Cold plunge practice or sitting in a sauna is becoming increasingly popular for exercise recovery benefits, increasing relaxation, and dealing with pain and muscle soreness. However, there is more to the story than just the well-known benefits of these therapies. Heat shock proteins and cold shock proteins offer some of the biggest benefits of sauna and ice baths but are not as well known. This article is here to provide you with a comprehensive guide on shock proteins, their purpose, and how to make the most of them.
What Are Heat Shock and Cold Shock Proteins?
When you’re exposed to extreme temperatures (or stress) – whether it’s a hot sauna or ice bath – your body responds by creating what are called stress proteins in order to protect itself. Your cells are safeguarded from temperature-related stress by two types of protective stress proteins: heat shock proteins (HSPs) and cold shock proteins (CSPs).
Lower levels of these proteins are already in our bodies. But when the brain perceives an outside threat like extreme heat or cold, our bodies naturally ramp up the production of these proteins.
At What Temperature Are Shock Proteins Activated?
So how hot and cold are we talking? To activate these types of stress proteins, we need to look at our core body temperature.
To activate or release heat shock proteins, studies show that your body temperature has to exceed 37.5°C (99.5°F).
For cold shock proteins, research suggests that they are activated when the body’s temperature dips slightly below its typical range of 37°C (98.6°F).
Benefits of Heat Shock Proteins
Heat shock proteins (HSP) are capable of restoring and growing muscles due to their ability to attract amino acids and rebuild them into new muscle fibers. In addition, they make sure that the synthesized proteins for muscle growth fit properly by supervising a cellular assembly process called protein folding. This guarantees new proteins form in an accurate shape.
But HSPs do more than just help with muscle recovery and building. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help protect cells from oxidative damage. In fact, research has suggested that increasing HSP expression through activities like exercise and sauna use may have health benefits, including improved cardiovascular and cognitive function, as well as protection against neurodegenerative diseases.
How to Activate Your Heat Shock Proteins
One of the most effective ways to activate heat shock proteins is through exercise. This can be achieved through high-intensity interval training, weightlifting, or any other form of exercise that gets your heart rate up and causes your body temperature to rise.
Saunas are another effective way to activate heat shock proteins. Studies show that heat stress from a finish sauna promotes the production of HSP, such as HSP70, from a 30-minute sauna session with a temperature of 80°C (175°F). Although there are many benefits to an infrared sauna, there isn’t enough evidence that the peak recommended temperature of 63°C (145°F) is enough to increase your core body temperature or activate HSP.
Taking a hot tub is a simple and relaxing way to activate heat shock proteins. A 1-hour soak in waist-deep water at a temperature of just 40°C (104°F) showed an increase in HSP activation in one study.
Benefits of Cold Shock Proteins
Research into cold shock proteins (CSP) is a bit newer than research around HSP, yet already shows many promising health benefits.
It’s no surprise that cold shock proteins have powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities that speed up muscle recovery, but research also demonstrates that CSP also help to mitigate muscle loss when physical activity is reduced. Whether you are bogged down with work and can’t make it to the gym, or simply taking a well-deserved break from your training regimen, this is still an option.
Cold shock proteins (particularly RBM3) may also boost our brains by helping to repair synapses and regenerate neurons, preventing cognitive decline.
How to Activate Your Cold Shock Proteins
Cold Water Immersion
Taking a cold plunge or ice bath can swiftly reduce your body temperature, jump-starting the production of beneficial cold shock proteins. For the release of cold shock proteins to be triggered, a 10-minute submersion in water of 10-15°C (50-59°F) will do the trick. But you’ll need to submerge your body up to your neck.