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Cold exposure : 3 scientifically proven benefits

(Updated: 9th Jan 2019)


The popularity of cold exposure has increased over the last few years. Whether it is through cryotherapy or cold water immersion more and more people practice and hashtag: #coldexposure. In this article I will cover the benefits of cold exposure for those of us living a modern lifestyle.


How old is cold therapy?

The moment you ask this question you realise that cold exposure has been accompanying humans from the very start. As temperatures in nature constantly fluctuate, humans have been exposed to cold voluntarily or not for a long time.


As a form of therapy, cold exposure is listed in “The Edwin Smith Papyrus” dated 3,500 BC (Wang H et al., 2006). In certain parts of the globe (ie. Russia, Bulgaria, Scandinavian countries) cold exposure has been part of the culture, practiced in banya or plunge pools. In 2015 Wim Hof (a dutchman Guinness record holder of a few endeavours involving cold exposure) popularised cold training. Training in 2016 with Wim initiated my journey in cold exposure.


Cold exposure has been part of the yoga tradition as much of standard procedure in hospitals to prevent further damage in patients with cardiovascular (Ref) and neurological conditions (Ref).


1. Cold exposure improves Circulation & Cardiovascular Function

Think of cold exposure as a workout for the circulatory system.

Most people think of cardio when it comes to improving their cardiovascular function. Cold exposure though offers a unique way to strengthen one’s cardiovascular system (cvs).

Our cardiovascular system is surrounded by epithelial muscles which facilitate the circulation of the blood. At low temperatures the epithelial muscles surrounding the veins and arteries of our extremities constrict – preserving the blood and the nutrients carried in it for the more vital organs in the trunk and the head. When the body returns to higher temperatures the epithelial muscles in our extremities dilate again allowing for the blood to flow freely there. In a similar way that our biceps get stronger as they contract during bicep curls (or chaturangas) our cardiovascular system can get stronger through cold exposure.



Good circulation means no athletes foot, no cold extremities, better cognitive function, ability to heal/recover faster and perform better in sports.


2. Cold exposure is a meditation technique

Those that practice cold water immersions for some time report a sensation of stillness in mind (usually 30 seconds to a minute after the initial exposure). A friend of mine Luke Wills (founder of the Optimal Health Method) said he reached the same state of mind in his 2nd ice bath, with that on the 7th day in a vipassana meditation retreat. Anecdotal evidence like this were confirmed to be valid in a study published in May 2018 titled “Brain over Body“.  In this study participants with no previous experience in cold exposure and Wim Hof, were interchangeably exposed to cold and neutral temperatures. One of the most striking differences between the inexperienced subjects and Wim was the Dutchman’s ability to reduce activity in the insular cortex part of the brain during cold exposure. Insular cortex is an area involved in emotional attachment to external stimuli and self-reflection. Activity in this part of the brain has been shown to be linked with meditation and control in emotional eating.


Meditation is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga.


3. Cold exposure helps overcome fears

Cold exposure is demanding on many levels; the adrenals, musculoskeletal system, circulation and the brown fat tissue are activated at low temperatures. Aside though the multiple biochemical adaptations in the rest of the body, our brain also changes when we are exposed to cold. The initial response is that of: “fight or flight” [2]. A small area of the brain called amygdala (Greek word for almond) – by activating the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis – signals a Stress response to the rest of the body. While this initial stage is universal the way one deals with cold thereafter depends on her experience and ability to use her breath.

By training the body to deal with a stressful situation (ie. a cold immersion) in a controlled environment (such as a shower or a bath) we can reprogram our mind to deal with stressful situations which are out of our control. Our main tool in this process is our breath. Dealing with fear was the focus of a workshop I gave in 2017 to a group of actors. You can see footage from it in the video.

Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga” has the subtitle: “the yoga journey to wholeness, inner peace and ultimate freedom.” In our yogic journey (our journey to wholeness) we will have to ultimately face our fears. I believe that cold exposure offers a unique opportunity to learn how to do that.



The list above is not exhaustive of the benefits one can get from cold exposure; controlling pain perception [Ref], generation of Brown Fat [Ref], strengthening of the immune system [Ref], improved tolerance to cold [Ref] are also good reasons for modern humans to practice cold exposure.


Future workshops are listed here.


