Oddly enough, exposing your body to extreme temperatures can be beneficial to your health. During extreme exposure, substances called heat shock and cold shock proteins are produced. More and more studies are revealing the ability of these proteins to help cells regenerate, support the immune system, protect your brain and improve your resilience.
What are Shock Proteins?
Shock proteins are created when your body senses a short-term stressor like extreme temperature. While chronic stress can be detrimental to your health, controlled short-term stress can be very beneficial. Our body has mechanisms to deal with short term stress, but ongoing stress can damage cells, cause inflammation, and invite disease.
When experiencing short-term stress, you body creates shock proteins to you're better able to cope in the future. They change the shape of other proteins in your cells, and also change how cells communicate. This allows you to recover faster and insulate against damage better. They can even help repair DNA itself.
Heat Shock Proteins
To trigger a heat shock response, you'll have to subject your body to stressors like those found in high-temperature saunas. Certain studies have shone that heat shock proteins can delay the progression of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The proteins are thought to correct folded and clumped nerve cells that cause brain damage.
Another study showed promise in both supporting a healthy immune system and ensuring that damaged body cells die when they're supposed to.
Cold Shock Proteins
A cold-shock response can be triggered by submerging yourself in very cold water, 50 degrees Fahrenheit and below. Synapses in hibernating animals are removed when they go into hibernation, only to be restored once body temperature increases in the spring. This process relies on a cold shock protein called RMB3. If not produced efficiently, the synapses aren't restored.
Human brains also remove redundant synapses over time, and if not restored correctly, damage can be done to neuronal connections and memory seen in dementia and Alzheimer's patients. Cold shock proteins in our own brains may help with this.
Cold plunges have benefits on our mental health as well. Because cold exposure allows our stress response to temperature decrease over time, the adaptation can cross over into our responses to other stressors. This can mean stress from work, relationships, school, etc. It has the potential to decrease the inflammation brought about by chronic stress associated with modern living.