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April 17, 2014

In the bedroom, it is common for men to try to open the window to cool off, women to close it to stay warm.

But the conflict does not end there: many women complain of having cold feet, which prevents them from falling asleep. Their spouse dreads the contact of these feet like packets of ice cubes under the duvet which should be warm and cozy.

On the other hand, on the beaches of the North Sea or Brittany, many women do not hesitate to jump into the (icy) water, and do not seem to suffer from the cold more than men, on the contrary!

The scientific explanation is that women have a different distribution of their body heat: their blood willingly withdraws from their extremities (feet, hands) to keep their vital organs warm inside.

They also have a slightly thicker layer of subcutaneous fat on average, which is why they resist cold water well.

On the other hand, they feel the cold more easily than men.

But you should not confuse the feeling of cold with the fact that your body is really too cold (hypothermia).

Chilliness is not caused primarily by the cold itself, but by the sudden drop in temperature.

So, when you step into the cold water you get a very unpleasant feeling for a moment, but it quickly fades. After powering through the “oh!” and “ah!” and advancing little by little towards the deeper water, you throw yourself into it and, suddenly, you are fine, the water becomes “super-good”, you can stay there a few minutes without a problem and even enjoy it.

Even if the water is much colder than your core temperature of 37°C, you still do not go into hypothermia because:

  1. Your blood vessels on the surface of your skin constrict (vasoconstriction) and blood collects deep in your body, around vital organs, well isolated by your skin.
  2. Your body produces a lot of heat, through the metabolism and by shivering, to compensate for the loss of calories in contact with cold water.

If the cold gets too severe, your nerves send signals to your cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that handles conscious reasoning, to signal a problem. These signals combine with those coming from the limbic system, which manages our emotions, causing an unpleasant feeling because of the cold. These feelings motivate us to adopt certain behaviors, such as getting out of the water, wrapping ourselves in a towel, complaining, looking for a warm place.

If at that moment we cannot find a way to react, then indeed we are in danger. Our body temperature can really start to drop, we go into hypothermia, and this would soon result in a loss of consciousness and even death if we do not act very quickly.


If it is not cold outside, you can still have cold hands and feet if you are very anxious (the blood, in this case too, collects in the vital organs) or because of traffic problems.

Having cold extremities can be a symptom of:

  • Diabetes: Too much sugar in the blood damages blood vessels, slowing down circulation. Having cold feet is common in diabetics.
  • Damaged nerves: When the nerves in the feet are damaged, they stop sending signals to the brain and spinal cord, which therefore becomes unresponsive to maintain a good blood supply. If you suffer from insensitivity in your toes, it’s common for you to have cold feet as well.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon: It is an excessive contraction of the blood vessels which prevents the correct irrigation of the fingers and toes.


  • Thickening toenails
  • Lack of hair on the legs (below the knees)
  • Calf cramps when you walk
  • Blue feet
  • Tingling, pain, or burning sensation in the feet
  • Insensitivity of the feet

In these cases, it is possible that your cold feet are not just a personal characteristic. They may be related to another problem and a visit to the doctor is advised.


The only lasting way to solve a problem with cold feet and hands is to improve blood circulation in these areas.

Foot massages are the first emergency measure to get the blood flowing. Practiced daily, they can help restore better circulation. You can use sesame and olive oil. Massage the soles of your feet, before bed, then put on cotton socks.

Walking and, in general, being physically active helps to promote blood flow in the legs. Walking effectively acts as a natural massage of the legs, via the contractions / relaxations of the muscles, which improve blood circulation.

Wearing warmer socks is obviously a solution.

Hydrotherapy: immersing your feet in hot (but not scorching!) water can also be effective because the heat of the water will dilate the blood vessels. Fill two basins, one with cold water, the other with hot water. Soak your feet in cold water for two minutes, then run them in hot water for one minute. Repeat 6 times. The alternation of contraction / dilation of your blood vessels will improve your circulation. It is important to remain upright and active in order to maintain blood circulation afterward.

Stopping smoking is important, as is reducing your sugar consumption: these two practices damage the arteries, particularly smoking. On the other hand, eat fatty fish rich in omega-3 (good for the arteries) and colorful berries such as blueberries, blackcurrants, hawthorn, lingonberries (antioxidants). Add chili, ginger and garlic to your cooking, and take red vine and ginkgo biloba to improve your circulation.

Walk barefoot and, if possible, outdoors, for example on a lawn.


At the end of September of last year, on a beautiful sunny evening, my friends and I went for a swim in a beautiful mountain lake.

My friends, excellent swimmers and admittedly much more experienced than me, decided to swim to a buoy about 600 meters from the shore.

As I myself had swum a lot during the season and felt in good shape, I decided to follow them. I also wanted to avoid “ruining the mood” by lagging behind… serious recklessness!

Before I even got to the buoy, and as my friends laughed and splashed water, I felt my limbs stiffen with the cold. My arms began to twitch, my jaw to tremble, my teeth to chatter. However, I decided to take it upon myself and continue swimming with my friends, who seemed to be in no pain at all.

I was very relieved to get to the buoy and turn around. But my movements were more and more rigid. I was trying to swim faster to warm myself up, but the shaking in the freezing water cooled me even more. I gasped and probably turned pale, so my friends started to worry about me.

They were right! In fact, my vision blurred and my ears were ringing. I tried to speed up, to no avail, as the edge was still a good ten minutes swim away.

My vision was still cloudy. The cold penetrated deep inside my body.

I don’t remember the rest. But I found myself, I don’t know how, on the beach. The voices of my friends around me reached me in the distance. I was given a towel, which I tried to wrap myself in, but no longer felt any sensation on my skin. It felt like I was rubbing an old log of dead wood. I couldn’t articulate words anymore. Strangely enough, I was still able to stand and walk like a robot.

I drove the two kilometers back to the apartment, like in a dream. I got in the shower, turned on the hot water faucet, but I couldn’t tell whether the temperature running over my head was cold or hot. It was an incredible feeling like my head was made of cold wood, and the hot water running over it seemed to do nothing to warm it.

It was only after thirty minutes that I began to feel normal again and regain all my senses.

I have learned in the meantime that when the cold hits your brain, you can suddenly lose your ability to coordinate. Your limbs move in all directions and, of course, you can no longer swim. Without immediate help, you can drown.

My friends being excellent swimmers, they could save me. However, I still think I was on the verge of disaster.

This has served me well as a lesson: now I know that everyone has a different threshold for the cold and that we shouldn’t push ourselves beyond our limits or try to mimic the achievements of others.


Jean-Marc Dupuis

The information in this newsletter is published for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as personalized medical advice. No treatment should be undertaken based solely on the contents of this letter, and the reader is strongly recommended to consult health professionals duly licensed by health authorities for any matter relating to their health and well-being. The publisher is not a licensed medical care provider. The editor of this newsletter does not practice medicine himself, nor any other therapeutic profession, and expressly refrains from entering into a relationship of health practitioner vis-à-vis patients with his readers. None of the information or products mentioned on this site are intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate or cure any disease.

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