Underactive thyroid and weight management – part III

According to the American Thyroid Association 12% of Americans will develop hypothyroidism at some point in their life, while 60% of those with an underactive thyroid are undiagnosed. Given the pandemic of inflammatory conditions now present and the link between the adrenal, immune and digestive system with the thyroid I believe that the above numbers are an underestimate. One of the most common manifestations of an underactive thyroid is challenges with weight management.

The link thyroid has with the adrenals and digestion described in the previous 3 posts will have an indirect impact on weight management. In this post I will discuss how thyroid directly affects body weight and body composition.

1. When someone is hypothyroid his/her liver and gallbladder will become sluggish (1,2) having 2 implications:
i. the body will store fat faster than burn it.
ii. the fat cells’ ability to uptake LDL diminishes (3) causing the Triglycerides, cholesterol and LDL in the blood to increase.

2. An underactive thyroid slows down the absorption of glucose both from the gut to the bloodsteam and from the blood to the cells. This is very important to keep in mind as blood tests may return normal blood sugar levels while the person may suffer from hypoglycemia or/and insulin resistance.


Knowing about the link between underactive thyroid and weight management what can you do?

First and foremost, you should not assume that only overweight people can have an underactive thyroid. This is a very common misconception. Second remember that symptoms are more valuable than tests. If you feel crap there is something wrong in your body no matter what the tests say. Last you need to find the route cause of the underactive thyroid. In an earlier post I referred to the chemicals that can disrupt thyroid function. Work with a Naturopath or Nutritional Therapist.



1. Possible chronic thyroiditis revealed by [18F]-FDG-PET/CT scan in a euthyroid patient with recurrent gallblader carcinoma. Thyroid 2007 17:1157-1158.

2. Is bile flow reduced in patients with hypothyroidism? Surgery 2003, 133: 288-293.

(3) Oge A, Sozmen E, karaoglue AO (2004) Effect of thyroid function on LDL oxidation in hypothyridism and hyperthyroidism. Endocr Res; 30: 481-489.

Underactive thyroid and gut health

The relationship between underactive thyroid and gut health is reciprocal. While a compromised thyroid health will affect the gut function, the reverse also holds true.

How does an underactive thyroid affect the gut

i. For proper digestion of protein the stomach needs to secrete hydrochloric acid (HCl) – a very expensive energy-wise process. When the thyroid is underactive the production of HCl is low (hypochloridia)  (1). The implications of hypochloridia are massive as undigested proteins can cause increased intestinal permeability in the gut.

ii. Underactive thyroid will slow down other high energy demanding processes in the body such as liver and gallbladder function (2,3). The consequence is poor fat digestion and detoxification.


“Whatever the reason of the cause, slow thyroid function will compromise macronutrient digestion”


How can poor gut health cause hypothyroidism

i. While most of the T4 (inactive form of thyroid hormone) is activated in the liver, 20% of the conversion takes place in the intestines, in the presence of healthy gut flora.

ii. Inflammation in the gi track can exhaust the adrenals (4) which will then drug down the function of thyroid.

iii. Constipation can compromise the elimination of estrogen from the body. High estrogen levels by binding to thyroid hormone receptors can slow down thyroid function.

iv. Faulty digestion is one of the primary causes of autoimmune disease (5,6). With 60% of the immune system located in the gi track this should come as no surprise. Hashimoto’s is an automimmune disorder where the body attacks the TPO enzyme in the thyroid gland.

v. Elevated levels of Yersinia enterocolitica bacteria have been associated with patients suffering from Hashimoto’s disease (7).


 How to address hypothyroid-gut issues

Nobel prize winner and microbiologist Elie Metchnikoff said: “Death begins in the colon.” But so does health. Healing the gut should be your primary concern if you are presenting with gi and thyroid problems. A comprehensive stool analysis is a great starting point.


Knowing how underactive thyroid can put a burden on gut health what can you do?

If you suffer from gastrointestinal problems make sure your thyroid function is good shape. While supplementation and natural remedies can support digestion initially, on the long run you want the body to produce adequate levels of HCl and digestive enzymes. If underactive thyroid symptoms are present work with a healthcare practitioner to improve your thyroid health.





1. Atrophic body gastritis in patients with autoimmune thyroid disease: an underdiagnosed association. Arch Intern Med 1999 159:1726-1730.

