Can plunging into an agonisingly cold ice bath REALLY ease your pain? Holby City’s Rosie Marcel says it’s all but banished the debilitating symptoms of her autoimmune condition…
Sitting in an ice bath for three minutes a day, five days a week is an unconventional treatment that no-nonsense Holby City character Dr Jac Naylor is unlikely to have endorsed.
But actress Rosie Marcel, who played the heart surgeon in the hit BBC drama for 16 years, is turning to the freezing cold to tackle the pain caused by her rare autoimmune disease.
‘I go numb when I’m in the ice bath, but you get used to it quickly,’ says Rosie, 46, who lives in Hertfordshire with her husband Ben, 41, who runs a gym, and their daughter Beau. eight.
‘When I get out of the ice bath, my skin is bright red. But then the endorphins and dopamine kick in, and I feel incredible.”
Rosie takes ice baths to relieve symptoms of Behcet’s disease, a painful immune disorder that causes painful red bumps all over the body.
Actress Rosie Marcel, who played the heart surgeon in Holby City for 16 years, takes ice baths to tackle the pain caused by her rare autoimmune disease
Behcet’s syndrome, as it is also known, is caused by an overreaction of the immune system, believed to be the result of a combination of genetic, immune and environmental factors. In addition to swollen lumps, symptoms can include painful mouth and genital ulcers, stiff and painful joints, eye inflammation (resulting in red eyes and blurred vision), and hypersensitive skin.
Treatments include steroids, immunosuppressants, and biologic medications (made from human or animal proteins, which reduce inflammation) to relieve symptoms.
In Rosie’s case, it causes breakouts of ‘painful, hard, red bumps’ all over her legs, ‘ranging in size from a 5p piece to a tennis ball’ as well as ‘lots of canker sores’.
She was first diagnosed in her 20s and had been taking immunosuppressants for almost 20 years, but with side effects including an increased risk of infections (Rosie says she was constantly sick), she then decided to try ice baths. read about the potential benefits of social media.
Ice baths have been traditionally used in Scandinavia and Russia for centuries for their ‘healing’ properties and have become a social media trend, popularized by Wim Hof, an endurance athlete who once held the Guinness world record for swimming under ice.
Hof states that cold water and deep breathing can provide numerous benefits, including speeding up metabolism to boost weight loss.
Rosie takes ice baths to relieve symptoms of Behcet’s disease, a painful immune disorder that causes painful red bumps all over the body
Ice baths – literally bathtubs full of ice-cold water ranging from 0 degrees Celsius to 15 degrees Celsius – are available at gyms and spas, but can also be purchased for home use. According to social media sites, some people are resorting to filling dumpsters with ice.
But while ice baths can promote feelings of elation and well-being, can it really benefit your health? And what about the risks?
The scientific evidence for their benefits is far from conclusive.
Certainly, when it comes to muscle recovery, the case is stronger, and elite athletes such as runners and football players have long used cold water immersion therapy (including ice baths and cold water swimming) after intense training sessions – it helps reduce muscle inflammation.
A review of 17 studies (where the water temperature was 15 degrees Celsius or lower) by the prestigious Cochrane group concluded that the practice reduced muscle pain, but said more research was needed into its safety.
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This week: Foot remedies for athletes
GIVE OUT: Canesten Athlete’s Foot Dual Action Cream, 30g, £5.65, sainsburys.co.uk
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Pharmacist Ben Merriman says: ‘If the balance of the fungal cells that naturally live on our skin is disrupted – for example if our feet become too hot and moist for an extended period of time – this creates the perfect environment for fungi to grow, causing athlete’s foot (symptoms include itching, especially between the toes, and flaking or softening of the skin). There are two main medical treatments: antifungal medications made with azoles (such as clotrimazole) or terbinafine. They work slightly differently, but ultimately stop the growth of the fungal cells.
‘Any cream alone won’t work without good foot hygiene: this means drying the feet well, wearing non-synthetic socks and keeping toenails short to reduce the risk of infections. Both products here contain clotrimazole – I would happily use either, although the generic version is better value for money.’
