Do you begin to shiver as soon as the leaves start to turn brown outside? Is your thermostat constantly up high, and do you live for the moment when you sink into a hot bath all the way up to your chin? While that all sounds very cosy, you could be missing out on an incredible technique which can help you to lose weight and even boost your immune system.
It starts with brown fat. Unlike white fat, which tends to accumulate around midsections, thighs and chins, brown fat is distributed deep inside the body, particularly around the kidneys, spine and shoulder blades. It’s created in a process called thermogenesis in response to low temperatures, and it’s what keeps us warm when we’re cold. Research has also found that it can burn through calories like nobody’s business.
A Utah University study from 2020 found that having a significant amount of cold-activated brown fat helped to mitigate lots of the side effects of obesity, such as keeping blood fat and blood sugar at a healthy level. Volunteers sat in a room that was chilly but not freezing, around 16 degrees, for two hours, which was enough for their body temperature to drop and for their brown tissue to be activated.
Humanity has a rich history of cold-based therapies. From the traditional British Christmas morning swim in freezing seas to rolling in the snow after getting steamy in a Finnish sauna, spending time in the cold is part of many cultures around the world - even the Ancient Egyptians did it. And for good reason: it works.
A recent study at the Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre found that volunteers who had frequent cold showers had 20% less absences to the study due to illness and fewer viral or bacterial afflictions once the study was completed. This is because they experienced an increase in white blood cells, which boost the immune system. There are plenty of other examples, such as that cold water swimming is associated with the production of a protein that reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. It’s thought that cold reduces inflammation, the culprit behind the root of all kinds of chronic diseases, from cancer to arthritis to type two diabetes.
Gut bacteria also comes into the equation. The cold alters the composition of gut bacteria in a way which increases the metabolism, even for healthy people. A study held at Geneva University saw researchers translate gut bacteria from mice kept in the cold to mice raised in warm temperatures. The mice receiving the transplants lost body fat and began generating ‘good’ gut bacteria which produced beige fat, a substance very similar to brown fat in that it burns energy to produce heat when body temperature dips low.
If you’re not a fan of the cold, it could also be worth spicing up your diet. The team who ran the study at Utah University also discovered that cayenne pepper has a similar effect on the body’s ability to produce brown fat and its metabolic rate that the cold does.
Spicing up your diet is another option. The team from Utah who noted that brown fat mitigates obesity’s effects found cayenne pepper had a parallel, if less marked, effect on brown fat production and metabolic rate.
By getting spicy with some capsinoids, the compounds found in chilli, you’ll get a similar effect to exposing yourself to the cold. As well as boosting the production of brown fat, they bring down the levels of sugar, blood fat and insulin in your body. Researchers in Japan found that wasabi, horseradish, mustard, ginger, menthol and green tea all have similar properties, so you’d better get to love spicy food (if you don’t already).
How to lose weight from the cold
Dress in lighter clothing than the weather requires, or than you think you need. This will help your body acclimate to the cold and while you might find yourself shivering slightly at first, soon you’ll adapt and will begin thriving in low temperatures. Don’t take risks with your health. We’re not telling you to wear flip flops when it’s snowing outside, simply to consider not always being swathed in blankets and warm jumpers. As with any lifestyle change, consult your doctor before doing anything drastic.
If you’re trying to keep the thermostat in your house turned down low for the health benefits (which will also no doubt help to lower your heating bill), opening all of the blinds and curtains to let in the maximum amount of light, which will help you to feel warmer.
Moving around is the best way to stay warm. If you work from home, consider a standing desk or a treadmill desk, which will keep your body moving and staying warm naturally, without you realising it. If you’re outside, walk at a faster pace than you usually would and you’re certain to find yourself warming up in no time.