2. Possible chronic thyroiditis revealed by [18F]-FDG-PET/CT scan in a euthyroid patient with recurrent gallblader carcinoma. Thyroid 2007 17:1157-1158.

3. Is bile flow reduced in patients with hypothyroidism? Surgery 2003, 133: 288-293.

4. Chronic fatigue syndrome: inflammation, immune function, and neuroendocrine interactions. Curr Rheumatol Rep 2007 9:482-487.

5. The gut immune system and type 1 diabetes. Ann NY Acad Sci 2002; 958:39-46.

6. The “perfect storm” for type 1 diabetes: the complex interplay between intestinal microbiota, gut permeability and mucosal immunity. Diabetes 2008;57:2555-2562.

7. Clin Microbiol Infect 2001 Mar 7:138-143.


Underactive thyroid and adrenal health

The symptoms list* of underactive thyroid is long and just by skimming through it, it becomes obvious that thyroid affects many organs in the body. However is there an organ that controls the thyroid?

The adrenals affect thyroid function both directly and indirectly.

i. Cortisol is necessary for the conversion of T4 -the inactive thyroid hormone- to T3 -the active thyroid hormone-(1,2). Low levels of cortisol will signal the thyroid to slow down.

ii. Chronic stress exhausts the pituitary gland resulting in a diminished release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) (3). TSH is the hormone signaling the thyroid to produce T4 & T3.

i. Elevated levels of cortisol make cells resistant to thyroid hormones (4,5). While the thyroid hormone production may be adequate the effect is not, as the hormones do not get inside the cell.

ii. Chronic stress induces the production of thyroid binding protein. When there is a lot of thyroid binding protein in the blood there are few free thyroid hormones and symptoms of hypothyroidism may appear.


Knowing the above about underactive thyroid and adrenal health what can you do?

If you suspect suffering from hypothyroidism get your adrenals checked. Treating your thyroid while your adrenals are exhausted is dangerous. The best test to assess your adrenal health is an Adrenal Stress Index test, where 4 saliva samples are taken during the day. Cortisol has a daily cycle. In a healthy individual the morning cortisol levels should be high and the levels should diminish gradually.

When doing an ASI test also include the following markers: DHEA, TPO antibodies & sIgA to get a better picture of your body’s response to stress.




*loss of outermost portion of eyebrows
poor circulation
slow wound healing
dry brittle hair
hair falls out easily
chronic digestive problems
excessive amount of sleep required to function



1. LoPresti, JSand Nicoloff JT (1997) Thyroid response to critical illness. Endocrinology of Critical Disease Human Press. Totowa. NJ 1997. Pp157-173.

2. Strakis CA, Chrousos GP. (1995) Neuroendocrinology and Pathophysiology of the Stress System. Ann NY Acad Sci Vol. 771, pp1-18.

3. Rettori V, Milenkoic L, Beutler BA et al. (1989) Hypothalamus action of cachectin to alter pituitary hormone release. brain Res Bull. 23:471-475.

4. Williams GR, Neuberger JM, Ranklin JA, Sheppard MC (1989) Thyroid hormone receptor expression in the “sick euthyroid syndrome. Lancet, 2: 1477-1481.

5. Reidel W, Layka H, Neeck G (1998) Secretory pattern of GH, TSH, Thyroid hormones, ACTH, cortisol, FSH, and LH in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome following systemic injection of the relevant hypothalamic-releasing hormones, 57: 81-87.

Shoot yourself in the thyroid

You know the expression: “Shooting yourself in the foot.” In the same way you can sabotage your own endeavors in life, you can sabotage your thyroid health. In this post I would like to discuss the dangers certain chemicals have for thyroid function.

Chlorine is a chemical related to iodine. By binding to iodine receptors chlorine prevents iodine from supporting thyroid function. Same thing holds true for fluoride and bromine.


So what can you do?

Depending on your sensitivity to these chemicals avoiding them completely or partially may be the right strategy for you. Chlorine is found in tap water & swimming pools. Fluoride exists in tap water & tooth pastes. Bromine is found in pesticides & plastic containers.


If you want to deepen your understanding on thyroid health Datis Kharrazian’s book: Why do I still have thyroid symptoms? is an excellent start.