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Increase Glutathione Levels


A Key To Healing: Glutathione

A Key To Healing: Glutathione

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.”


The Study

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.”

Alleviate Depression

Feel Better?

Feel Better.

Ironically, I didn’t start taking cold showers because I knew they were healthy. It was just a moment of spontaneity one day when I was standing in the steaming hot water and for lack of a better word, realized I was “bored” with the consistent warmth. So I cranked up the cold water, and to my delight, it felt exhilarating. I started alternating between hot and cold on frequent occasion because it felt great and seemed to make me relaxed and refreshed throughout the day.

The Theory

Researcher Nikolai A. Shevchuk believes they are more powerful than mild mood boosters, actually capable of treating some cases of clinical depression. In his hypothesis, Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression, he proposed that many cases of depression are caused by a lack of “thermal stress”.

For millions of years, our ancestors were exposed to a wide range of temperatures that come with fluctuating ambient temperature and swimming and bathing in cold water. Modern man, however, often lives in a fairly consistent room temperature. Shevchuk proposes that this lack of thermal stress is one factor that contributes to depression. Another factor is a genetic overlay on the first; some people have a genetic predispostion to be affected more severely by the lack of thermal stress. He elaborates on the argument, informing that:

“Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.”

Let’s highlight a couple benefits for all of the non-neuroscientists out there.

Increase Beta-endorphin: The neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel better immediately after an injury. It works by binding to and activating opioid receptors, dulling pain, and increasing feels of relaxation and well-being. Additionally, it slows the growth of cancer cells [1], and is thought to play a role in behavioral patterns (i.e. stress, alcoholism), obesity, diabetes, and psychiatric illness. [2]

Increase Noradrenaline: A hormone and neurotransmitter useful for treating ADD, depression, and abnormally low blood pressure. The ADD medication Straterra works solely by increasing noradrenaline levels. A class of antidepressants, called SNRIs, function partly by increasing noradrenaline levels. The body manufactures noradrenaline from amino acids found in protein sources such as meat, eggs, and nuts. [3]

The Procedure

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.

Additionally, contrary to drugs that affect these brain chemicals, cold showers do not appear to have significant side effects or addictive potential.

[1] http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/ldn_and_cancer.htm
[2] Physiology of beta-endorphins: a close-up view and a review of the literature
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine