Tag Archives: cold shower health benefits

H1N1 Pandemic: Boost Your Immunity

The World Health Organization has determined the H1N1 outbreak is a pandemic.  That in itself is not a measure of the severity of the so-called “swine flu” – just of its dispersion now into Australia, too. I asked Alexa Fleckenstein, M.D., to comment about ways to protect oneself. Here is her advice—which should, of course, never replace a consultation with  your doctor or health care professional. Always check before taking any over-the-counter or herbal supplements to make sure they are right for you. In addition, there are several ways  to use water, including saltwater rinses, to protect yourself from viruses, explained here.

So far, the swine flu has been mild – lethality does not even reach that of “normal” flu outbreaks which kill more than 30,000 people every year. The unfortunate people, who die, usually have underlying diseases which compromise their immune systems. The fear is that this flu might mutate like the 1918/19 flu did, and come down on us the second time around with a vengeance. Normally, mutations are such that the virus dies out–and it would be an extremely rare event that it would mutate into a much stronger strain. Nevertheless, that is the thinking behind taking the swine flu seriously now–mostly to observe it evolve (or perish).
Advice From Dr. Alexa (but always check with your doctor first)
Meanwhile, get enough sleep, take your herbs, eat plenty of vegetables, drink warm water and/or herbal teas. And it is never too late to start challenging your immune system with daily cold showers – unless you are already coming down with something.
Another anti-viral concoction I want to share with you is the Chinese Jian Qiao Jie Du Pian or Isatis 6, also called Honeysuckle-Forsythia Detoxifier. It might be a good idea to have some of those pills at hand when you get sick (get them from a reputable source). During the next H1N1 outbreak – or any seasonal viral disease that might come along.

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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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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.

You can see all comments on this post here:

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Filed under children's health, cold shower health benefits, Healing, Health, Uncategorized, Water

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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Filed under cold shower health benefits, Sebastian Kneipp, Water

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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Filed under Chronic Pain, cold shower health benefits, Healing, Health, Water

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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Cold, Happy Half Bath

“Traditionally, cold sitzbaths — also called happy half baths — have been recommended against hemorrhoids, varicose veins and infertility (of both sexes),” says board-certified internist and expert in European Natural Medicine Alexa Fleckenstein, MD. “Taken in the evening, they work against insomnia. Done regularly, they promote immune health and disease resistance, similar to cold showers. I take mine because I want to emulate the wonderful feeling I have when I swim in the cold waters of Maine in the summer; my cold sitzbath in the morning leaves me with the same elation and freshness, geared for another strenuous day.”

The name “sitzbath” is a halfway translation from German into English: The original word is “Sitzbad”. “Sitz” means “to sit” and “bad” is “bath”. Dr. Fleckenstein advises that a cold sitzbath should not be done for more than a few seconds. You should not feel cold afterward – just energized and really warm within a few minutes. And never do any cold water treatment on a cold body – Rule Number One in all hydrotherapy. “Let cold water run into a clean bathtub – two to three inches is enough,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “Sit. Don’t forget to splash – it’s fun! Get out and towel off. That’s all. Some hardy people recommend skipping the toweling in the evening and going into bed wet, promoting sleepiness.”

While sitzbaths have a long tradition in European Natural Medicine, there is not much sound research evidence. “However,” says Dr. Fleckenstein, “my patients have benefited. As is the case with many natural therapies, studies have not been done because there’s no money to be made. Nobody can make a buck if I sit for a few seconds in cold water in my tub!”

Contraindications from Dr. Fleckenstein: “Don’t do a cold sitzbath during an acute urinary tract infection, acute back pain and any acute disease. And always check with your doctor first.”

For more information on cold, warm and hot baths, see her book, Health20.

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Restoring the Rhythm of the Body

If your health problems include chronic pain in your joints or back, headaches, or ear infections, you might benefit from a craniosacral therapy — after consultation with your doctor, of course. During a session of craniosacral therapy, you lie on your back, fully clothed, on a cushioned table. As the practitioner places her hands under your back on the connection between your head and neck, there is no sensation of “forcing” a movement. “I try to detect and focus on the deepest reservoir of the body, below the ‘radar’ of the conscious mind and even of the muscle,” says Dr. Eurydice Hirsey in Own Your Health—Pain: back pain, arthritis, migraines, joint pain and more, by Adam Perlman, MD, MPH. “I often just follow the body’s own impulse, gently helping it to undo the resistance in its own way, without pushing on the muscles or joints,” says Dr. Hirsey, a chiropractor who is also trained in craniosacral therapy. “This is how craniosacral work differs from chiropractic or even massage, where the practitioner might force or create a change in the body. It is the patient’s own response to the practitioner’s gentle touch that provides the release.”

