Cold Shower for Testosterone

by Benjamin Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert

Ben Bunting BA(Hons) PGCert Sports and Exercise Nutrition Level 2 Strength and Conditioning CoachWritten by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.

Many people are now turning to unconventional methods in their quest for optimal health. 

In recent years, cold showers and cold water immersion have gained popularity as a method. 

What does the research reveal about cold showers' effect on testosterone levels? 

This article explores the fascinating research about cold showers, muscle recovery, performance and testosterone.

We examine the scientific studies conducted, discover the possible mechanisms behind the effects. 

How is Testosterone Produced?

Testosterone is well known to contribute to male characteristics like increased muscle mass, sexual drive and a deep voice.

Additionally, testosterone helps strengthen bones and muscles throughout life. Adults assigned male at birth receive testosterone through their testicles and adrenal gland.

While those assigned female receive estradiol from their ovaries - while in both cases the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain send signals regulating how much testosterone the gonads produce via gonadotropin-releasing hormone released from hypothalamus.

Pituitary gland-produced follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone (LH) act on cells in the testicles to produce testosterone; LH then binds with Leydig cells which convert available cholesterol into testosterone before it's released into circulation.

Most testosterone in the body is bound to proteins such as albumin or sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), leaving only free testosterone active enough to act on tissues. 95% of free testosterone is typically produced by testicles.

After menopause (for females) however, other sources become increasingly important sources of androgens such as adrenal glands.

Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic condition in which one or more X chromosomes exist in addition to the Y chromosome, results in low testosterone levels in males as they age naturally.

Some refer to this decrease as male menopause although it differs significantly from the natural decline seen among women at around age 50.

Some individuals use synthetic forms of the hormone such as anabolic steroids in order to improve performance or alter appearance, though such use can have severe health risks.

The Importance of Testosterone

Testosterone is an essential hormone, playing an integral part in the growth and development of male reproductive organs, muscles and bones.

Furthermore, testosterone contributes to secondary sexual characteristics in males such as body hair growth, an enlarged prostate gland and ejaculation.

In addition, testosterone has various nonsexual benefits on mood, cognition and cardiovascular systems.

Testosterone's importance has long been demonstrated. Laboratory research has demonstrated its role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and inhibiting degradation.

Furthermore, testosterone can increase pancreas insulin secretion rates, improve lipid metabolism, and prevent cardiovascular disease.

Further studies have confirmed that testosterone increases muscle mass in both young and elderly individuals due to its ability to increase protein and glycogen synthesis within muscle cells.

One research team discovered that low-intensity training with testosterone significantly improved functional and metabolic outcomes when compared with control groups.

Studies have demonstrated that low testosterone levels may contribute to depression.

This may be attributed to men with reduced ability to express emotions due to reduced ability. A recent study discovered that 56% of all those seen by physicians for depression also had borderline low testosterone levels.

Testosterone is produced by Leydig cells located within both men and women testes, as well as by small amounts being made by both genders' adrenal glands. 

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Does Cold Water Therapy Offer Any Health Benefits?

Cold water therapy (or immersion therapy) has quickly become a wellness trend since 2018, touted by athletes, fitness fanatics and celebrities for its purported health benefits including increased energy, stronger immunity, enhanced metabolism and better mental wellbeing.

To do this, the practice involves immersing oneself in cold or ice water - from plunging into a lake to taking a cold shower!

Research on cold water therapy has primarily focused on muscle recovery. There has been some evidence that it helps reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise, although results vary.

Other studies suggest it might increase heart rate and blood pressure during workouts which could pose risks to individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions.

Other researchers have noticed that participants who regularly submerge themselves in cold water display higher metabolism than those who don't.

One theory suggests this boost comes from inducing brown adipose tissue to release heat, thus burning calories more efficiently than traditional methods would.

Cold Water Immersion and Muscle Recovery

Cold water immersion (CWI) and contrast water treatment (CWT), both of which are used to enhance the recovery process after sport, have become standard practice in high-level team sports. 

At first, athletes relied on only anecdotal evidence. This has led to a rise in research on recovery, including general reviews.

This meta-analysis showed that CWI helped the recovery of athletes 24 hours after team sports. Furthermore, CWI showed positive effects on recovery after 72 hours.

CWI showed a positive effect on neuromuscular recovery after team sports 24 hours later, whereas CWT did not. 

Similarly, the CWI did not help with recovery after team sport when it was evaluated by accumulating sprinting. 

Both CWI (72-hours) and CWT (24) were effective in reducing fatigue perceptions following team sports. However, neither CWI or CWT were beneficial in terms of recovery of perceived muscle pain after team sports. 

Does duration and temperature have an effect?

CWI is commonly used to recover from exercise. The technique can be varied, especially in regards to the water temperature and duration of immersion. However, it is not clear which approach will work best.

Evidence suggests that CWI may be a better option than passive recovery for the treatment of muscle pain (ie. resting).

Results also showed a positive dose-response relation, which indicated that CWI at a temperature between 11-15 degC with an immersion duration of 11-15 minutes can produce the best results.

Cold showers and depression

Depression is an incapacitating mental disorder and one of the leading causes of disability in the world. 

The symptoms of depression include somatic, behavioral, and emotional ones, including a higher risk of suicidal thoughts. 

The hypothesis is that depression could be the result of a convergence of two factors.

