Cold water immersion can lead to the activation of brown fat which, in contrast to white fat, and among other benefits, will burn fatty acids and glucose. This means more energy for the participant and greater fat burning efficiency, leading to greater slimming efforts when combined with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.
New data suggest that exposure to cold temperatures causes stem cells to form brown fat rather than white. This brown fat causes our bodies to burn more calories to aid temperature regulation. Because of this, having extra brown fat will lead both to better temperature regulation and more efficient weight loss, as our bodies use up more energy from the food we eat.
All of this lends credence to the idea that cold therapy, including cold water immersion, can bring about significant health and fitness benefits. It also suggests that, if you want to lose weight, submitting to the cold on a regular basis can be a very good idea.
The study was published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. It suggests that regular exposure to the cold can indeed change the type of fat that our bodies naturally form, which will then lead to the improved weight loss and heat regulation that cold therapy adherents have long enjoyed and propounded.
Researchers differentiated stem cells (cells which can become other types of cells, forming the root of much of our bodies’ mechanisms) to become fat cells. They did so both at body temperature and at slightly colder temperatures, thus replicating the conditions brought about by cold therapy.
Those cells kept at the lower temperature formed a kind of fat called brown fat, known for its ability to keep the body warmer and burn more calories, aiding in fat loss, than the white fat typically created at body temperature.
We all have a layer fat in our bodies, even the leanest among us. However, this is mostly the white fat created at body temperature. It forms a solid wall that works both as a way of insulating and protecting ourselves and as a readily stored energy source.
White fat is not unhealthy in itself. Far from it- it is necessary. What is unhealthy is excess body fat. With global obesity levels on the rise and incidents of related diseases like heart disease and type II diabetes, we are beginning to see just how dangerous excess white body fat can be.
Brown fat is a different entity, however. It increases our metabolic rates. This both warms us and uses more of that stored energy, thus effectively ‘burning’ body fat. It is brown fat in infants that allows babies to regulate their body temperature, as they don’t yet have the muscles needed to shiver.
It was believed that we lost brown fat as we aged. However, we now know that we retain at least a small amount of brown fat long past childhood. This has given researchers to believe that we can learn how to activate and stimulate brown fat growth in our bodies, allowing adults to benefit from it.
Alongside a healthy diet and active lifestyle, this brown fat activation could be a sorely needed tool in fighting adult obesity. The Nature study- and the ramifications it has for cold therapy- bear this out, bringing us a little closer to realising this goal.
Cold Water Immersion and brown fat
This brings us on to cold water therapy. Proponents of cold immersion have long claimed that regular exposure to the cold can help people to lose weight and maintain higher energy levels, with some going so far as to lay much of this at the feet of brown fat formation.
We now know that science backs this up.
Cold water immersion is popular with those leading an active lifestyle as a recovery aid. It is popular more generally with those looking to live a healthy lifestyle as an energy enhancing, immune system boosting, mood improving practice.
Making use of cold water therapy can:
Decrease recovery time after training, allowing the athlete to increase training volume as needed
- Decrease recovery time from soft tissue injury or stress
- Reduce fatigue and associated symptoms
- Reduce inflammation from training
- Reduce muscle and joint soreness
- Promote neural and cardiovascular system recovery
- Improve immune system efficiency
- Decrease symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
- Improves thermoregulation
- Increase energy levels, both during exercise and in day-to-day life
- Increase fat loss in participants maintaining an appropriate diet
- These final three points are what concern us, here. As mentioned above, this new study indicates that a large part of the increased energy production, improved thermal regulation and increased fat loss are down to the formation of brown fat elicited by cold water immersion.
For cold water immersion, a cold shower or a bathtub will usually be filled with water and ice. This has been the go-to method for cold immersion therapy for many years now. The participant will get in for a few minutes to gain the above benefits: regular use will see their brown fat levels increase.
However, there are some better systems out there, which people are beginning to make use of. Several companies are making cryo-systems that offer a superior, more efficient, more user-friendly experience than simply jumping in with a load of ice cubes.
Cryotubs offers one of these solutions. Their tub offers an efficient and constant solution, allowing users to focus on the practice itself, rather than losing time hassling with ice cubes, measuring temperature, cleaning water, and so on. You will generally have a better time of it using a professional product like Cryotubs than simply going low-tech and old-school.
Use Cryotubs’ cold water immersion tub daily, hassle free, to make the most of the above benefits. More specifically, use it to increase your production of brown fat and decrease your production of white fat. This will allow you to burn through the unwanted fat and fatty acids in your body, allowing you to be a leaner, more energetic version of yourself.