Sometimes you come across protocols that just seem crazy. In a community where snake oil is a-dripping a-plenty, we tend to start with skepticism. This was the case when I first heard about Cold Thermogenesis. Tim Ferris discussed cold immersion in his book, The Four Hour Body, but what really caught my interest was this article about an Olympic gymnast who got a spine fracture and recovered with a combination epi-paleo and 30-40 minute ice baths. She claimed that she would’ve had to stop gymnastics otherwise. She followed Dr. Jack Kruse’s cold thermogenesis protocol.
I should preface this by saying Jack’s material is very dense, he tends to explain things in complicated wording, and he has a spotty reputation (to put it kindly) even amongst the Paleo community. Much of this has to do with his extreme claims, somewhat less due to the danger of induced hypothermia. I guess only time will show whether he’s a genius, crazy, or both.
Fear: The Big Resistance
Although I was interested in the ice bath, I pretty much stuck the idea in the freezer because there was no way I was jumping into one. As an avid basketball fan, I’d seen my favorite stars use them at a time when playing careers are longer than ever, so I believed there was significant anti-inflammatory effect. I’d also experimented a bit with hydrotherapy (alternating between hot and cold water showers) and it would always awaken me while decreasing my hypotension. But ice bath? I shudder at the thought.
Then I heard about a friend with ME/CFS try Jack’s protocol and start to normalize hormones (better sleep, less adrenal fatigue and better temperature tolerance, less viral sensations.) I knew I had to give it a shot. Jack advises gradually increasing exposure, but given that I handled the coldness of hydrotherapy well, I figured I could expose myself to just the cold part fairly quickly. I also suck at “gradual”, so this is what I started doing:
Cold showers (probably 40-50F) outdoors in 50s F weather
Keep the thermostat at 55F throughout the night.
Within a day, I noticed something significant: I didn’t need 9 hours of sleep anymore. Ever since I got sick in 2007, getting 9 hours of sleep to function has been an unbreakable law. Less and I should forget about whatever plans I had unless they involved netflix. After I started this protocol 3 weeks ago, I stopped being able to sleep 9 hours. I kept getting 7-8 hours. Every morning, I’d groan at the possibility of entering slog mode, but it never happened. I’d wake up refreshed and remain functional through the day. Shocking. What was less shocking was that I was now wearing t-shirts when my family is wearing 3 layers. Sure it’s a nice advantage to have, but I was doing this to feel better, not to expose more skin.
Hormones Grow In The Fridge
There is no doubt in my mind that exposing my body to this 55-and-under temperature range did a number on my hormones. Jack says: “In cold, the pituitary-hypothalamic portal is involved in the production of lots of alpha MSH and ACTH. When MSH rises, you are allowing the brain to control everything to get you to optimal.” If those terms sound familiar to you, you may be familiar with Ritchie Shoermaker’s biotoxin illness model. Here is Jack talking about Lyme disease, ME/CFS, fibromyalgia, and…wait for it….how these illnesses start with biotoxins and end with runaway inflammation. A few quotes:
“When biotoxins from any source cause amplification of cytokines, they chronically elevate serum leptin levels.”
“Lowered alpha MSH is the key common finding in all these biotoxin diseases. It controls the biotoxin pathway as its major anti inflammatory compound. Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, FM, mold illness, and any other biotoxin illness regardless of the source of the biotoxin, we find reduction in MSH in 95-98% of patients!”
Jack’s Treatment for Biotoxin Illness
Jack pretty much follows Shoemaker’s lead on treatment with CSM, antiobiotics, and Actos, then adds in his leptin reset protocol (basically paleo with a few mods plus cold thermogenesis). On Actos: “The interesting thing is that Actos will not work if you eat a SAD, or high carbohydrate diet, because of leptin effects on NPY in the hypothalamus. It works best if one eats a ketogenic paleolithic diet.” I wonder how many patients haven’t responded to Actos because of this?
So if Shoemaker’s approach makes sense to you, Jack Kruse’s cold thermogenesis protocol is a natural extension based on the same underlying principles.
Other Paleo Guys Chime In
Here’s a caveat from Dave Asprey on the danger of not easing into this (although his mistake was clearly not paying attention), and a more balanced tone from Mark Sisson here and here. To summarize Mark, he pretty agrees with Jack on cold thermogenesis, just not at 2-hour ice baths. He states: ”Cold showers, research shows, can help this habituation process, but only water at 10 degrees Celsius (as opposed to 15 degrees C) made a difference.” (Note: 10C = 50F)
Why We Need To Get Colder
The main reason I took so long to do this was because of fear of cold and hypothermia. Just from looking at that sentence, you probably shivered. I still do. But what if it could work? I’m not in a situation where I have access to a bathtub, but by all accounts an ice bath is far more tolerable than taking the same cold shower outdoors where the wind is blowing you to mindfuck territory.
Jack’s thoughts on evolution are certainly a bit.. out there. My own are more focused on the use of artificial heat and A/Cs. There’s of course Dave’s story of a Sherpa falling through the ice and not even needing a jacket. We have anecdotes of our grandparents waking up to finding frost on their blankets and being more fascinated than shivery. Nowadays, we keep the thermostat set at the same temperature throughout the year. There’s no getting around the fact that this is purely human invention, and we’re not designed to be exposed to the same temperature year round just like we’re not designed to sit all day. The real kick in the pants is that the overuse of heat in the humid winter may cause widespread mold issues, which release biotoxins and can then increase leptin, lower MSH and VIP, and cause the runaway train of inflammation we’re all dealing with. It’s time for us to consider whether cold thermogenesis may be the missing piece to reverse the damage.