Cold Water Immersion Therapy may have the potential to significantly decrease and/or prevent the symptoms of dementia-associated conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease. A reduction of inflammation and release of a newly discovered ‘cold-shock‘ protein called RBM3 caused by exposure to cold water combine to create a very exciting, unique form of therapy.
What Is Cold Water Immersion Therapy?
Cold water immersion therapy is a form of cryotherapy that consists of exactly what the name says. This therapy involves immersing most of your body in cold water. Ideally, you would immerse yourself up to the neck, but immersing only to the point of the abdomen is also acceptable, especially for beginners to cold water immersion therapy who are new to the practice and acclimating to the new sensations. The body remains submerged in the cold water for no longer than 15 minutes in order to reap the full benefits.
The numerous beneficial effects of submerging your body in cold water as described below are cumulative and it is recommended to engage in cold water immersion therapy consistently.
Physiology and Cold Water Immersion
For centuries, cold water immersion therapy, or ice bathing, has been used as a way to lessen soreness after a hard workout. This has to do with the effect of decreased inflammation that submerging the body in cold water has on your cells. After an intense bout of exercise, your muscles experience micro-tears which can cause soreness. A certain amount of these micro-tears are perfectly normal and cause the muscle tissue to heal back stronger. This is how the body builds strength. But excessive damage due to these micro-tears can limit function, and the role of cold therapy can mitigate this delayed onset muscle soreness producing faster and less painful healing and recovery.
This benefit is thought to be the result of the cold therapy limiting edema, or swelling. Attenuation of inflammation of the muscle has been found to be a result of vasoconstriction leading to a redistributed blood flow of the area and a reduction in inflammatory markers in the blood.
This anti-inflammatory effect is thought to be one of the reasons that cold water immersion therapy is beneficial in those experiencing dementia or other memory deficits, including Alzheimer’s Disease. There has been a consensus among researchers for some time that dementia-associated conditions are linked to inflammation in the brain and anything that fights inflammation may be helpful in slowing the progression of dementia.
Cold Therapy and the Neuroprotective Effect
But the specific benefits for dementia prevention do not end there. There is a new field of research that is emerging relating specifically to the neuroprotective effect of cold water immersion therapy and its effect on the brain.
In recent years, researchers have found a benefit to cold therapy that goes far beyond the physical. Cold therapy has a significant neuroprotective effect. Cold water therapy has long been known to help the brain by easing depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. This is because exposure to cold releases norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter and feel-good hormone in the brain that is produced at higher levels when the body thinks that it is in a fight or flight scenario. Cold water immersion initially tricks your brain into thinking your body’s survival is at risk, and in response to this threat, norepinephrine is released and floods the brain.
Cold therapy has also been used in the treatment of stroke survivors to ease spasticity, which is a velocity-dependent tone of the muscle that can greatly impede a stroke survivor’s ability to function.
Cold Water immersion Therapy and its Role in Dementia Prevention
For many years, people have taken up the practice of cold water swimming simply because they know it makes them feel good. Researchers wanted to understand the reason behind why a large group of people were willing to regularly participate in an activity, such as cold water swimming and cold water plunges that might seem to others to be quite uncomfortable. They knew there must be a physiological or neurological reason that has not been explained yet in other research on cold water immersion therapy. And they found that reason. What they discovered is truly remarkable.
A study perform at The University of Cambridge tested swimmers in the United Kingdom’s swimming clubs who, during the winter months, routinely swim in water that is not heated. In 2015, a study conducted in mice discovered that immersion in cold water released a “cold-shock protein” in the brain known as RNA-binding motif protein 3 (RBM3).
Dementia occurs as a result of a breakdown of synapses in the brain. Synapses are connections between brain cells that communicate with one another. This protein aids in mitigating this breakdown and may also aid in forming new connections.
The researchers further wanted to know if this effect was present in humans. This research is in its early stages, but this appears to be the case. “Prof Mallucci, who is the director of the UK Dementia Research Institute’s Centre at Cambridge University, said that her team compared cold-water swimmers with people doing Tai Chi who did not get cold.” The results showed increased levels of the RBM3 protein in the swimmers, and none in the Tai Chi participants.
Using Ice Barrel for Alzheimer’s Prevention
Ice Barrel offers a unique, simple, and cost-effective approach (compared to the millions of dollars spent every year on the treatment of Dementia) to attaining the numerous benefits of cold water immersion therapy in the privacy of your own home.
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