia(!)

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      • Dear David I,

        Thank you for providing this study. It shows nicely the effects of cold water on the body. I usually don’t provide this link because of two reasons:

        1. The cold immersion is longer than in a cold shower. I do think that the physiological changes are similar – but there is a difference in having young, healthy volunteers and the general population. In European Natural medicine a cold shower is thought to be useful for nearly everyone.

        2. People always hang onto the cholesterol-lowering part. I think that walking and fresh food lowers cholesterol much better.

        Thank you for this link!

        Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

        Like

  4. Leon

    Now that I found out how beneficial cold showers are compared to baths, I decided to continue taking my showers from now on. Is there a certain time of year where cold showers always begin with hot is is that year-round.

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    • Leon,

      Whether to take first a hot shower or do only a cold shower has mostly to do with climate and season.

      I just came back from Israel where I could not get really cold water out of the faucet – hard as I tried. So I did longer cold showers every morning – except when I needed to wash my hair.

      In Maine, I assure you, the cold water from the well at our cabin always takes your breath away – even in the hottest of summers.

      There is one more argument against cold baths and for cold showers: Baths use up more water. And we all are into conserving water – once we have experienced the bliss of cold showers.

      A nice compromise are Happy Half Baths: You fill about 1 to 2 inches of water in the tub, and sit there 1 to 2 minutes (or longer, if you wish). It is very good against varicose veins and for increasing health “down there”. And the same water can be used several times a day. I usually change every day. The Happy Half Bath is a great summer break.

      Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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  5. Julie M

    Despite our hot southern summers in Australia I have succumbed to almost constant colds and viral infections for years, since my kids were born, and felt my 44yo immune system was really struggling. I also suffered from extremely poor circulation, cold hands and feet, and felt the cold very much.
    Then, on a sudden whim 4 months ago, I started taking only cold showers, in our southern Autumn, and I have continued right through our colder-than-usual winter, enduring some very icy and breathtakingly cold water mornings.
    And now, apart from an odd sniffle or slightly sore throat that quickly departs, I haven’t had a cold or flu since. In fact I’m scarcely feeling the cold at all – I walk out of the house each morning without a shiver (or a coat), and see others complain about the cold around me.
    I generally feel amazing!
    I can safely say I will never stop now. I don’t see the point of not doing it now and our latest water and energy bills dropped radically so I figure I’m benefiting the environment as well as our purse.
    Just need to convince the kids and husband now.

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  6. Bill L

    I have been taking cold showers for years, love it. In the summer, I almost never use hot water. I like it best in the winter, then the water is truly cold. Anyone know how to make a shower colder?

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  7. Dear Bill,

    My best advice it to go to Maine (or a similar northern country) in the summer – I am there presently, and take a swim every single day in the frigid ocean – a bliss!

    I fear the day where the cold water idea will latch on and people will invent machines that cool the water down that comes from a faucet…

    Summer is a short season – enjoy what it brings to you. And then look forward to wonderfully cold winter! Showering in season – you could take it as the equivalent of eating in season.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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  8. Mikek

    I brush my skin with a natural skin brush then take a hot and cold shower. I always finish with a cold rinse. Doing these two things work great. It helps my detox and strengthen the immune system.
    I highly suggest people try the skin brushing it well worth it. If you do it daily for 30 days you should see good results!

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  9. Mikek – Thanks for your comment. The benefits of skin brushing are also described in Dr. Fleckenstein’s book, Health 2 0, along with directions for how to do it.

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  10. Danny

    After working out, I always take a cold/hot/cold shower and wonder if there is any additional benefits to the extra “shock” treatment.

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  11. Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

    Danny,

    Studies have shown that going twice through the hot-cold cycle bestows maximal benefits to the immune system. Anything more is unnecessary and only squanders water.

    Enjoy your alternating showers!

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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  12. David,

    From my hydrotherapy studies in Germany, I remember the rule that two cycles already have all the desirable effects.

    The problem is that most hydrotherapy science has been done in Germany and is not translated. If you search the Internet, you will find much about cold water immersion – usually military research, and much too harsh for my liking. But the physiologic changes in the body during long cold water immersion show at least what a powerful tool cold water is.

    If you read German, there is much on the Internet. I recently came by this link: http://www.prof-pirlet.de/ – the author definitively wants every exposure like Kneipp wanted it: As cold as possible, and as short as possible.
    In the case of alternating cold and hot, two cycles should be enough – and always end with cold!

