Review of current science indicates that an icy swim may cut ‘bad’ body fat, but further health advantages unclear.
Taking a dip in cold water may cut ‘bad’ body fat in men and reduce the danger of disorders akin to diabetes. These are the findings suggested by a significant scientific review published on September 22 in International Journal of Circumpolar Health, a peer-reviewed journal.
In accordance with the authors, lots of the 104 studies they analyzed demonstrated significant effects from cold water swimming including also on brown fat, also often called ‘good’ fat, which helps burn calories. They are saying that this will likely protect against obesity and heart problems.
Nevertheless, the review was inconclusive overall on the health advantages of cold-water bathing, an increasingly popular hobby.
Much of the available research involved small numbers of participants, often of only one gender, and with differences in water temperature and salt composition. Moreover, it’s unclear whether or not winter swimmers are naturally healthier, say the scientific expert team of review authors from UiT The Arctic University of Norway and from the University Hospital of North Norway.
“From this review, it is obvious that there’s increasing scientific support that voluntary exposure to cold water could have some helpful health effects,” states lead writer James Mercer, from UiT.
“Lots of the studies demonstrated significant effects of cold-water immersion on various physiological and biochemical parameters. However the query as as to whether these are helpful or not for health is difficult to evaluate.
“Based on the outcomes from this review, lots of the health advantages claimed from regular cold exposure is probably not causal. As a substitute, they could be explained by other aspects including an energetic lifestyle, trained stress handling, social interactions, in addition to a positive mindset.
“Without further conclusive studies, the subject will proceed to be a subject of debate.”
Weight reduction, increased libido, and improved mental health are amongst quite a few health and well-being claims made by followers of normal cold-water immersion or arising from anecdotal cases.
Cold exposure appears to also increase the production of the hormone adiponectin by adipose tissue. This protein plays a key role in protecting against insulin resistance, diabetes, and other diseases.
This activity is the topic of growing interest worldwide and takes many forms akin to swimming in cold water throughout the winter.
Determining whether voluntary exposure to cold water has health effects in humans was the first goal of the review. The methodology involved an in depth investigation of the scientific literature.
Excluded from the review were studies where participants wore wet suits, accidental cold-water immersion, and water temperatures greater than 20 degrees centigrade.
Themes covered by the studies that were eligible for review included inflammation, immune system, adipose tissue, blood circulation, and oxidative stress.
Immersion in cold water has a significant impact on the body and triggers a shock response that features an elevated heart rate.
Evidence that cardiovascular risk aspects are literally improved in swimmers who’ve adapted to the cold was provided by some studies. Nevertheless, other research suggests the workload on the center remains to be increased.
The review provided insights into positive links between cold water swimming and brown adipose tissue (BAT), a form of ‘good’ body fat that’s activated by cold. BAT burns calories to keep up body temperature, unlike ‘bad’ white fat which stores energy.
Cold exposure in water – or air – appears also to extend the production of the hormone protein adiponectin by adipose tissue. It plays a key role in protecting against insulin resistance, diabetes, and other diseases.
Repeated cold-water immersions throughout the winter months significantly increased insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin concentrations, in response to the review. This was for each inexperienced and experienced swimmers.
Nevertheless, the researchers highlight that the profile of swimmers participating within the studies did vary. They included a broad range people from elite swimmers and established winter bathers to those with no previous winter swimming experience.
Others weren’t strictly ice bathers but used cold-water immersion as a treatment post-exercise.
In accordance with the authors, education can also be needed on the health risks related to taking a dip in icy water. These include the results of hypothermia, and of heart and lung issues which are sometimes related to the shock from the cold.
Reference: “Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a seamless subject of debate” by Didrik Espeland, Louis de Weerd and James B. Mercer, 22 September 2022, International Journal of Circumpolar Health.