When the muscle resistance does finally relax, the sensation is one of deep release from a tension you might not have been aware of. “For some people this can be an enormous, sometimes volcanic release,” said Dr. Hirsey. “They may cry, laugh or feel anger, often depending on whether the physical restriction in the body came from an emotional trauma.”

Craniosacral therapy, which can be performed by other practitioners, such as chiropractors, massage therapists, nurses and physical therapists, grew out of the system of osteopathy and treats the central nervous system and its relationship to the spinal cord in a similar way. Practitioners say that craniosacral “rhythm” within the body comes from the regular pulsing of the liquid — called cerebrospinal fluid — that bathes, nourishes and protects the spinal cord. It is through the regular pulses of the cerebrospinal fluid that the brain transmits nerve messages to keep the body alive and functioning.

Blockages or restrictions in the craniosacral fluid can result from tension in the muscles or “fascia,” the tissue just under the skin that overlies muscle and some organs, like a kind of inner “sleeve,” says Dr. Hirsey. “As I place my hands on the spine and head of my patient, I can often feel enormous resistance to the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, caused by blockages in the tissue,” she explains. “Any injury or trauma that alters or minimizes the flow of this fluid can cause pain and have a negative effect on our well-being and health.”

No matter who the practitioner is, the most important component in effective treatment is that the practitioner take into account the condition of the entire body, and that the technique is never used to replace necessary conventional treatment.

What’s the Evidence?
No controlled trials of craniosacral therapy seem to exist, according to one author, Dr. Edzard Ernst, who surveyed the literature, pointing out that Dr. Upledger himself, an osteopathic physician who developed the technique, does not cite them in his own writing. “Even though small movements between cranial bones are possible, there is no good evidence to suggest that restrictions of these movements have any health related relevance,” writes Ernst. -Ernst, Edzard, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An evidence-based approach. Harcourt Publishers Limited 2001. P. 48.

However, practitioners, patients and parents claim that the technique is beneficial for problems such as birth trauma, chronic pain, cerebral dysfunction, cerebral palsy, colic, depression, dyslexia, ear infections, headaches, learning disabilities, Méniere’s disease, musculoskeletal problems, migraine, sinusitis and stroke. Young children are believed to respond particularly well. Personally, I have found regular craniosacral treatments helpful in dealing with the chronic musculoskeletal pain of Marfan Syndrome.

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Filed under children's health, Chronic Pain, cold shower health benefits, ear infections, Headache, Healing, Health, Marfan Syndrome

Take a Cold Shower to Protect Against Colds and Flu This Winter

At first, it sounds crazy – can a cold shower really prevent colds and flu? But Dr. Alexa Fleckenstein, author of HEALTH 2 0: TAP INTO THE HEALING POWERS OF WATER TO FIGHT DISEASE, LOOK YOUNGER, AND FEEL YOUR BEST (McGraw-Hill 2007) says that a few seconds of cold water after your hot shower is scientifically proven to make you healthy – even if you’re in the cold water for less than 30 seconds a day.

Here are 6 ways that a short cold shower protects you from colds and flu:

1. A brief cold water shower will decrease your body’s “reaction time” to cold. The cold shower “teaches” the blood vessels in your skin to clamp down faster, so you are losing less warmth in draft or cold exposure. Especially, during the winter months while it’s cold outside, you’ll stay warmer, longer.

2. Gamma interferon and interleukin-4 are two important virus-fighting cytokines (immune system proteins) A new German study has shown that cold water exposure helps these two disease-fighters work better together, resulting in fewer viral colds.

3. A cold shower increases lymphocytes in the blood. Lymphocytes produce antibodies, which help fight germs.

4. A cold shower makes you breathe deeply. (A big gasp when the cold water hits the skin!) A deep breath opens closed or clogged alveoli (small air sacs in the lungs) which are then less prone to bronchitis and pneumonia. And deeper breathing means more oxygen for the whole body.

5. A cold shower increases blood flow in all organs, especially skin, heart and lungs. The pharynx/larynx ( organs of the throat) also benefit from the increased blood flow, and are better able to kill viruses.

6. And a cold shower lifts your mood. Depressed people get more colds – probably because depression lowers immunity. A brisk cold shower has been proven to lift the mood and lower stress, both of which jumpstart the immune response – which kills flu and cold germs!

Remember that cold water therapy works only if done regularly, and also needs a few weeks (about six) to work. Start with just your feet and hands in the cold water, and gradually work your way up to your whole body. It feels great!

IMPORTANT: Check with your doctor first. Contraindication include uncontrolled high blood pressure, and narrowing of the arteries.

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