Cold Showers as efficient therapy for depression

Depression can be a really devastating psychological disease, and treatments  may range from antidepressants with substantial side effects to electric shock therapy for critical patients conditions, resent researches suggest that a simple cold shower might sometimes cure, and even prevent, debilitating mood disorders.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine Research

As the name implies, cold showers therapy is done by subjecting the patient body to cold temperatures of the running water, creating a physiological response in the body and subsequently the brain. A recent study at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine established that depressed patients who were treated with cold showers showed a significant improvement in mood.

The treatments consisted of cold showers that were 20°C for 2 to 3 minutes, performed once or twice daily over several months. The evidence suggested that exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous system, increases the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, and increases synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, the cold shower sent electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which resulted in the anti-depressive effect.

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How it works?

Cold therapy helps with depression by creating the same type of physiological stressors that have been experienced by primates through millions of years of evolution, such as brief changes in body temperature produced by a cold swim. It’s theorized that lack of this type of thermal exercise may impede adequate functioning of the brain.

As the temperature of a human body drops below the level required for health, various reactions occur to protect the core--that is, the abdominal organs and brain--from damage, even at the expense of the extremities. The brain is literally insulated against extreme cold, and it will begin to suffer symptoms of damage only at the point of advanced hypothermia, long after muscular symptoms such as shivering first appear. This assumes that the core temperature is not dropping very rapidly, as when a person is submerged in cold water.

The average healthy temperature of a human body is 36.1 to 37.5° C, or 96.9 to 99.5° F. Hypothermia is defined as any temperature below 35° C or 96° F. This is the beginning of stage 1 hypothermia. Brain function becomes noticeably impaired only during stage 2, which begins at around 33°C or 93°F. The person may exhibit confusion. Many of the symptoms, which may appear as potentially neurological (including lack of coordination, stumbling and labored speech) are in fact muscular in nature. As part of the body's effort to protect the internal organs, the vasomotor response constricts blood vessels in and near the skin. Consequently, the individual’s hands, face, and legs lose function, although the brain is largely unaffected.

Temperature jolts to brain may have a similar effect as the phenomenon of homeopathy, whereby small doses of something harmful may actually promote healing by stimulating the body’s repair and recovery systems. Electric shock and deep brain stimulation treatments operate on a somewhat similar principal, only with frightening potential side effects, such as memory loss and cognitive impairment.

The study's author, Nikolai Shevchuk, believes the biological explanation revolves around a part of the brainstem known, appropriately enough, as the locus ceruleus, or "blue spot."

"The possible antidepressant effect may also have to do with the mild electroshock delivered to the brain by a cold shower, because of the unusually high density of cold receptors in the skin," he added, explaining that these nerve endings are 3-10 times higher in density than those registering warmth.

Shevchuk proposes that depression may be caused by two factors. The first is a genetic makeup that predisposes an individual to the disorder. Prior research has documented that depression can run in families, but since some sufferers report no prior family history and many people develop depression later in life, genes don't appear to explain all cases. He suspects a lifestyle lacking sufficient physiological stress, such as brief changes in body temperature, may also be a contributing factor.

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Kundalini Yoga Viewpoint

Interesting enough, that the new findings of the Western researchers support the recommendations, which have been practiced for long by Eastern practitioners. Gurudev Khar Khalsa, a Sat Nam Rasayan healer and Kundalini Yoga teacher confirms that cold showers can be very efficient tool to combat, and even prevent depression.

Cold showers have the following positive effects:
* Brings blood to the capillaries, therefore increasing circulation throughout the body.
* Cleans the circulatory system.
* Reduces blood pressure on internal organs.
* Provides flushing for the organs and provides a new supply of blood.
* Strengthens the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems.
* Contracts the muscles to eliminate toxins and poisonous wastes.
* Strengthens the mucous membranes, which help resist hay fever, allergies, colds, coughs.

Many health problems are reduced or even eliminated over time by providing proper circulation of the blood to the affected area using the cold shower massage.

