This past couple of weeks I have watched as all over the internet, friends, family members, celebrities and politicians alike, have taken action to show their support for ALS research.
The challenge – post a video of yourself getting doused by a bucket of icy cold water.
Though it seems shocking and is perceived as an extreme thing to do to one's self, ice water actually has an incredible health benefit. Cold water therapies are a crucial part of the full spectrum of biophysical treatments that naturopathic doctors use to activate and encourage the physiologic regulation and biochemical stimulation of our patients. As a naturopath, every treatment I use for my patients is geared toward this end of activating the organs, purifying the blood and regulating the nervous energy of their system. Hydrotherapy is a gentle and powerful way of activating these systems; gentle in application, powerful in effect.
Cold water therapies stem from the Bavarian tradition of Wasser-Kur (water cure). This therapy was made popular by a farmer by the name of Vincenz Priessnitz. Priessnitz observed, at the edge of his farm an injured stag would return to a cold stream every day in order to soak in the cold water. After many days of doing this, the stag emerged from the cold water healed, and bounded off. Later, after sustaining a major injury himself and being written off by the regional physicians, Priessnitz remembered this experience and would treat himself with wraps of cold water, completely healing his “incurable” injury. He went on to share this treatment, which grew into a large center where people of all classes from all over Europe, would come to take the cure.
Father Sebastian Kneipp, a priest from the region, further systematized this treatment, and made it popular with his book, My Water Cure. His institution was also widely popular, successfully curing thousands of patients with a wide variety of complicated illnesses. Kneipp trained the physicians who would eventually bring the system to the United States, where under the influence of the evolving scientific field, it emerged as modern naturopathic medicine.
So, you ask, how exactly is the Ice Bucket Challenge going to keep me healthy? The fact is you already know! Everyone has had a hard morning at one time or another. You know the morning I am talking about, up early to catch a flight or help a friend move, compounded with a late night previously. As you fell asleep you did some quick math convincing yourself that you might just get one REM cycle, and anyway you could catch up on the ZZZ's on the plane/passenger seat of your friend's truck.... anyway, that first action as you groggily admire your bed head in the bathroom mirror is to splash some cold water on your face. Invigorating, is usually the qualifier used to describe this experience, and rightly so. The cold water creates a temporary shock to the system, that wakes you up, stimulates the circulation and activates the nerves. You feel awake, vital and alive.
Short cold water immersions, a la the ice bucket challenge, can act in much the same way, although when applied to the whole body the action is more global. This means that the entire system, all the nerves, the circulatory system and the organs are shocked into a higher state of alert. The magic is in what happens next...
After you do a brief cold water immersion, your body is jump started into action to counter act the cold water. In doing so all sorts of reflex reactions take place and continue on well after the cold water is no longer. This includes, immune stimulation, hormone balancing, nervous relaxation, increased organ function and better circulation and detoxification. Hydrotherapy treatments in my office are aimed at just this. With regular and ongoing treatment, sick bodies are guided back into correct physiologic functioning. Added to this treatment are herbal, nutritional, vitamin and mineral components specifically chosen to support the regaining of optimal biophysical function.
The best part of water therapy is, you can do it at home as part of your daily routine! I have all my patients, as part of their ongoing total health program, end their showers with a cold rinse. Ideally your shower will look like this.....
Warm up, soap up, rinse, cold rinse for 30 seconds making sure to get the arm pits, groin, and lower back over the kidneys and adrenal glands. Then repeat (with out without soap – your call) two more times for a total of thee cold rinses. End the shower on cold, and you can skip your morning coffee or tea! Every one of my patients says the same thing – Doc, I was very skeptical when you told me to do this. In fact, it took me a week to work up the courage. But, you know, I did it, I do it every day, and now I love it! The cold doesn’t even bother me anymore!
It really works. The cold shower makes you feel vital and energized, makes weather variations less severe, and serves as one of the best preventive measures against cold and flu season that I know of!
In fact, a German study followed two groups of medical students (who are categorically known for having stress induced poor immune function). One group did the shower I described above every day, the other did not. Well, basically, one group got sick and the other did not. Can you guess which one was which?
In my office there are a lot of ways this treatment is modified and specified to treat various conditions. But as a prevention method for getting sick, and as part of an optimal health program, the hot/cold shower is something you can start today!