Brrr! Cold water treats Lyme disease? (Plus, a neck pain video.)
Cold treatment for Lyme disease symptoms
These last weeks I have been having a horrible Lyme symptom flare. I kept convincing myself it was no biggie, going back to work, and then falling apart. Denial! I wish it were just a river in Egypt.
Finally I called a medical intuitive that I work with. She read me the “chill out and take this seriously” riot act, and then she gave me some advice I NEVER would have followed from anyone else; she told me to take several freezing cold showers every day for a week. She said cold would constrict my tissues, and help silence bacterial activity.
I hate feeling cold. I take scalding baths, I sleep with hot pads, I wear down vests in the house. I’m a skinny Lymie with a low functioning thyroid. So at first I was very resistant, but this woman is rarely wrong. So I took one cold shower.
Amazingly, I felt really good afterward. I alternated 20 seconds cold and hot, three times each, focusing on my breathing as per the intuitive’s instructions. When I got out I felt a rush of energy and aliveness that lasted for about an hour. I’ll take it, this has been a rough several weeks. I know y’all Lyme Warriors can relate.
I began researching cold as a treatment for illness, and dang if there isn’t a whole movement behind it. Here is some of what I found.
The science behind cold therapy
Cold therapy can mean anything from home remedies such as ice packs or cold showers, all the way to hour long ice baths, swimming in Nordic ocean water, or spending buckets of money standing in cryotherapy chambers. You can pick your level of commitment, it all functions on the same basic premise, well backed by science. Cold heals.
Cold constricts tissue, forcing inflammation down, raising the metabolism, and stimulating a flow of beneficial immune responses. Cold increases white blood cell count. It increases glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. It increases collagen production, helping to heal joints. It increases thyroid function. It stimulates the vagus nerve, lowering cortisol and releasing endorphins. Because of all of this cold lessens pain, stimulates healing and improves cognitive function.
Turns out, our bodies are evolved to handle and even thrive with cold exposure. It is a brand new, modern thing for us to always be in temperature controlled environments. (Guilty!) Cold is Paleo. Exposure helps our bodies heal and stay strong.
Two biohackers’ cold therapy methods
I looked into two different cold therapy methods. They are described below, with links in case you want to explore further.
Perhaps the most outspoken cold therapy biohacker is “The Ice Man” Wim Hof, and his Wim Hof Method. The man is a nutty Nordic, with the energy of my ten year old after a couple of chocolate bars. Wim Hof has chronically ill people and earnest biohackers all over the world sitting in ice baths, chatting with each other pleasantly as if they were not about to die of hypothermia. He writes that cold therapy tones the muscles that surround our 100,000 miles of blood vessels, thereby strengthening our entire vascular system. He also writes that cold therapy balances hormones and strengthens the immune system.
Wim Hof teaches a specific form of breathing meditation practices to support his cold therapy. I took a short video course on his breath work. It involves basically hyperventilating, followed by holding your breath and feeling the oxygen rush through your tissues. Wim advocates using the hyperventilation during cold exposure, as a way to increase internal heat, and to alkalize your body.
I can tell you that Wim Hof’s breath work coupled with cold exposure feels really good! Because of Wim’s infectious optimism, I have now taken several walks through my 55 degree neighborhood wearing a tank top and jeans. It’s no Dutch winter, but typically I would be wearing my usual wool sweater, down parka, scarf and hat anyway. Using his breathing techniques, I honestly haven’t felt cold. I just feel enlivened and euphoric, like I have discovered a hidden strength I didn’t know I had. As someone struggling with chronic illness, it is great for my psychology to pass people in parkas, wearing my tank top with pride. It makes me feel strong and healthy.
Dave Asprey, of Bulletproof Coffee, also blogs about cold therapy and its benefits. He advocates starting slowly (thank you) by dipping your face into a bowl of ice water, and building up the amount of time you can tolerate leaving it there (wearing a snorkel!). According to Dave, these face baths increase mitochondrial function, and stimulate the vagus nerve - building energy and decreasing stress response.
Here is Dave Asprey’s guide to Ice Face. I have tried this as well, several times now. Granted, I have ice bathed my face while sitting the rest of me in a warm epsom salt bath! Perhaps that’s cheating. But the face baths feel just as great as the cold showers and the walks.
After a few days of cold showers, ice face baths and walks around my hood in tank tops, my tolerance for cold has increased, and I get why this is a movement. I feel the waves of aliveness and symptom relief for at least an hour afterward. It is so uplifting to feel my body respond to a stress by strengthening. And I love me a healing tool that’s free and close to home! Hopefully this will get me to the other side of this Lyme flare, at which point maybe I’ll go swimming in the Pacific Ocean, only a few miles from my door. Or maybe not.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you had a fantastic holiday. Sending tons of love and a freezing hug,
As a side note, I have added a video to illustrate the neck pain exercises from my blog post on neck pain and Lyme disease. Forgive the bad hair day, I’m new to video! I will keep updating videos on pain management on my YouTube channel, Red Kite Meditations. Take a look if you like. Here is the link, in case it doesn’t appear in your browser like it’s supposed to. Two exercises for neck stiffness and pain.