Episode 15 - Hot and Cold Part 2 - The COLD Episode

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This week on the Misfit Project we cover the other half of the hot and cold conversation we began last week in episode 14. As we mentioned with all of the reasons to incorporate heat acclimation into your routine, the information on both sides of the conversation we just too great to present in one episode. Now it’s time to dig into cold therapy and the vast array of benefits it can provide.

In the heat acclimation episode, we talked a lot about the release and benefits of norepinephrine and heat shock proteins. This week norepinephrine is back in a big way with great research backing its release during cold therapy, along with familiarly named and efficacious cold shock proteins. Along with a multitude of other factors, these two benefits are the primary drivers of cold exposure resulting in improved brain function, mood, immune system, body composition, performance, and recovery.

The use of cold therapy for depression can be traced back much further than the research supporting it. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, we can understand that completely removing ourselves from our past has enormous consequences on our hormones and neurotransmitters; we can follow why things like hot, cold, and the great outdoors would affect us. The good news is we can choose when and how to add these stressors now, which makes them even more likely to be beneficial.

When we dig back into the conversation of thermogenesis, it's quickly understood how we could burn fat as a result of naturally trying to warm ourselves back up. What’s potentially even more interesting than this simple process is the byproduct. The process of ramping up our metabolism to heat ourselves up creates the production of mitochondria in the fat which shows up on a microscope as a browning effect, hence the name of the highly beneficial brown adipose tissue or BAT. BAT, unlike standard white adipose tissue, can burn energy in the form of white adipose tissue as a means of heating our bodies up. The more acclimated to the cold we get, the more brown fat we accumulate.

The process of producing mitochondria as a result of cold exposure is a nice transition into the concept of cold being a catalyst for aerobic capacity. The ability to use oxygen as means for cellular energy production in endurance sports is primarily driven by mitochondrial density, and our ability to perform mitochondrial biogenesis as a means for improved aerobic function is found within the world of cold therapy. Before we jump into the how and when of this conversation it’s important to note the potent recovery effects of cold therapy through two pathways. The first is a very personal and intuitive one that relies on the understanding of what a healthy mind can do for recovery. As I say to a lot of my athletes: stress is the number one killer of the gainz. The second concept is in close relation to the protein synthesis vs. degradation conversation we had last week on the heat acclimation episode, but instead of heat shock proteins playing a significant role in the plus side, it’s cold shock proteins to the rescue this week.

Most of the research you will hear in this podcast is tied closely to either cold water immersion or cryotherapy. The debate on which to choose draws a close comparison to the wet vs. dry sauna conversation. We can last much longer at higher temperatures in the dry sauna, just as we can cover more surface area and spend much more time in the cold water than the cryo-chamber. Both mediums are backed by science, and both can have great benefits, that’s why I think everyone healthy enough to do so should try both. At the end of the day, this topic is about getting cold, and we’re looking for people to test out what works for them regarding how often and how long they do this. And as with any new stressor, we’re intentionally adding to our routine, take it slow and build up to a schedule that works for you.

Hope everyone enjoys the episode, and as always: don’t talk about it, be about it.

Drew Crandall