MAR 07, 2018 6:39 AM PST

How The Iceman Survives Brutal Cold

It’s almost Spring in many parts of the world and dealing with the cold is getting stressful, but Dutch explorer Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman” deals with deadly cold in a much different way. Rather than piling on the warm layers and having a nice cup of hot cocoa, Hof deliberately spends time in the deep freeze, frequently setting records for cold endurance.

Using breathing techniques, dubbed “the Wim Hof Method.” He’s never been part of research into his unique abilities until now, but researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine have completed a study on Hof and how his brain works to fight the cold. 
Wayne professors Otto Muzik, Ph.D., and Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D. authored the study published recently in the journal NeuroImage. Their study of Hof and thermoregulatory mechanisms of the brain and body could lead to the way to understanding disorders of the immune system, mental illness, and other brain functions. 

It’s not possible to plop an MRI scanner down on an iceberg, so the team used a specially designed suit that could be filled with water at different temperatures. For imaging, they chose functional MRI scans (fMRI) to visualize the brain and positron emission tomography (PET) to see what was happening in the rest of the body.  Like any good clinical research, there was a control group as well, and when Hof’s results were compared to healthy study volunteers, the differences were significant. 

While The Iceman practiced his method, the researchers noticed that his skin temperature was immune to the cold. PET scans of his muscles showed “increased sympathetic innervation and glucose consumption in intercostal muscle.” The Hof Method resulted in heat being deliberately generated, and this heat spread to his lungs and warmed the blood that circulated around the pulmonary vessels and then to the rest of his body. 
Dr. Muzik explained, "The willful regulation of skin temperature -- and, by implication, core body temperature, even when the body is being stressed with cold -- is an unusual occurrence and may explain his resistance to frostbite. From our previous studies, we expected The Iceman to show significant brain activations in a region known as the anterior insula, where the brain's higher thermoregulatory centers are located. However, we observed more substantial differences in an area called periaqueductal gray matter, located in the upper brainstem. This area is associated with brain mechanisms for the control of sensory pain and is thought to implement this control through the release of opioids and cannabinoids." 

Essentially, Hof can willfully generate a pain-relieving response in periaqueductal of the grey matter in the brain. This results in the organic release of opioids and cannabinoids from the brain. When the body is flooded with these neurochemicals, it’s similar to a high that comes from drug use, with a rush of well-being and a quieting of pain and anxiety.  While many people use guided imagery, meditation and other techniques to manage pain, stress, and anxiety, the Wim Hof Method is the only one studied that actually changes the mechanism of the brain to keep the cold from causing frostbite and hypothermia. 
Muzik and his colleagues hope to use what they have learned from Hof to find ways that patients can change their physical responses to disease, pain, and stress. The video below talks more about this process, check it out

Sources: Wayne State University, NeuroImage  Men’sHealth

 

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
OCT 05, 2020
Cancer
Does Having an Appendectomy Increase Your Risk for Cancer?
OCT 05, 2020
Does Having an Appendectomy Increase Your Risk for Cancer?
Cancer research is more than just the study of diagnostics and novel therapies. Researchers also investigate the causes ...
OCT 08, 2020
Cardiology
Omega-3 Enriched Chicken as a Fish Alternative for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
OCT 08, 2020
Omega-3 Enriched Chicken as a Fish Alternative for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We have all seen those articles telling us to get more omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. Many studies point to these spec ...
OCT 15, 2020
Immunology
The Immune Cells Giving Menopausal Women Higher BPs
OCT 15, 2020
The Immune Cells Giving Menopausal Women Higher BPs
In general, men have higher blood pressures than women, giving them an increased risk of developing heart disease. After ...
OCT 14, 2020
Immunology
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
OCT 14, 2020
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
Asking patients questions about their personal lives could predict their future risk of a heart attack. A study, publish ...
OCT 17, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Imaging Innovation Set to Ease the Pain of Osteoarthritis
OCT 17, 2020
Imaging Innovation Set to Ease the Pain of Osteoarthritis
In osteoarthritis, the joint cartilage that cushions bones begins to break down, causing debilitating pain and stiffness ...
OCT 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
OCT 19, 2020
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
There are over two billion people around the world that don't get the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins in ...
Loading Comments...