You have likely heard a lot of discussion about cold plunges, or you may have seen a celebrity with a cold tub such as Plunge. Jumping into a tub filled with ice cold water might not sound like a lot of fun. However, the cold plunge benefits for your health are undeniable.
I recently tried this phenomenon, and it was exhilarating. I’ll admit it was a tad intimidating at first, knowing I was taking a plunge in a tub of water that was 52 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, I could relax and focus on my breathing once the initial shock wore off. I can see why so many people are diving into this trend.
However, cold plunges aren’t anything new. This form of therapy has been around for centuries. A cold plunge is a type of hydrotherapy that involves immersing oneself in cold water for a short period. The temperature of the water can vary, but it is typically between 50°F (10°C) and 60°F (15.5°C). The duration of the plunge can also vary, but it is usually between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. How long and how cold is completely up to you!
The benefits of a cold plunge range from reducing inflammation, supporting your immune system, helping with recovery, and promoting weight loss. I will explain why you should submerge yourself into the benefits of a cold plunge and the many ways you can support your immune system.
What are the Top Five Cold Plunge Benefits?
There are many great physical and mental cold plunge benefits. Several studies show that cold plunges increase baseline dopamine.1 Dopamine is your reward-seeking chemical messenger that boosts your mood. Another cool benefit of a cold plunge is that it’s been shown to improve the quality of sleep.2 Let’s dive into the top cold plunge benefits.
A Cold Plunge Facilitates a Healthy Inflammatory Response
Inflammation is at the root of nearly every modern, chronic illness. Cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune disease, and even cancer can all be connected with the body’s inability to keep up with the bombardment of inflammation we experience on a day-to-day basis. The most significant cold plunge benefit is that it has been shown to reduce inflammation.
When the body gets exposed to cold water, it triggers vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction causes the narrowing of the blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to the extremities and redirects it to the vital organs.3 This response reduces inflammation by reducing the amount of blood flow to the inflamed or affected area, which reduces swelling and pain.
Cold water immersion also has been shown to reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body. Cytokines are proteins involved in the immune system response. They are the front line defense that signal the immune system to send the troops to fight bacteria or viruses that enter the body.
If your inflammatory response and cytokines can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and a foreign invader, too many cytokines build up and lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
The vasoconstriction response and reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to the anti-inflammatory effects of cold water immersion. Incorporating cold plunges into a regular health and wellness routine may benefit individuals with chronic inflammation.
Cold Plunges Support Your Immune System
Cold plunges benefit your immune system in several ways. For starters, cold plunges promote the production of white blood cells necessary for fighting off infections and viruses. Research shows that when your body temperature decreases during a cold plunge or a cold shower, the body activates your immune system, releasing more white blood cells.4
I mentioned how cold plunges reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation weakens the immune system because your inflammatory response is always on. Imagine your immune system is a light bulb. If it’s always on, it will eventually lose power, and the brightness of the light weakens. If your immune system’s inflammatory response is always on, it becomes tired and weak and can’t fight off foreign invaders effectively.
Cold Plunges Speed up Exercise Recovery
Cold plunges are gaining momentum in the fitness industry because of their benefits for recovery from exercise. Exercise, as healthy as it can be for you, can cause muscle damage and inflammation, leading to soreness and decreased performance.
When you are recovering, your body rebuilds and repairs tissue in your muscle. Cold plunges benefit this process by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the muscle. The increased blood flow helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to the damaged tissues, promoting faster recovery.
Cold Plunge Benefits Blood Circulation
Another great benefit of a cold plunge is improved blood circulation. When you immerse your body in cold water, your blood vessels constrict, slowing blood flow and reducing inflammation.
This constriction can also help to push blood and lymphatic fluid out of the extremities and into the core of the body, which can help to flush out waste products and improve circulation. I’ll talk more about that shortly.
Once you exit the cold water, your blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow and bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients to your cells.
Cold plunges can also help to activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. This activation can stimulate the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, increasing blood flow to your muscles and organs, and promoting better circulation.
Cold Plunges Promote Detoxification
Your lymphatic system is your body’s garbage disposal system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and tissues that helps to remove waste and toxins from the body and supports the immune system. A benefit of cold plunges is increased lymphatic flow.5 Cold plunges cause muscle contraction, stimulating lymphatic drainage to move waste through your body.
Another way cold plunges promote detoxification is by stimulating the body’s production of antioxidants. Antioxidants are molecules that help to protect the body from oxidative stress, which can damage cells and tissues. Exposure to cold water has been shown to promote natural glutathione production.6
A Cold Plunge Benefits Brain Health
One of my favorite benefits of a cold plunge is the increased dopamine and endorphins to boost my mood. Dopamine and endorphins promote feelings of pleasure and euphoria and cold plunges increase dopamine and endorphin production in many ways. Cold plunges stimulate the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones, which increases dopamine and endorphins.
Both endorphins and dopamine positively impact your mood, yet they function in different ways. For example, your body releases endorphins when you exercise to keep you from feeling pain. They do this by attaching to your brain’s opiate receptors, or the reward center. This stimulates the release of dopamine.
Dopamine is a reward chemical that positively impacts our heart rate, learning capacity, motivation, focus, sleep, and mood. The high levels of dopamine after working out is why you seek a reward after.
Furthermore, endorphins are your body’s natural pain reliever. Cold water stimulates your body’s natural pain response, which is the release of endorphins to block the pain receptors in your brain. Endorphins improve your sense of self-worth, reduce stress, and provide a sense of euphoria.
Outside of the benefits, there are many reasons cold plunges have grown in popularity.
