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How shock proteins affect your hormones
Have you heard the buzz about the health benefits of exposing your body to bursts of hot or cold temperatures? Maybe you’ve tried it yourself by enjoying a sauna, cold water swimming, or turning your shower to ice cold for the last couple of minutes?
In this article, you’ll discover how substances created by extreme heat or cold, known as shock proteins, can influence your hormonal health.
When you are subjected to very hot or very cold temperatures, your body reacts by producing special proteins. These substances have various beneficial effects, including repairing your cells’ DNA, supporting immunity, helping to deal with stress and protecting your brain. Stress proteins have the overall effect of protecting your cells from the negative effects of stressful events. They also help repair stress-related damage.
If you think about it, before centrally heated homes were invented, the human body would have needed physiological strategies to guard against damage from natural fluctuations in temperature – a type of stress. Now humans tend to live in relatively constant temperatures, and these repair proteins are not utilised as frequently, but they have widespread beneficial effects, including on hormone balance.
Hormones are substances with the job of instructing the various parts of your body what to do and when to do it. If it wasn’t for hormones, your body wouldn’t be able to coordinate its processes, and nothing would work in harmony. It would be a bit like members of an orchestra trying to play a tune without any sheet music or conductor, and without even knowing which piece of music they need to play.
You probably connect hormones with reproduction, but they are essential for all your body’s processes. Hormones are needed to regulate metabolic rate, enable sugar to be used for energy, control hunger and deal with stress.
One of your hormones’ most important roles is managing your body’s response to stress. When your brain perceives something as stressful, it changes your body’s chemistry. Hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are produced, helping you escape from danger. For example, energy is diverted to your limbs so you can run away if necessary. Because of the action of these hormones, some damage will occur to your tissues. This must then be repaired afterwards. Cue shock proteins.
It’s worth remembering stress has very different effects on your body depending on whether it’s short-term or on an ongoing basis. Your body has evolved effective coping mechanisms to deal with short-term stress like being chased by an angry dog or being subjected to freezing cold water. But these don’t work so well when there is ongoing stress, like money or work worries. This type of stress is extremely damaging to your health, causing ongoing chronic inflammation. This damages cells, suppresses the immune system and wrecks digestive function.
So the heat or cold shock hormones produced by your body following short-term exposure to extreme heat or cold help it to prepare for and react to other stresses in the future. However, shock proteins cause the release of certain hormones to reduce the damaging effects of long-term stress.
Heat-related stress has been found in studies to stimulate the release not only of stress-related hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline but also other hormones like prolactin. This not only has the job of combatting stress but supports the immune system, too.
Cold exposure, on the other hand, for example in cold water swimmers, can improve the sensitivity of the body’s cells to insulin 1, and science has also shown heat has a similar effect. This means insulin and blood sugar levels are reduced and cells are better able to take on board glucose to use energy. Because elevated insulin and blood glucose cause a raft of negative health effects including obesity, chronic inflammation and even brain degeneration, the benefits of cold exposure are wide-ranging. Cold exposure seems to improve the availability of thyroid hormones 2, too. These act as the body’s natural accelerator pedals.
Intense exercise such as HIIT can significantly raise your body temperature, producing heat shock proteins. But if you are unable to exercise for whatever reason, passive heating of your body, for example by sitting in a sauna, has a similar effect.
Finishing off your workout, sauna or hot shower with a blast of cold water, on the other hand, reduces body temperature briefly, encouraging cold shock proteins to be produced. Wild swimming is well known to be connected with the benefits of cold shock protein production. If you can’t bear to immerse yourself in cold water, try simply splashing your face with some ice water.
To explore more natural lifestyle methods of enhancing your hormonal health, contact us to start your exciting journey to optimal health.
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