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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  13. David I

    Thanks! Alas, I can puzzle out French at need, but German is beyond me.

    By the way, I’m buying your book “Health2O” from Amazon, but I initially had trouble finding it. You might want to let Amazon know that the title is “Health” “2” “letter ‘O'”. They have it listed as “Health” “2” “zero”, or “Health twenty.”

    I guess the title went right over their heads.

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  14. The title has been a sore point for me – as the publisher chose to ignore my original title (which, of course, was much better …). Usually, people find my three books by putting in my name. The water book seems well-chosen for your purposes.

    In the novel “Sebastian Kneipp, Water Doctor” I describe how Kneipp came to invent (or re-invent) the cold water cure.

    If you can’t read the original, you might be stuck with my word, David – because we won’t say a study soon about this as no money can’t be made by cold water from your tap.

    Stay healthy!

    Alexa Fleckenstein.

    Like

  15. Ameia

    Reading this makes me feel wimpy and guilty for HATING the idea of taking cold showers, though I’ve known for decades how beneficial they are.
    I’m sufficiently upset to start my evening shower with a minute or two of cold
    but I know I’ll have to leave a note commanding myself to do it every time I shower – if not, my subconscious is going to fight me on this one and blot it out of my memory.
    Thanks for all the persuasive comments.

    Like

    • Dear Ameia,

      Never allow anything to make you feel wimpy and guilty. Be gentle to yourself and give yourself time.

      Start with a VERY SHORT exposure – just a second. The goal is only twenty to thrity seconds after each hot shower. I am not advocate “winter swimming” – endless cold exposure. Studies have shown that this short time already makes your immune system stronger, and there is NO additional effect from longer exposure.

      Also read up what I wrote to “Collin” on “Cold Shower and Depression – the trick will make it much easier on you.

      All the best – and tell us how you are faring!

      Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

      Like

  16. José Pepe

    Hello!

    Great article. I have high blood pressure (controlled), consequence of obesity. I’m 28 years old. Are the cold showers recommended for me? In case they are, should I always go with the hot/cold cycle?

    Thank you very much!

    Like

  17. cornel

    Hello,

    Is there a health benefit/difference in taking cold showers washing the body only, or the body and the head? I take cold showers and while experimenting, found that there is a rather big difference in the cold water impact on the organism when showering the body only, or the body and the head.

    Thank you,

    Cornel

    Like

  18. europeannaturalmedicine

    Cornel,

    the difference is more pronounced if the exposed area is bigger. The only problem is that some people have sinus problems that get aggravated. In some people, getting cold water on their heads is invigorating.

    Which group do you belong to, Cornel?

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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    • cornel

      Thank you!

      I think, to the latter.

      You mentioned that cold water affects the body at the physiological/molecular level – in what way? It does sound like an intriguining idea.
      Also, should there be an optimal frequency of cold showers per day, optimal time of the day and a duration for the cold showers?

      Like

    • cornel

      And is there any advantage of hot/cold/hot/cold over just cold showers or vice-versa?

      Thank you!

      Like

  19. Michelle

    Is it possible to get hypothermia from cold showers? I’ve been having 10 minute cold showers (very cold and it’s winter here too) 2 times a day for several weeks and was feeling great.

    But then upped my exposure to 20 minutes today and experienced several heart arrythmias, blue hands and feet, violent shivering that lasted for an hour, blood pressure through the roof (155/99) when my blood pressure is normally low and heart rate went up and down like a yo-yo at 55 beats/min to 107 beats/min and then down to 60 beats/min, and a low temperature of 32.4 degrees C for an hour after the shower. I also felt disorientated and weak. Does that sound like hypothermia? Is 20 minutes too long?

    Like

    • Dear Michelle,

      Please, stop immediately with the long showers! Obviously, your body wants to tell you something, namely that the long cold showers are hurting you. Listen to your body!

      There are two kinds of schools about cold water: the moderate school I believe in, and the “winter swimmers”. The “winter swimmers” seek long exposure – I guess as a proof for endurance or masculinity. The “moderate” school has the science behind it: To take a short cold shower after a warm one is all the stimulus your body needs for better immune function.

      A cold shower should be 20 to 30 seconds (SECONDS!) long. One cold shower per day is plenty.

      I hope you recover soon from your harsh exposure! Let us know what you think.

      Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

      Like

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