Category Archives: Water

Cold shower burst – the science behind the madness

Former Navy SEAL Clint Emerson, author of 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation, explains why it can be healthy for you to end a shower with cold water. Following is a transcript of his interview.
“Cold water will wake you up, without a doubt, and it will keep you awake. But it has more health benefits than anything else. In SEAL training you spend a lot of time in cold water and there’s actually some science to the madness of putting us in cold water. One, the reason professional athletes do it all the time after a workout is it increases recovery. It vasoconstricts the entire body, squeezing out all of that lactic acid so that you can feel good to go the next day and be ready for the next day training.
That cold water is therapy. Even though it was torture, it’s therapy so that it keeps you healthy, keeps your joints and inflammation down, vasoconstricts everything down and allows you to keep moving forward, hopefully without any more injury.”

My book with Alexa Fleckenstein, MD, explains more. So turn that shower dial to  cold for 20 seconds after your hot shower, and you’ll feel great!

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H1N1 Protection: Simple Ways With Water

Here are some “water ways” to protect yourself from H1N1 and other forms of flu.  (As always, check with your doctor before doing anything that affects your body.)

First, the source: Dr Vinay Goyal MBBS, MD, DM 
is Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology
Neurosciences Centre at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Continue reading

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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!

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Sleepless, With Wet Socks

If you can’t sleep because you are worrying about the economy, the state of the country, or anything else, try wet socks: a seemingly magical solution to insomnia! Integrative physician and expert in European Natural Medicine Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., explains:

Of all the weird alternative cures, this must be the weirdest – wet socks against insomnia. No sane person would believe in witchcraft like this. Yet everyone who tries it declares, “But it works like a charm!”  Including me.
This is how it goes: You need a thick towel or two, and two pairs of socks, preferably one woolen, one of cotton.
You wet the cotton socks with cold water (just as it comes from the faucet). You wring them lightly and put them on. Over the wet socks, you pull the dry woolen socks. You go to bed and wrap your feet in one or two towels. You switch off your light.
Quite probably, the next time you look up, it is morning – and you slept like a baby. The swaddling might be part of why the Wet Socks work so well against sleeplessness: They return you instantly to your pampered childhood and blissful sleep.
There is another factor, too: Scientists tried to find out which parameter was linked to good sleep. As many as they tried – like empty stomach, dark room, white noise, milk as a night cap, counting sheep, and so on – one factor was consistently linked to NOT sleeping: cold feet. And the Wet Socks, as cold and uncomfortable as they sound, really turn your feet toasty warm in no time.
No, I didn’t invent it. Credit Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897) with finding this solution to insomnia long before modern science proved him right. Give it a try!

If you want more details, check out Fleckenstein’s book.

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Foxglove: History and Medicinal Uses

There has been a great deal of interest on this blog lately about the foxglove plant, so I asked herbal expert and integrative physician Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to give us some background. Here is what she wrote:

Foxglove is a beautiful plant in the garden – it likes a moist soil. The pinkish bells on graceful spikes cheer me up. Moreover, it self-seeds when it likes its home – carefree summer joy. It seems.

Foxglove is also one of the deadliest plants when ingested. The powerful medication digitalis has been derived from the plant to help ailing hearts. The story goes that William Withering (1741-1799) became aware of people self-medicating the “dropsy” (body swelling from what we now call congestive heart failure) with this plant; he then searched for the “active” ingredient and found it in digitalis.

Digitalis is safer than the mother plant because in a plant it is difficult to gauge the poisonous quantity the patient is ingesting. Even with digitalis, we physicians rely on a blood test to tell us whether the patient is receiving a safe dose. We say the therapeutic margin is narrow – which means it is but a small step between digitalis helping the heart and digitalis killing the patient.

For these reasons, I would not recommend adding foxglove into your home herb chest. Better to rely on herbs that are safe. With my patients I rely on herbs that have a large therapeutic margin. It is close to impossible to kill yourself with peppermint, for instance (don’t try at home – because, as Paracelsus knew, every single agent in the world can become poisonous if we ingest a large enough dose of it; sugar is a prime example; even water!).

