From saunas to cold plunges, we already know these practices provide insane benefits for our mental and physical health, like reduced inflammation and cell regeneration.
But, what many don’t know, is that heat and cold shock proteins play a big role in these effects.
What happens inside your body when you hop in the sauna or your cold plunge? How do these shock proteins work? And what are the hot and cold shock protein benefits?
Your’e curiosity has gotten you to the right place. In this article I’ll answer all of your questions regarding hot and cold shock proteins.
Without further ado, lets get into it.
Table of Contents
What is a Shock Protein?
Shock proteins are produced by your body when exposed to stressful environments (or extreme temperatures) that your body isn’t used to. Whether it’s an extremely cold ice bath or a hot sauna, it doesn’t matter, your body wants to return to homeostasis, hence it releases these protective stress hormones.
There are two main types:
- Cold shock proteins are activated by cold exposure (surprise).
- Heat shock proteins are activated by extreme heat (shocker).
Some of the most commonly studied cold shock proteins studied in humans include:
Heat and cold shock proteins have positive effects on our bodies, but they activate differently.
Heat shock proteins come into action when your body gets EXTREMELY hot, typically between 100.4-105.8°F (38–41°C). However, becoming too hot can be risky and lead to heat-related problems.
Cold shock proteins, on the other hand, become active at slightly cooler temperatures (stepping outside shirtless on a winter day) than our normal body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C).
The good news is you don’t have to get extremely cold for them to work, unlike heat shock proteins.
The heat shock proteins most commonly identified in humans include:
Now that we’ve covered the basics (and some of the nerdy info), let’s get into the more practical and applicable side of things.
How do these proteins work? How can you activate them through lifestyle strategies like sauna use and cold water immersion? And what are the benefits?
Benefits of Heat Shock Proteins
Emerging research by scientists like Dr. Rhonda Patrick indicates that activating heat shock proteins (HSP) in the body may provide significant health benefits. Heat shock proteins are activated in response to elevated core body temperatures from activities like sauna use, infrared therapy, and exercise.
These proteins help protect cells from damage caused by stresses like heat. According to Dr. Patrick, their effects appear to extend further:
Improved cardiovascular health:
A 2018 study showed that men who used the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 50% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease compared to those who used it once per week. Heat stress improves blood vessel function and blood pressure. In fact, a 25-minute sauna session and a 25-minute session on a stationary bike doing about 100 watts are identical in terms of their effect on heart rate and blood pressure
As molecular chaperones, heat shock proteins may help refold damaged proteins and repair cell damage throughout the body. This may promote tissue regeneration and healthy longevity. Dr. Rhonda Patrick has even stated in shock protein research how these “heat shock proteins help reduce mortality rates and even morbidity.”
Neuroprotective traits :
How to Activate Heat Shock Proteins
Ok, all of this sounds awesome- minus the sweating your butt off. How can you get the benefits? How do you even know heat shock proteins are activated if you can’t see or feel them?
Here are tips to help you activate this shock protein production:
Spend time in a sauna for about 20-30 minutes 4-7x a week at a temperature of about 163 °F
Intense levels of running, HIIT, rowing, and even strength training have been shown to increase and activate heat shock proteins (note this is a harder method as you would have to reach an extremely high body temperature).
Cold Shock Protein Benefits
- Help Maintain muscle mass during injury/inactivity
- Reduce inflammation
- Encourage adaptation to stressors
- Aid neuroprotection and neuron regeneration
- Accelerating wound healing
- Potential anti-cancer effects
Studies show cold exposure boosts cold shock proteins like CARHSP1, Lin28, and YB-1 (These proteins help prevent loss of muscle mass when exercise decreases due to injury recovery) They also lower inflammatory cytokines and oxidative damage, aiding exercise recovery.
On top of this, repeated cold immersion adapts the body to handle stress better through these proteins. The cold shock protein RBM3 promotes neuron regeneration and may help treat brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Research suggest cold shock proteins slow tumor growth and have anti-cancer potential.
How to activate your cold shock proteins:
Take a cold shower:
Cold showers are a great way to start introducing cold therapy into your daily life. It’s cheap and accessible. To begin, set your shower to the coldest setting (may vary depending on season and location) and stand under the water for 1 minute to get the benefits of cold showers. You can even do some contrast therapy and switch back and forth from cool to hot settings.
Take a cold plunge
If you are more accustomed to cold exposure, you may want to start cold plunging. Find a temperature that is uncomfortably cold and use your cold plunge tub of choice. Submerge yourself for 1-2 minutes, stand outside without drying yourself off (ideally shivering), and repeat about 2-3 times.
Take an ice bath
An ice bath also makes it easy to activate a cold shock response. Use your regular bathtub or purchase an ice barrel online – maybe even DIY it! Make sure you control the ice-to-water ratio and use a thermometer to measure it. Follow the same cold plunge procedure – full body in cold water.
As Dr. Susana Søberg notes, plunging your whole body is more effective than just showers. The more uncomfortable you feel usually means the better it’s working.
With regular ice baths, your body adapts to the cold as a stress response. So consistently challenge yourself incrementally while avoiding hypothermia.
The key is making cold therapy a habit, whether it’s a quick cold shower or an occasional ice bath. This activates your body’s adaptive response, releasing cold shock proteins that provide all these benefits.
Why Should You Activate Heat and Cold Shock Proteins?
Deliberately stressing your body by sweating it out or freezing it off seems kinda strange.
We’re always told that stress is bad news, right?
But certain types of short-term, acute stress can actually make your body stronger. It’s called hormesis – where manageable doses of stress kick your body into an adaptive state.
Activities like sauna, cold plunges, and contrast showers provide hormetic stress by briefly spiking or dropping your temperature. This activates your innate heat and cold shock proteins. That is what produces all of the great benefits we covered above.
Long Story Short
In summary, emerging research indicates heat and cold shock proteins may play a critical role in our health and resilience. There are practical ways to activate cold and heat shock proteins through lifestyle strategies like taking a sauna or plunging in an ice bath.
This encourages the body to adapt in ways that provide potential benefits. Studies suggest strategic activation of these proteins may strengthen the cardiovascular system, reduce inflammation, support nervous system health, bolster immunity, and promote longevity.
While more research is underway, evidence points to periodic activation of cold and heat shock proteins as a way to enhance performance, combat aging, and boost overall wellness.
Shock Proteins: FAQ
What is the difference between Hot and Cold shock proteins and heat shock proteins?
Hot and Cold shock proteins and heat shock proteins are both stress-responsive proteins, but they are activated by different types of stress. Heat shock proteins are primarily activated by heat stress, while Hot and Cold shock proteins can be activated by a broader range of stressors, including cold temperatures.
Are there any risks associated with cold exposure and activating cold shock proteins?
Cold exposure and activating cold shock proteins through methods such as cold water immersion or ice baths are generally safe for most people.
However, it is important to listen to your body and not expose yourself to extreme cold temperatures for prolonged periods if you have underlying health conditions. It’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before trying any new therapies or treatments.
Do cold shock proteins burn fat?
Yes, when exposed to cold, the body produces cold shock proteins that activate brown fat, a type of fat that generates heat through thermogenesis. This process burns calories and fat, so cold shock proteins can aid weight loss by stimulating thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue.
What are three body reactions from a cold shock?
The increase in cold shock proteins due to cold stress causes hyperventilation, rapid heart rate, and increased blood pressure.