Relaxing in a hot sauna or enjoying a rejuvenating soak in cold water offers a wide range of health benefits. From improved exercise recovery to short-term relief from chronic pain, there are many reasons why people use hot and/or cold therapies. But what happens inside your body to create these beneficial effects? Heat shock proteins and cold shock proteins play a role.
What Are Heat Shock Proteins and Cold Shock Proteins?
The body produces proteins in response to certain stressors, including hot and cold temperatures. A major function of these stress proteins is protecting your cells from toxic stress.
Cold shock proteins are a group of stress proteins that can be activated by cold exposure. Some of the cold shock proteins that have been identified in humans include:
- CARHSP1, which stabilizes tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein that causes inflammation.
- Lin28, a protein that’s been studied for its ability to reprogram cells.
- YB-1, which may promote wound healing.
Heat shock proteins are released in response to high temperatures. A large number of heat shock proteins have been identified. Some examples of heat shock protein families include:
- Hsp90s, which help cells send and receive signals.
- Hsp70s, which protect cells from stress-related damage.
- Hsp60s, which play a role in the immune response.
How Do Heat and Cold Shock Proteins Differ?
Both heat and cold shock proteins can have beneficial effects on the body, but they’re activated in very different ways.
Heat shock proteins may be activated when hot temperatures put stress on your body’s cooling system. They can be released when your body reaches temperatures between 38–41°C (100.4-105.8°F). Entering heat stress can be dangerous due to the risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Cold shock proteins can be activated more easily: Research suggests they can be released when you’re a little cooler than the normal body temperature of 37°C (98.6°F). While heat shock proteins require entering heat stress, cold shock proteins don’t require going into hypothermia.
Why Would You Want to ‘Activate’ These Shock Proteins?
The idea of releasing your body’s stress proteins on purpose sounds counterintuitive. Stress is often thought of as a bad thing that should be avoided. While chronic stress isn’t good for you, exposure to the right doses of certain stressors can have health benefits. This concept is known as hormetic stress.
Hormetic stress is a level of stress that challenges your body and helps you build resiliency. Scientific research has linked this healthy stress response to a number of health benefits, from a better tolerance to stress to an increased lifespan.
Benefits of Cold Shock Proteins
Cold shock proteins are an emerging area of scientific research, but many exciting health benefits have already been identified.
These proteins may play a role in promoting muscle growth and recovery, so it’s no wonder that cold therapy is popular with athletes. Cold shock proteins may also help you maintain your muscle mass during periods of disuse. This could include when you’re too busy to make it to the gym or when you’re taking some planned time off your training routine.
Some cold shock proteins are known to help decrease inflammation and support faster wound healing. That’s why cold therapy can be an effective non-pharmaceutical support for people with a variety of conditions, such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.
How to Activate Your Cold Shock Proteins
Unlike heat shock proteins, which are released in response to heat stress, research suggests that cold shock proteins can be activated by mild cold exposures. These proteins are produced when your body temperature dips below 37°C (98.6°F). There are many ways to lower your body temperature and activate cold shock proteins. Read on for some ideas.
Exercise in Cold Weather
Colder temperatures are fast approaching in many parts of the country. If you normally take your workouts indoors when temperatures drop below freezing, consider exercising outdoors this year. Ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or other outdoor activities can leave you feeling chilly and activate your cold shock proteins.
Take a Cold Shower
Cold showers are a simple way to introduce cold therapy to your life. Some people prefer to step right into the icy water, while others prefer to ease in by switching between hot and cold water during their showers. To reap the benefits of cold showers, try to stay under the cold water for at least 30 seconds.
Practice Cold Water Immersion
If you enjoy cold showers and are ready to take things to the next level, try cold water immersion. A cold plunge can quickly lower your body temperature and help you activate cold shock proteins. The ideal temperature for cold water immersion is around 10-15°C (50-59°F). At this temperature, you can enjoy soaking for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Challenge Your Body With Ice Baths
A short plunge in cold water activates your body’s healthy stress response and helps you release beneficial cold shock proteins. Ice Barrel makes it easy to add regular cold plunges to your routine.
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