Cold showers may increase one of the body’s most powerful endogenous antioxidants: glutathione. While the body can make its own glutathione from other nutrients, our bodies cannot seem to utilize glutathione pills or capsules. Encouragingly, a study of winter swimmers hints that cold water therapy can stimulate increases in glutathione levels.
In fact, many of the antioxidants we ingest orally work by helping the body produce glutathione.
Praise for Glutathione
David Perlmutter, M.D., author of The Better Brain Book writes “Glutathione is perhaps the most effective and beneficial antioxidant in the nervous system and has the added benefit of enhancing mitochondrial energy production.”
Ray Sahelian, a medical doctor and author, writes “Glutathione peroxidase plays a variety of roles in cells, including DNA synthesis and repair, metabolism of toxins and carcinogens, enhancement of the immune system, and prevention of fat oxidation… Brain glutathione levels have been found to be lower in patients with Parkinson’s disease.”
One study followed ten healthy subjects who swam regularly in cold water, and compared their glutathione levels to non-winter swimmers. They found two things:
1. Immmediately after swimming they had an inflated amount of oxidized glutathione to total glutathione.
2. At baseline, their “reduced glutathione” was greater while their oxidized glutathione was less than non-winter swimmers.
What does this mean? This is good. If you will recall some high school chemistry, oxidation is a rusting-like process in which a cell gets an electron stolen from it, becoming damaged. Antioxidants sacrifice their own electrons for the benefit of the cells. Therefore, although immediately after a cold shower your antioxidant glutathione becomes “oxidized”, when you return to baseline the protective form will be more plentiful than it was.
Think of it as working out; your muscles are a bit weak immediately afterwards, but stronger when you recover. The researchers write “This can be viewed as an adaptation to repeated oxidative stress, and is postulated as mechanism for body hardening. Hardening is the exposure to a natural, e.g., thermal stimulus, resulting in an increased tolerance to stress, e.g., diseases. Exposure to repeated intensive short-term cold stimuli is often applied in hydrotherapy, which is used in physical medicine for hardening.”