Another, more recent review published last year in the journal Sports Medicine showed that cold water immersion therapy was effective after high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in people considered physically active or involved in sports. Those who used it reported better muscle strength and less soreness 24 hours after exercise than those who just rested. Researchers noted that colder temperatures after HIIT may be more effective at removing the enzyme creatine kinase, a marker of inflammation.
In addition to muscle recovery, a 2022 review of 194 studies of cold-water swimmers, ice swimmers and ice bath users found that they experienced a range of health benefits, including possible weight loss, reduction in blood fats and better blood sugar control.
The researchers suggested that one reason for this could be that cold water activates the body’s stores of “good” brown fat, which burns energy in the form of fat to keep the body warm, and helps regulate blood sugar levels and fat metabolism. (On the other hand, white fat, which makes up most of the fat in your body, stores energy as fat.)
One of the authors of the review, Professor James Mercer from the University of the Arctic Circle in Troms, Norway, told Good Health that it was difficult to draw definitive conclusions because there was so much variation between the studies.
Although the people he meets who use cold water therapy all “swear by” its benefits, he adds: “The jury is still out on the science behind cold water immersion and more high-quality studies are needed.” .
Any health benefits may come from the body’s response to the cold, explains Dr Mark Harper, an anesthetist at Brighton and Sussex NHS Trust, and author of Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure.
He says: ‘What happens initially is that your body tries to protect itself from the cold, so all the blood vessels that supply the skin close and the body instead concentrates on supplying warm blood to the vital organs .’
He adds that inflammation levels decrease over time as the body adapts to cold water immersion therapy.
In addition, cold water swimming is being tested as a possible treatment for depression.
Led by Dr Harper, the study, currently underway at the University of Portsmouth, will compare outdoor swimming with standard therapy for depression in 400 volunteers over two years.
Results from the study, which is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the research funding arm of the NHS, are expected in 2026.
Although the exact mechanism is not yet clearly understood, cold water therapy appears to cause an increase in white blood cells, part of the immune system, explains Professor Mercer, who has been studying temperature regulation in the human body for fifty years.
‘I get numb when I’m in the ice bath, but you get used to it quickly,’ says Rosie Marcel, 46 (pictured)
Dr. Fadi Jouhra, a cardiologist at St George’s University Hospital and the Harley Street Clinic in London, says the fact that cold water immersion stimulates the production of immune cells – particularly interleukin-6, B and T cells – could help with auto-inflammatory conditions. , like Behcet’s, by reducing inflammation.
Although he emphasizes that there are currently no studies to support this, and he cannot yet recommend it based on the science, he adds: ‘Behcet’s disease is a very difficult condition to treat, so if you If you can get relief this way, it might help. worth a try if you don’t have heart disease.’ (This is because the heart may have difficulty coping with the sudden increase in blood pressure and heart rate caused by immersion in cold water.)
Rosie was given cold showers after Holby City finished last year. She was so happy with the results that she bought an ice bath. “I’d say ice baths improved my Behcet’s symptoms by 95 percent,” she says.
‘Maybe it’s partly the placebo effect, but I’m so much better. Now when I get lumps on my arms or legs, they are smaller and disappear about 75 percent faster than before.
‘I am also considerably healthier. I sometimes catch a cold, but it never lasts long.’
But experts agree that it’s too early to recommend cold water therapy, and that there are potential risks.
Dr. Heather Massey, senior lecturer in sports health and exercise science at the University of Portsmouth, says that while some people may experience health benefits from cold water immersion, ‘the level of evidence is not sufficient to recommend this’.
The downsides include “very painful, cold, numb and swollen hands and feet,” and even worse, “people have had both cardiac arrests that put them in cold water and strokes.” In most cases, those involved had an underlying heart or other medical condition, and while some may be aware of their condition, others may not be.”
Dr. Massey recommends checking your health status with a doctor before trying an ice bath.
If you’re feeling unsure, it may be a good idea to have someone else on hand when you experiment with cold water immersion, “so that there are people to support you if you get into trouble.”