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Humans have stores of active brown fat tissue (BAT). Unlike white fat, which stores energy and comprises most body fat, brown fat is active in burning calories and using energy .
Indeed, studies show that cold exposure increases BAT activity which leads to increased calorie expenditure. Researchers concluded that frequent cold exposures might be an acceptable and economical complementary approach to address the current obesity epidemic .
According to preliminary research, a lack of BAT has been linked with obesity .
Cold exposure increases shivering and nonshivering thermogenesis. These processes increase calorie expenditure .
In one study, subjects who were exposed to cold stress had an 80% increase in their metabolism over “warm” levels .
In one study, cold-exposed rats burned so many extra calories that they ate 50% more than control rats but still weighed less than controls .
Another study found that exercising in the cold reduced the inflammatory response seen in regular temperature environments .
This same study found that exercising past a certain time in the cold can actually increase the inflammatory response, so moderation is important .
A study found that flies lived twice as long when kept at 21°C than 27°C .
Similarly, research on worms found that a 5 °C drop in temperature increased lifespan by 75% .
In 1986, one researcher immersed his lab rats in shallow, cool water for four hours per day. The rats burned so many extra calories that they ate 50% more than control rats. The cold-exposed rats still weighed less than the control rats and lived 10% longer .
Another study lowered the core temperature of mice by 0.3 °C (males) and 0.34 °C (females), resulting in an increase in the average lifespan of 12 and 20% respectively .
Increased longevity via cold-exposure could be due to hormesis. Hormesis refers to the paradoxical adaptation that makes animals stronger and more efficient if they are exposed to environmental stresses .
Other researchers prefer the ‘rate of living hypothesis’. This theory suggests that lower temperature promotes longevity by slowing down the rate of reaction of various metabolic processes. This means fewer by-products of metabolism, such as reactive oxygen species (ROS) .
Alternatively, increased longevity from cold exposure may be due to a modulation of genes, such as TRPA-1 and DAF-16 .
Promising animal research in this field should spark further investigation and clinical trials that would examine the anti-aging effects of cold exposure in humans.
The increase in fat burning during cold exposure is modulated by the sympathetic nervous system. Cold temperatures act as a mild “workout” for the nervous system, which adapts and strengthens [27, 28].
The physiological effects of cold therapy include reductions in blood flow, swelling, inflammation, muscle spasm, and metabolic demand .
One study looked at 360 people who either rested or submerged themselves in cold water after resistance training, cycling or running. 24-minute cold water baths (50 – 59 °F) prevented sore muscles after exercises .
This approach is becoming increasingly popular among professional athletes.
In rat studies, cold exposure increased glucose uptake in the peripheral tissues. Thus, cold exposure may be beneficial during a fast, as fasting can cause peripheral insulin resistance .
Cold exposure can enhance the body’s response to insulin, allowing glucose to be cleared from the blood more efficiently .
The nonprofit National Sleep Foundation recommends keeping bedroom sleeping temperatures between 60 and 67 degrees F .
One clinical study looked at the effects of 6 weeks of cold water immersion (14C for 1hr) on the immune system. Participants had increased levels of IL-6, CD3, CD4, CD8 and activated T and B lymphocytes, suggesting a more active immune system .
Engaging in exercise before cold exposure enhances the immune-stimulating effects of cold therapy, but the available research is limited.
According to anecdotal evidence, blasts of cold significantly improve the quality of life for patients suffering from phantom limb pain.
Cold compression therapy provides more pain relief than popular, alternative interventions .
Cold application alone may be effective in reducing pain associated with migraine attacks .
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