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Why You Should Be Practicing Cold Thermogenesis

Pop Quiz! What do taking cold showers, swimming in a freezing pool, and drinking ice-cold water all have in common?

They’re all forms of cold thermogenesis! In recent years, cold thermogenesis has made serious waves in the health field; due to its great benefits! Cold thermogenesis has been linked to reduced inflammation, regulating body fat, boosting the immune system, and neuroprotective benefits!

In this blog, we’ll break it all down for you and tell you how you can easily incorporate cold thermogenesis into your daily life!

What is cold thermogenesis?

Thermogenesis is the method in which your body produces heat to keep the body warm. Cold thermogenesis is the act of intentionally exposing the body to a cold temperature for short periods of time to induce adaptable, beneficial hormetic responses. When you expose yourself to colder temperatures, it forces the body to work harder to remain homeostasis and its core temperature, which is typically around 98.6F degrees.

In order to do so in colder temperatures, the body must produce more energy to stay warm. To do so, more calories will be burned to produce heat. This will stimulate and increase your metabolism. Fat is also burned because cold thermogenesis activates the body’s built-in stores of brown fat.

Unlike other forms of cold defense, cold thermogenesis is a non-shivering method of keeping your body temperature warm. This involves the body burning energy from brown fat and producing heat without the contraction of skeletal muscles. Energy expenditure increases up to 5 times above the resting energy expenditure in order to offset heat loss. This is mainly due to the powerful effects of brown fat.

Brown v. White Fat:

The body has two different kinds of fat, brown and white fat.

  • White fat:

    • Typically storage tissue

    • Lower rate of metabolism

    • Too much white fat leads to obesity

    • Examples include love handles, belly fat, and the fat everyone wants to get rid of

  • Brown fat:

    • Uniquely high metabolic active tissue

    • Commonly found in babies and animals that hibernate that burn brown fat to stay warm

    • Primarily found in the neck, sternum, and upper back

    • Brown fat is rich in mitochondria

    • Brown fat burns up white fat, by releasing heat to warm the body

Brown fat is so beneficial largely because of the excess mitochondria found within the cells. The mitochondria play a role in heat production within the brown fat. Within these mitochondria, energy from ATP is uncoupled and used to create extra heat. These mitochondria within brown fat actually create more heat than regular mitochondria- also burning more calories in the process.

Our levels of brown fat are actually highest when we are born- the body mass of babies can be up to 5% brown fat. Babies need this brown fat to moderate their body temperature, as they are unable to shiver. As we age, however, greater amounts of white fat are stored throughout the body. However, leaner adults typically have greater amounts of brown fat than individuals with a higher BMI. Adults store their brown fat around the collar bones and upper back.

Cold thermogenesis & Brown Fat:

One of the primary ways of activating brown fat is through exposure to cold, or cold thermogenesis. A cold temperature ‘turns on’ brown fat and causes the fat to burn calories from glucose or fat to maintain body temperature and create heat. When fully activated, brown fat can burn 3,400 calories a day, much higher than the 2,000 calories per day that most people burn.

Brown fat growth can be stimulated by long-term mild cold exposure. Research has demonstrated that:

  • One study found that only 10 days of 6-hour exposure to 60F degrees increased brown fat. Obese participants in the study experienced not only an increase in brown fat activation but also an improvement in insulin sensitivity.

  • Another study found that 2 hours per day in 62.6F degrees for 6 weeks resulted in a decrease in body fat. The same study found that 6 hours a day for 10 days at the same temperature resulted in increased levels of brown fat.

  • A third study found that a month of exposure to 66F degrees for 10 hours at night caused participants to experience a 42% increase in brown fat volume and a 10% increase in brown fat metabolic activity. Researchers also saw that participants experienced improved insulin sensitivity and changes to multiple hormones.

Cold Thermogenesis & Health Benefits:

Because cold thermogenesis forces the entire body to react to the decreased temperature, health benefits can be seen throughout the entire body. Some of the health benefits that accompany cold thermogenesis include:

Antioxidant Activity:

Exposure to cold temperatures has been shown to activate antioxidizing systems. One study found that cryotherapy treatment may reduce oxidative stress and inhibit free radical generation. (As a reminder, free radicals are molecules that can damage the cells, tissue, and DNA in the body.)

A second study found that even a 2F degree temperature reduction to the core body temperature is enough to induce cold shock proteins that can help repair processes for essential neuroprotection of neurodegenerative disease.

Boost the metabolism:

Cold thermogenesis has also been found to increase the metabolism through non-shivering and shivering thermogenesis. This can lead to a 3 to 5 times increase in the body’s normal resting metabolic rate.

This increase in metabolic rate is largely due to the increased activity in the mitochondria in brown fat, which are activated in the cold to create more heat. As a bonus, these metabolic effects don’t go away as soon as you return to normal body temperature, but can stay for hours or days.

Enhanced immune system functioning:

Cryotherapy and other forms of cold thermogenesis have been proven to boost the immune system. This is because cold exposure increases levels of disease and infection-fighting immune cells.

Further research suggests that exposure to cold can increase the number of white blood cells, cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, and further beneficial immune cells. This will also help to boost the function of the immune system.

Increased insulin sensitivity:

By increasing brown fat, cold thermogenesis can also increase sensitivity to insulin. High insulin sensitivity allows the cells to more effectively use blood glucose, which will reduce blood sugar levels. Low insulin sensitivity can lead to health conditions like diabetes.

One study found that as brown fat activity increased through exposure to cold temperatures as did the control of glucose (blood sugar) because of insulin.

How to do cold thermogenesis:

While there are no proven protocols on how to adapt your body to the cold, experts encourage you to slowly build a tolerance instead of just jumping into a frozen lake. Further, cold thermogenesis doesn’t require full-body subversion to get the fat burning and metabolism-boosting benefits.

We recommend that you start with beginner cold thermogenesis techniques, such as:

  • Being in a 66F degrees room with minimal clothing

  • Sleeping in a room around 66F degrees for 4 weeks

These small changes are enough to cause a mild increase in calorie expenditure as the nervous system is activated to increase body temperature.

To reach the true metabolic burning benefits of cold thermogenesis, you might want to try some moderate techniques:

  • Sitting or sleeping in a 50-60F degree room with minimal clothing

This is cold enough to ‘turn on’ the burning of brown fat which will burn calories from glucose or fat.

Other ways of achieving cold thermogenesis include taking a cold shower, jumping into a cold lake, river, pool, or bath for at least 3 minutes several times per week. This type of cold thermogenesis has been found to be just as effective as cryotherapy for achieving the associated health benefits.

  • A long-term study found that people who exposed themselves to cold water (40F) for 20 seconds had the same effects as those who did whole body cryotherapy at -166F for 2 minutes.

Incorporating a longer 10-20 minute ice bath or cold soak can also induce the benefits of cold thermogenesis. Longer, more significant soaks can significantly boost the conversion of white fat to brown fat.

For more information on how to incorporate cold thermogenesis into your life, click here to contact us! Or contact our office at to schedule your complimentary 15-minute discovery call.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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