Health

Swimming in cold water may help you lose weight and protect against diabetes and heart disease

It might feel horrible. But shivering may actually benefit you, by potentially cutting your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dutch researchers found regular exposure to the cold can somehow help the body control blood sugar levels.

Fifteen fat volunteers were exposed to temperatures as low as 10C (50F), similar to that of a cold bath or a shower.

But instead of bravely taking a dip, the volunteers wore a special water-perfused suit that controlled their temperature for them.

All of them were made to shiver for an hour a day, for 10 consecutive days. 

Academics at Maastricht University took blood glucose tests from the participants before the experiment began, as well as then straight after.

Results revealed their blood sugar levels dropped from from 5.84 to 5.67 mmol/L, on average — the equivalent of roughly 6 per cent.

Fasting glucose levels above 5.5mmol/L can indicate diabetes. 

Blood pressure readings — which tend to be higher in fat people — also fell by 8.4 per cent.

Adam Sellers and team said it showed cold exposure could be an ‘alternative strategy for the treatment and prevention of type 2 diabetes’.

Type 2 diabetes affects roughly 4million people in Britain and 37million in the US.

It occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or if the hormone it does make doesn’t work properly — leading to high blood sugar levels.

When people eat carbohydrates, the food is broken down into blood sugar. 

This causes glucose levels to rise.

As a result, the pancreas starts to release insulin — which allows the body to use the glucose for energy.

But over time, high blood sugar levels can cause insulin resistance. 

Because the insulin isn’t as effective at breaking down the sugars, it causes the body to produce more and more of it. 

Eventually, this leads to the pancreas becoming worn out, sending the system out of whack and causing blood sugar levels to stay high.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness and leave patients needing their limbs amputated or in a coma.

Previous research has shown that glucose is cleared quicker when the body is cold because it triggers fat reserves to generate heat, which happens by burning excess calories stored internally.

It is, for this exact reason, that some experts suggest that going for a cold bath or shower could help people trying to lose weight.

The latest study suggests the quick muscle contractions in shivering also help kick-start a metabolic response in the same way. 

But more research is need to confirm the exact mechanism before it could ever be advised in people. 

Lead author Adam Sellers said: ‘This is an important first step investigating the effect of shivering on health. 

‘Our findings are promising and may have important health implications, given that shivering improved many cardiometabolic health outcomes which are associated with diseases like type 2 diabetes.’

Experts presented the research as an abstract at European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Annual Meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.

Shivering was measured with special devices placed on the skin which sense muscle electrical activity because not everyone visibly shows they are shaking.

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