How do we know an herb is safe? Often, they have been tested through centuries or millenniums of use. One person who developed a list of about one hundred safe herbs was Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897). Better known for his “cold water cure,” Kneipp had learned about plants from his mother, who was the herbalist of the little village in Bavaria where he grew up. He tried to get away from the cold water (a long story, which I will tell you another time!), and therefore systematically searched for herbs that people could use for themselves, experimenting on himself for safety. Nowadays, science has better tools to examine an herb. Of the about one hundred herbs Kneipp had deemed safe, only abut three were removed from the list by the famous Commission E (which studies herbs for safety and efficacy in Germany).

The “safe” herbs can – and should – be used for everybody. And they should be taken whole – in a reputable tincture or a tea – and not manufactured and put into a pill. Because the plants have evolved with us over millions of years; their biochemistry fits into our physiology like a key in its lock. The many different compounds of a plant work in “synergy” (all for the same purpose – or: The sum is more than its parts. If you are interested in herbal synergy, I have written about it in my book).

Beautiful as it is, foxglove is an example of an unsafe plant – it belongs only in the hands of an experienced herbalist or your doctor. So content yourself with admiring the lovely foxglove flowers, and make yourself a nice cup of soothing herbal tea. Try lemon balm!

More about “the power of the flower.”

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Filed under Health, heart arrhythmia, Herbs, Sebastian Kneipp, Uncategorized, Water

Cold Water for Babies?

Rose asks an interesting question about whether to use cold water for babies. Here is an answer from Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., my cold water expert and the author of Health 2 0:

Dear Rose,
Yes, you can apply cold water to babies. This is done in the tradition of European Natural Medicine to raise strong, robust children.
When my son was four months old, I started him. I filled his little pink tub with cold water, cradled the naked baby in my hands and very quickly dunked him in—but not his head. It took a second or so. For babies, the head always stays outside the water.
He took a deep gasp but never cried. He was so astonished about what had happened and so busy with thinking that he never had time to protest.
Can’t remember when I stopped it – but certainly I would not force a protesting toddler under cold water.
Now that our son is a young man, he follows the family tradition and ends each warm shower with a cold one, and he has become a healthy outdoorsman.

Tell us how your baby likes it!
Alexa Fleckenstein M.D.

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More Evidence About the Health Benefits of Cold Showers

Two detailed and lengthy comments about research on the health benefits and history of cold water bathing were recently posted here. This is a fascinating dialogue, made all the more so by the care with which the writers of these comments have described their own research and sources. I appreciate your efforts and would especially like to know more about the writer called “cold shower,” whose post is dated May 22. Can you tell us something about yourself, your interests, and your work?

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Cold Showers: What’s the Evidence?

Some people have questioned the evidence behind hydrotherapy, especially the cold water treatments that are described in the book that Alexa Fleckenstein and I co-authored. German research supports the effects of cold water used on the skin as therapy. Unfortunately, the studies are in German, and they are small. (1) Because Pharma firms have no interest in inexpensive water cures, there probably won’t be big studies any time soon. Fact is, the German insurance system pays all or part of physician-prescribed treatments, including hydrotherapy and herbs. The importance and therapeutic potential of water, and especially cold water, are now simply taken for granted in Germany.(2) Here are some specific research studies supporting the health benefits of cold water treatments. Citations are listed at the end. (More cold water research details in Own Your Health (2003)

Boosting the immune system
A pilot study of immune effects from cold water therapy with a small number of breast cancer patients found significantly increased disease-fighting cell counts in every category examined, including neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes.(3)

Reducing the perception of pain
In a study in Japan, cooling by ice water was one of the “competitive stimuli” that reduced the perception of the pain of a laser beam on the skin. (4)

Improved circulation and function in the legs
A Swedish group administered three weeks of alternating cold and hot hydrotherapy to the legs of patients suffering from intermittent claudication (reduced blood flow) and found that improved systolic blood pressure in ankles and toes, reduced pain, and markedly better walking ability went beyond the results of standard treatment and persisted for at least a year after treatment.(5)

