Using Heat, Cold, NAD+ Boosters, Sirtuin Activators, and Red Light Therapy for Mitochondrial Biogenesis

by Nils Osmar. Updated August 29, 2023. Medical Disclaimer, Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay 

Both heat exposure and cold exposure have numerous possible benefits to human health.

According to this Science Direct article, “Cold exposure induces autophagy to promote fatty acid oxidation, mitochondrial turnover, and thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue.” According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, other benefits of cold may include:

Re: heat exposure, according to this Science Direct article:

 The mechanisms that lie behind the cytoprotection of small heat shock proteins are related to the regulation of mitochondrial functions…. The dysfunction of mitochondria is the main cause of energy failure of damaged tissue and the platform of death. With the clarification of the function of sHsps on mitochondria, mitochondrial-targeted multipotential therapeutic strategies by sHsps will provide new hope for the treatment of diseases

Heat shock proteins

One way to activate heat shock proteins is to take a long soak in a tub full of water that’s hotter than 42 degrees Centigrade, or 107 degrees Fahrenheit for between 20 and 45 minutes Cold shock proteins are similarly activated by cold exposure.

Cold shock proteins

To activate cold shock proteins, the ideal temperature appears to be is around 10-15°C (50-59°F). Some people running cold baths, adding a large bag full of ice, and climbing in for a soak. According to a popular online source,

The general consensus from the literature is that the ideal length of an ice bath is 11-15 minutes. This maximizes the cryotherapy benefits of cold water immersion without inducing excessive stress or putting tissues at risk of frostbite or the body at risk of hypothermia.

But with that said, many people start with four minute or even two minute ice baths. The point of heat shock and cold shock is to stress your body thoughtfully and carefully, being careful not to do harm. For this reason, some people take what’s called a contrast shower instead:

Contrast showers

Like saunas and ice baths, contrast showers can (in theory) support mitochondrial biogenesis by alternating between heat and cold.

What I do is:

  1. I start with 3 minutes of hot (turning the water as hot as I can stand, but not hot enough to get burned or scalded)
  2. 1 or 2 minutes of icy cold (as cold as the water will go)
  3. 3 minutes of hot
  4. I end the shower with 3 miniutes of icy cold
  5. By the end of the shower, I’ll have had 6 minutes of hot and 4 or 5 minutes of cold.

It’s important in a contrast shower to make the hot water as hot as you can stand (without scalding yourself) and the cold water as cold as you can stand. And it’s important to always end on cold, because this forces your mitochondria into biogenesis. The point is to make the little guys work for a living, not to make it easy on them.

Even after doing contrast showers for almost three years, I can’t say I look forward to them. I don’t care for the first round of cold. I’m usually fine, though, by the second round. But I do love how I feel afterwards. I actually feel warm and energized, presumably because my internal thermostat has been switched on to compensate for the final three minutes of icy cold.

After the shower: red light therapy

When my shower’s over, I dry off then go into the next room for some red light exposure.

My theory is that the shower is stressing my mitochondria, giving them the signal that it’s time to up their game; the red light then gives them energy to do so.

Ending on cold gives them the impression that it’s “cold outside” (it must be winter) — so more mitochondria are needed — i.e., it’s time for mitogenesis. But they need energy to respond to the challenge. Red light therapy has been found to stimulate the mitochondria, giving them the energy to produce ATP in your body, associated a number of health benefits. 

As a side note, exposure to red light in the morning actually improves eyesight. According to the studies cited in this article, the proper wavelengths of light have been found to decrease the rate of aging in our cells and decreases cell death in our retinas.

So after my morning shower, I stand between two rows or red lights, 660 nm on the left, and 630 nm bulbs on the right (and one 850 nm bulb from the side), placed about six inches away from my skin on either side. The lights I use are not lasers, they are LEDs, and are cool to the touch, though the metal around them can get warm.

I also three incandescent heat lamp bulbs which I bought for a home sauna setup, and have been using recently along with the red lights. (Note: It’s fine, in my experience, to stand in front of the LED lights (630 nm, 660 nm and 850 nm) with my eyes open, but I never look into the heat lamp bulbs.

What about supplements?

A wide range of biological compounds found in both food and supplements have been found to support mitochondrial health. I’m eating a high nutrient omnivorous diet these days that’s rich in seafood, similar to the one recommended by Dr. Rhonda Patrick.

Regarding supplements, I start with NMN. According to this study (emphases are mine):

Supplementing mice with NMN can increase NAD+ levels, ameliorate glucose intolerance, and restore gene expression related to oxidative stress in high fat diet-induced diabetes (Yoshino et al. 2011). Furthermore, NMN mitigates age-associated physiological decline (Mills et al. 2016) and reverses vascular dysfunction and oxidative stress in aging mice (de Picciotto et al. 2016).

Administration of NMN to animals that represent the transgenic model of Alzheimer’s disease showed improved mitochondrial bioenergetic functions and reduced fragmentation (Long et al. 2015). We show here that a single dose of NAD+ precursor, NMN, alters mitochondrial dynamics in the brain by reducing fragmentation of neuronal mitochondria

Several previous studies also used repeated dosages of NMN from 300 to 1,000 mg/kg over days or weeks with beneficial outcomes in animal models of diabetes mellitus, obesity, aging, stoke, or heart dysfunction (for review see Yoshino et al. 2018)….

Another supplement which has demonstrated benefits to the mitochondria is NR (nicotinami riboside) which has been found to protect against against mitochondrial myopathy in mice (See study) I’m not sure if it’s necessary to take both NR and NMN; some days I take both, but I usually take one or the other.

The supplement CoQ10 (ubiquinol) has also been found to be essential to mitochondrial health. See study: Ubiquinol-10 Supplementation Activates Mitochondria Functions to Decelerate Senescence in Senescence-Accelerated Mice

My morning regimen

I take my NAD+ boosters and sirtuin activators in the morning, about ten minutes before the contrast shower and red light session. The ingredients include 1.5 grams of DoNotAge’s NMN, 0.5 grams of the same company’s NR, and 1 gram of their TMG supplement.

For sirtuin activation, I also take DNA’s fucoidan supplement, SIRT6 Activator, a NAD+-dependent compound along with the NMN. I usually add a teaspoon of Gaia Herbs’ Black Elderberry syrup. (The sirtuin 6 gene which has been shown to have such striking benefits in relation to longevity in lab animals is actually mitochondrial sirtuin gene, as described in this study.)

The AMPK activator glucosamine has been found to inhibit the ability of the mitochondria to process sugars, That may sound bad, but it gives our mitochondria. the message that they running low on energy, triggering them to create more mitochondria. So the net effect is beneficial. See study: Glucosamine inhibits IL-1β expression by preserving mitochondrial integrity. So I also I take Jarrow Glucosamine plus Chondroitin, Jarrow CoQ10 (ubiquinol). and often also drink a fasting mimicking smoothie.

Step by step:

  • I take the supplements described above along with an egg yolk to assist with absorption.
  • I wait a few minutes
  • I take a contrast shower
  • After the shower, I do 20 minutes of red light therapy, with some heat lamp therapy thrown in
  • Then, if it’s a workout day, I do resistance training.

The result

This is purely anecdotal, but for what it’s worth, my subjective response to this regimen is that I feel energized and alert after my supplements, cold shower, and red light session. I also have more energy for my workouts when I follow this routine on my workout days. (I. can do more sets and reps without getting tired out) And this may be too much information, but my sexual energy goes through the roof about ten minutes after wrapping up the red light session.

Not medical advice

This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplements, just reporting on what I’m doing. All supplements can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen.  See full Medical Disclaimer

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