  • (A) An absence of certain physiological stressors, which primates have experienced over millions of years. This lack of thermal exercise may lead to an inefficient brain. 
  • (B) A genetic makeup which predisposes a person to suffer from the condition above more than others. 

According to the evidence, exposure to cold activates the sympathetic nervous and increases blood levels of beta-endorphins and noradrenaline.

It also causes synaptic releases of noradrenaline to occur in the brain. A cold shower will also send an excessive amount of electrical signals to the brain from the peripheral nerve endings due to its high density.

This could have an antidepressive effect. Cold hydrotherapy was shown to relieve depression symptoms in a small number of patients who were not diagnosed as having enough symptoms.

It was found that the therapy had a notable analgesic and did not cause any side effects. To test this hypothesis, larger and more rigorous research would need to be conducted. 

Cold water therapy doesn't always yield good results

The studies conducted to date show positive results in terms of improved performance. 

There are some studies, however, that show CWI has either no effects on recovery. 

It has been difficult to understand the reasons for these contradictory results. However, they may have to do with individual differences that need to be taken into account when prescribing protocols. 

Further, research is needed to better understand the physiological changes that underlie athletic performance and factors contributing to these responses.

Resistance training

In this study the peak torque for maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVC) performance and jumping was significantly reduced following the resistance training session.

This reduced level lasted at least four hours post-recovery, in all conditions. 

Over the four-hour recovery, period this study showed that neither CWI nor CWT affected perceptual or physical measures, and thus didn't have a positive effect on recovery.

Post-exercise muscle stiffness 

This study did not find any positive effects from implementing CWI on post-exercise muscle stiffness. 

The effects of CWI on muscle stiffness are different depending on whether the condition is pre-exercise or post-exercise.

This must be taken into consideration when implementing CWI in order to maximize its preventive and regeneration benefits.

It's not superior to alternative recovery therapies

There was no evidence that CWT is superior to other treatment interventions. This included cold water immersion and warm water immersion as well as compression, active recovery, stretching, or even passive recovery. 

The evidence currently available shows that CWT has a superior effect to passive recovery and resting after an exercise.

However, the magnitude of this difference may only be relevant for elite athletes. 

In addition, there is little difference between the recovery outcomes of CWT compared to other recovery interventions.

Do Cold Showers Improve Testosterone Production?

There have been claims online that taking cold showers will give your testosterone an increase, but does this work?

Testosterone levels peak in adolescence and decline by about one percent per year thereafter, leading to symptoms like reduced muscle mass, energy issues and erectile dysfunction in men.

Raising testosterone can help combat these symptoms through various means including exercise, proper nutrition and supplementation.

However, some individuals claim that cold showers can temporarily boost testosterone levels by stimulating the body's stress response system.

While this effect could potentially last only temporarily, its lasting effects remain uncertain.

The research

The concentrations of hormones related to testosterone in serum were measured before and after exercise on a bicycle ergometer. (90 Watts for 20 minutes). 

The cold water stimulation was performed on 32 males aged 19 years. 

During exercise, the serum TS levels increased by 20.8%., luteinizing (LH) levels by 3.6%., and the noradrenaline level by 140.0%. 

During cold water stimulation TS decreased by 10%, LH increased 22.1%, and NA decreased 23.8%.

These results suggest that cold water stimulation does not increase TS levels in serum, but increases LH and NA.

Do saunas followed by cold water therapy increase testosterone?

In young men, testosterone levels increase significantly as physical activity levels increase, but no such relationship is observed for cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S), or prolactin. 

Repeated exposure of young men to hot and cold thermal stresses significantly reduces cortisol in those who regularly use saunas.

However, the research demonstrated that it does not affect the concentrations of testosterone, DHEA-S, or prolactin.

Cold water immersion may blunt testosterone 

Introduction Cold-water Immersion (CWI) can be used to promote recovery, by reducing muscle damage, inflammation, and soreness caused by exercise. 

Recent reports have warned that CWI could reduce the adaptive response to resistance exercise. 

The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of CWI after resistance exercise on circulating free T (T) and cytokine response (IL-6 and TNFA). 

The study was conducted using a counterbalanced, randomized repeated-measures design. Eleven resistance-trained males completed two workouts (6 sets of 10 repetitions at 80% maximum load), separated by a week.

After the second workout, they were given either 15 minutes of CWI (15 degrees Celsius) or passive recovery. 

The study concluded that CWI blunted T and cytokine responses after resistance exercise.

These results indicate that CWI results in a modified anabolic response, which may help explain the previous observation that CWI was used after resistance training to attenuate hypertrophy. 

Conclusion

Exercise can cause physiological dysfunction and performance to decrease. It is important that athletes can recover quickly and optimally to maintain their required workload or performance during subsequent training sessions and competitions. 

A lack of balance between recovery and training stress can lead to non-functional overload; therefore, there is a wealth of research on the best recovery strategies after strenuous exercise.

This is why cold water therapies such as immersion and showers have become a popular recovery strategy. However, while it remains a popular recovery method, the science behind the benefits is lacking.

Rather than improve testosterone levels, it seems that cold water immersion reduces testosterone, and whilst cold water therapies may be more beneficial than passive recovery, it's no more effective than available alternative recovery methods.

As such, unless you feel that it has a personal benefit or effect, there's no reason to subject yourself to cold water therapies to improve performance.

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