Swimming in the winter?
Ten healthy subjects who regularly swim during the winter were evaluated at Berlin’s Institute of Biochemistry at Humboldt University Medical School. Their blood and urine showed increased levels of anti-oxidants, which prevent cell damage, indicating their bodies’ increased tolerance to stress.(6)

(1)Summarized in Bühring, M., Naturheilkunde: Grundlagen, Anwendungen, Ziele (Natural Medicine: Basic Application and Goals), Munich, Verlag CH Beck, 1997.
(2)Haas, S.S., Hydrotherapy and more: Adapting Kneipp’s Natural Medicine to the U.S., Complementary Medicine for the Physician, 2000; 5(8):57,61-64.
(3)Kuehn, G., Sequential hydrotherapy improves the immune response of cancer patients. In: Mizrahi A, et al., (eds.) Potentiating Health and the Crisis of the Immune System: Integrative Approaches in the Prevention and Treatment of Modern Diseases. New York: Plenum, 1997.
(4)Kakigi R., et al. Pain relief by various kinds of interference stimulation applied to the peripheral skin in humans: pain-related brain potentials following CO2 laser stimulation. J peripher Nerv Syst 1996;1:189-198.
(5)Elmstahl, S. et al., Hydrotherapy of patients with intermittent cluadication: a novel approach to improve systolic ankle pressure and reduce symptoms. Int Angiol. 1995;14:389-394.
(6) Siems, W.G., et al., Uric acid and glutatione levels during short-term whole body cold exposure. Free Radic Biol Med. 1994;16:299-305.

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Weight Loss and Cold Water: Wishful Thinking

March 22 was World Water Day. So this is a good time to think about the meaning of water in our lives and the worldwide threats to our supply of clean water. To that end, Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., this site’s resident “water doctor,” discusses the latest water-related craze: “thermogenesis”, which asks the question: Can drinking cold water help you lose weight? Here are her thoughts:

A new study claims that drinking cold water uses up calories, by thermogenesis —a fancy word for heat production. The study showed that about two thirds of the calories you use up when drinking cold water are expended to warm up the water to body temperature. And one third is used up by increased metabolism, triggered by stress hormones such as adrenaline (the “fight-or-flight” hormone).

Cranking up metabolism to burn up calories may sound like a good idea, but flooding our bodies with stress hormones is not what we need in our stressed-out times. To make matters worse, cold water inside your body clamps down the blood vessels in the stomach, hindering digestion. And since we are already a nation with rather compromised digestive systems, this is a high price to pay for weight loss.

The numbers cited in the study are not impressive: By drinking a pint of cold water, you lose 25 food calories. A similar study done a year ago used even colder water—ice cold—and found that you would have to drink 400 glasses to lose one pound. And this minimal weight loss does not come from losing subcutaneous or abdominal fat (the fat you want to lose).

Talking about losing weight by thermogenesis means not talking about the weighty elephant in the room: The combination of too many calories and not enough exercise. One tablespoon of sugar has exactly those 25 calories that you lose by drinking a pint of cold water. Sounds good? Not if you compare it to a can of soda: up to 150 calories. Or a candy bar: same. Or a portion of ice-cream: about 300. Or a slice of pizza: about 350.

When it comes to weight loss, there is no silver bullet—or silver ice cube—that will magically melt off the pounds. You can, however, crank up your metabolism with a hot bath, and end it with a cold shower to lose a few calories (so few it is only worth mentioning to counter this cold water weight loss craze). You’d be better off following the “freshness pyramid” weight loss program described in my book to fill your body with foods that are bursting with both water and nutrition. But when you drink your water, forget “thermogenesis” and keep it safely at room temperature!

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Cold Showers and Depression

News from The Discovery Channel: “Treatments for depression range from medicines that can come with scary side effects to electric shock therapy, but a new paper suggests a simple cold shower might sometimes cure, and even prevent, the debilitating mood disorder.” Now I understand why I always feel so uplifted and, well, happy, after my morning cold shower gush.  Continue reading

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