Why are Cold Plunges Popular?
Cold therapy has been around for decades as a treatment for inflammation. How many times have you used an ice pack to relieve pain quickly? However, in the past 40 years, we’ve uncovered even more benefits using cold temperatures for their health benefits. Most notably, cold plunges have become increasingly popular among athletes and exercise enthusiasts in recent years to speed up recovery.
Japanese doctor Toshima Yamuchi developed cryotherapy in 1978 as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. One study confirmed his work and found cryotherapy reduced pain and inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, several studies showed improvements in pain reduction and inflammation among patients with autoimmune diseases.
Cold water immersion has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and enhance recovery after exercise. It can also boost the immune system and improve sleep quality. Some people also believe that cold plunges can help to promote weight loss by increasing metabolism.
Believe it or not, one of the primary reasons people are doing cold plunges is for the experience. Some people find the cold water exhilarating and enjoy the sense of invigoration it provides. Cold plunges can also be a form of self-care and promote overall well-being.
Now that we’ve covered everything cold plunges, let’s talk about how to support your immune system. It begins in your gut.
How to Support Your Immune System
Cold plunges aren’t the only way to support your immune system. As I always say, optimal health starts in your gut. Your gut and immune system share a fascinating connection. You cannot have a strong immune system without a healthy gut. The best way to support your immune system is to take care of your gut by keeping your microbiome balanced.
A balanced gut microbiome is critical to a healthy immune system. A situation known as dysbiosis occurs when the balance of bacteria in the gut gets thrown off. Over time, having this dysbiosis in your gut microbiome will eventually lead to a leaky gut.
If your gut is leaky, food particles, toxins, and infections can get through your intestinal lining and into your bloodstream where your immune system detects them as foreign invaders and goes on high alert, attacking them and creating inflammation. One main way inflammation occurs is that many of these food particles (especially gluten and casein, a protein found in dairy), toxins, and infections look very similar to your body’s cells. Your immune system gets confused and accidentally attacks healthy tissues which leads to autoimmunity. This process is called molecular mimicry.7
Additionally, when your gut microbiome becomes unbalanced and contains more bad than good bacteria, the harmful bacteria become opportunistic and can lead to SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) or Candida overgrowth. Over time, having this dysbiosis in your gut microbiome will eventually lead to a leaky gut. So, to support your immune system, you must repair your gut.
How to Repair Your Gut
In functional medicine, we use the proven 4R approach to repair your gut:
- Remove the bad – Get rid of anything that negatively impacts the environment of your gastrointestinal tracts, such as toxins and inflammatory foods, as well as intestinal infections, such as SIBO and yeast overgrowth.
- Restore what’s missing — Add Gut Restore with Betaine and HCL and digestive enzymes to your daily regimen to help support digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Reinoculate with healthy bacteria — Restore beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement to re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria to heal your gut.
- Repair the gut — Provide the necessary nutrients to help the gut repair itself. Leaky Gut Revive® Max is my No. 1 tool to repair a leaky gut and support your immune system. Collagen protein or drinking bone broth also are great tools for gut repair.
While repairing your gut, you’ll want to give your immune system additional support with vitamin D. Many immune cells have Vitamin D receptors, including macrophages, dendritic cells, monocytes, T-cells, and B-cells. As such, Vitamin D plays a significant role in modulating both innate and adaptive immune responses.
One of the best ways to naturally increase your vitamin D levels is by spending time in the sunlight. However, sun exposure does come with risks. Too much sun exposure can lead to early aging, a weakened immune system, skin cancer, and eye damage.
If your vitamin D3 levels are below the recommended range of 60-90 ng/mL, I recommend that adults take 5,000 daily IU of a high-quality Vitamin D3/K2 and children take 2,000 IU
To support a healthy inflammatory response, I recommend adding Liposomal Curcumin.
Most curcumin and turmeric supplements aren’t easily absorbable. Liposomal Curcumin. solves the problem of poor absorbability and bioavailability by surrounding the curcumin molecule with a thin layer of healthy fat which is easier to absorb in the intestinal lining.
Curcumin is the primary curcuminoid found in turmeric and is a powerful free radical scavenger, which is important for optimal immune system function as free radicals cause inflammation throughout the body. Not only does curcumin positively impact your body’s inflammatory response it also promotes the production of T-cells that favorably affects cytokine production.
The Final Word on Cold Plunge Benefits
Cold plunges are generally safe and easy to do at home without needing a fancy tub or a med spa. Simply run a cold bath, add ice, and reap all the benefits of the cold plunge. You can start slowly and increase the time you spend in the cold water. It’s hard to ignore the many amazing benefits of a cold plunge, such as faster recovery, reduced inflammation, better circulation, and detoxification. I recommend trying a cold plunge and seeing if it works for you.
- Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. P Srámek, et al. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2000.
- How a Cold Shower Before Bed Affects Your Sleep. Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA. Healthline. 2021.
- Effects of Cold Water Immersion on Muscle Oxygenation During Repeated Bouts of Fatiguing Exercise. Simon S. Yeung, PhD, et al. Medicine v95. 2016.
- Effect of winter swimming on hematological parameters. Giovanni Lombardi, et al. Biochemia Medica. 2011.
- Taking the Plunge: Is Cold Exposure Worthwhile?. Cedars Sinai. 2022.
- Uric acid and glutathione levels during short-term whole body cold exposure. W G Siems. Free Radical Biology & Medicine. 1994.
- Molecular Mimicry as a Mechanism of Autoimmune Disease. Giovanni Lombardi, et al. Nature Public Health Emergency Collection. 2012.