How cold showers can help with menopause symptoms
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
Cold water therapy has been hyped up in recent years for its health benefits by top athletes, celebrities and influencers around the world. Even the ancient Romans did it. Cold showers can be a simple new routine to add during menopause to help you conquer symptoms like depression, brain fog, anxiety and fatigue.
What is cold water therapy?
Cold water therapy, also known as cold water immersion, cryotherapy, or hydrotherapy, is when you immerse yourself in water with a temperature of fifteen degrees celsius or below. Experienced cold water bathers will often go into temperatures closer to freezing.
There is both anecdotal and an increasing amount of scientific evidence that cold water exposure can benefit your health and make you more optimistic and energised. You can go swimming in a lake or the sea mid-winter with your friends or you can take an ice bath. A great and simple way to start and ease into the experience is by taking cold showers from the comfort of your own home. It can be a beneficial routine to add to your every day to help manage your menopause symptoms
What effect does cold water therapy have on your body and mind? The science behind cold water immersion.
Cold water exhilarates and activates your body and mind. When you get into the water, you will initially gasp and your breathing will become rapid. Your heart rate and blood pressure will increase. When you stay in, your body adjusts to the cold and it will soon calm down again.
A study that looked into whether cold showers could help with treating depression has shown that cold water exposure activates both the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the flight-and-fight response and the parasympathetic nervous system which then calms the body down after a stressful response.
A group that did cold water exposure at fourteen degrees in another study showed increases in stress hormones adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine quickly after entering the water. This feels uncomfortable because your body is working harder to maintain its normal temperature. After your body has started to adjust to the cold, the stress response slows down and the parasympathetic, calming response rises. It’s not that the stress response goes away the more cold showers you take, but the more times you do it, the better you can become at handling the discomfort.
Cold showers have also been shown to send electrical impulses from nerve endings to the brain, which is said to potentially have an antidepressant effect. Some studies have also found that when you step into cold water it can also activate the hypothalamic-pituitary gland, which is linked to the release of cortisol. Beta-endorphin is also released in the blood. Higher cortisol and beta-endorphin levels have been linked with higher self-esteem and emotional stability.
Cold shower dopamine kicks
Another hormone that gets activated during cold water immersion is the feel-good dopamine, which makes you feel satisfied, motivated and like you have achieved something. This one rises more slowly, yet can last for up to three hours after you’ve been in cold water. You get more dopamine from cold showers than from eating chocolate or having sex. At its peak level after the cold shower, dopamine almost triples above your normal level, which is the same amount you would get from taking cocaine. Think about that.
What water temperature is ideal for the best effect?
The ideal temperature depends on how used to cold water exposure you are. When you’re experienced you might go for between four and seven celsius. But when you’re just getting started you can start at a warmer temperature, like twenty degrees, and gradually acclimate your body to cooler and cooler temperatures. You know it’s a good temperature when you feel like you really want to get out, are able to stay in safely.
How long should you stay in the cold water?
The cold shock lasts up to three minutes before the sympathetic nervous system calms down. Although it is not known exactly what duration cold exposure has the best benefits, one recommendation is to take cold showers two or three times a week for eleven minutes total per week. This means staying in cold water long enough to recover from the cold shock. You can also start with shorter showers and build it up with each week.
Why should you get into cold water therapy? The perks of cold showers during menopause
Boost your mood during menopause. As earlier stated, cold water exposure can increase your baseline dopamine levels by 250%, more than chocolate and sex and the same as cocaine. This can boost your mood when practised regularly and help with mental menopause symptoms such as depression and anxiety. The best part? It’s an all-natural mood-enhancer.
Reduce brain fog and improve your focus. Taking cold showers in the morning could help with menopause symptoms like brain fog because it increases levels of the hormone norepinephrine. Low levels of this hormone have been linked with brain fog.
May strengthen your immune system. A study showed that people who took regular hot-to-cold showers were 29% less likely to call in sick for work. This may be due to, as other studies have found, that cold showers, even just thirty second-long ones, can boost white blood cell count. White blood cells are essential to your immune system and help fight off infections.
Get better at managing stress. Actively choosing to do something that feels uncomfortable and then succeeding with it shows you what you are capable of and can strengthen you mentally. Activating your body’s stress response in a healthy way with cold showers can train you to become better at dealing with the stress of every day, including your menopause symptoms.
Stay active, keep moving and challenge yourself. Building a new habit takes time, but it can motivate you to think that this is one habit you can do to stay active in your everyday life. The adrenaline rush is also a great way to distract you from your symptoms. It is a short yet immersive experience. It lets you be in the moment, and just focus on what you are experiencing in the cold water.
How you can ease into cold showers:
Start with hot water and end with hot water. You can even alternate between hot and cold water. You can start with ten seconds of hot water, then ten seconds of cold water, and then switch back and forth for a couple of minutes.
Do it as often as you can in the beginning. The more you do it, the more your body will get used to it. But expect the cold shock to come each time, this is part of it.
Go cold in the mornings and hot in the evenings. Mornings are a good time for a cold shower because it will cause a spike in your dopamine levels making you feel more awake and alert. In the mornings, you can benefit from that rush to kickstart your day. In the evening it is better to take hot showers because the heat helps your body calm down and relax.
Breathe calmly. Cold showers are the perfect time to practise conscious and controlled breathing as you will naturally feel inclined to breathe quicker when the stress response kicks in. Actively taking long, deep breaths during cold showers can help you stay calm and in control, helping you to enjoy and embrace the cold shower ride.
Use the discomfort to empower yourself. Menopause symptoms, are like cold showers, not comfortable or fun. Cold water exposure can be a way for you to lean into the discomfort and show yourself that you are capable of doing the uncomfortable. So use it as a mental training exercise. If you think it will help - it will.
Buijze, G. A., Sierevelt, I. N., van der Heijden, B. C., Dijkgraaf, M. G., & Frings-Dresen, M. H. (2016). The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0161749
Kelley, J. S., & Bird, E. (2021). Improved mood following a single immersion in cold water. Lifestyle Medicine. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lim2.53
Lombardi, G., Ricci, C., & Banfi, G. (2011). Effect of winter swimming on haematological parameters. Biochemia medica. https://doi.org/10.11613/bm.2011.014
Shevchuk N. A. (2008). Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Medical hypotheses. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052
Srámek, P., Simecková, M., Janský, L., Savlíková, J., & Vybíral, S. (2000). Human physiological responses to immersion into water of different temperatures. European journal of applied physiology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s004210050065
Zorrilla, E. P., DeRubeis, R. J., & Redei, E. (1995). High self-esteem, hardiness and affective stability are associated with higher basal pituitary-adrenal hormone levels. Elsevier. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0306453095000059?via%3Dihub.