"Ishnan" is the term used in the old days when people in India referred to cold showers (very cold showers). "Ishnan" is the point at which the body, by its own virtue, creates the temperature that it can beat off the coldness of the water. This happens when the capillaries open with the onset of the cold water. They close again during the course of the cold shower and it is at that point that all the blood rushes back to flush the organs and the glands. This process allows the glands to renew their secretions and "youth" (i.e. young glands) again returns to the body."

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Cold shower guidelines and restrictions

  • The proposed treatment procedure would last several weeks to several months. It would consist of one or two cold showers a day at 20 ° C (68 ° F) for 2 to 3 minutes, proceeded by a 5 minute gradual adaptation to lessen the shock.
  • Many practitioners recommend 2 or more cold showers a day.  This is particularly essential if you are working on shifting a physical or emotional problem.  The majority recommend at least 3 a day. First thing in the morning, when you get home from work and before you go to bed. Other therapists suggest that for some people cold shower and other water procedures y not be suitable immediately before bedtime and just after awakening. For these people, they are commended during the day, when the body is active. The reason is that cold water quickly affects the central nervous system, eliminating fatigue so these people will have difficulties to fall asleep.
  • Shower in cold water until your body temperature rises and no longer feels cold, but toasty and warm. Make sure the bathroom is heated. Never get out of a cold shower into a cold room.
  • If you find it difficult to start with the recommended procedure, start small and gradually work up to the recommended procedure duration of 2 minutes. Start with 15 – 30 seconds, and begin with your feet then move to your knees and legs.  Gradually introduce the cold water to all parts of your body.  Some practitioners say it’s not absolutely necessary to get your head wet, just your face and back of neck (an important energy location).
  • Little and often is far more effective than eight minutes at once.  Be mindful if you are feeling weak, listen to your body and start with small steps.
  • Cold showers should not be taken during a women's time of menstruation. A woman needs extra rest and gentleness during her menses. Taking a cold shower is too much for the reproductive system during menstruation. Also, cold showers are not recommended for women after the 7-th month of pregnancy.
  • Cold showers are not recommended for men immediately after ejaculation. At the moment, the male body is focused on making new sperm cells and semen, so cold showers can be a bit too stressful.
  • One more potential restriction is related to the people with eating disorders and substantially underweight. This usually goes along with having a low body temperature and a general metabolic weakness which might prevent your body from generating enough heat to withstand the cold temperatures.
  • Cold showers may be dangerous immediately after a vigorous workout. It is better to start with hot and finish with cold to avoid muscle cramping.
  • If you use contrast shower (cold-warm-cold-warm…), always finish with cold water.

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Some history

In the 1820s, a German farmer named Vincenz Priessnitz started touting a new medical treatment called “hydrotherapy,” which used cold water to cure everything from broken bones to erectile dysfunction. He turned his family’s homestead into a sanitarium, and patients flocked to it in the hope that his cold water cure could help them. Among his clientele were dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, and a few princesses to boot.

Priessnitz’s hydrotherapy soon spread to the rest of Europe and eventually to the United States. Celebrities and other famous folks took to it, like, well, a duck to water and helped popularize the cold water cure with the masses. For example, Charles Darwin was a huge proponent of hydrotherapy. The first hydrotherapy facility opened up in the U.S in 1843, right when the sanitarium craze hit America. By the end of the 19th century, over 200 hydrotherapy/sanitarium resorts existed in the U.S., the most famous being the Battle Creek Sanitarium founded by John Harvey Kellogg.

The popularity of hydrotherapy began to decline in the 20th century as many in the medical field moved to drugs to treat illnesses. As doctors concentrated on conventional medicine, more holistic methods began to be seen as quackery. While hydrotherapy was prescribed less and less to cure illnesses, doctors continued to use it to treat injuries such as strained muscles and broken bones. You’ll find athletes today taking ice baths to speed their recovery from injuries and intense workouts.

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