Therapeutic Hypothermia: Is Extreme Cold An Effective Ancient Cure?

Therapeutic Hypothermia: Is Extreme Cold An Effective Ancient Cure?
Therapeutic Hypothermia: Is Extreme Cold An Effective Ancient Cure?

Of all the methods of treatment and therapy, hypothermia can never be thought of as effective medical care. But maybe there is more to the cold than we think? Therapeutic hypothermia has surprisingly ancient roots in medicine, and experiments with extreme cold have been conducted since time immemorial. It has always been believed that very low temperatures can have a beneficial effect on the most delicate parts of our body - the nervous system.

For centuries, scientists and physicians have extensively investigated claims that hypothermia can save the brain and spinal cord after illness or injury. Moreover, numerous bizarre cases from history show that people survived almost miraculously after deaths - all thanks to the extremely low temperatures. So what's hidden in hypothermia?

Understanding extreme temperatures

Ice and extreme cold have a curious life-saving ability. Although hypothermia is no doubt harmful to the body and can be fatal quickly, it can still preserve the subtle mechanisms of the body if managed properly.

For archeology and modern science, extreme cold has been of great help on more than one occasion.

For example, the oldest known natural mummy in Europe, the famous ice man Etzi, was discovered in stunningly preserved condition, although the man died around 3400 BC! The impact of the ice was phenomenal.


Human skin, clothing, tools, intestinal contents, tattoos and parts of hair are well preserved, which gave scientists rich information about the ancient man and his way of life. This incident - and many others like it - prompted scientists to view freezing and hypothermia as effective ways to help living patients and to introduce this condition into neuroscience.

Therapeutic hypothermia

Over the centuries, many different stories have been recorded of people suffering from hypothermia and surviving situations that would otherwise be fatal. These stories excited the brains of curious researchers, prompting them to study the effects of cold on the body.

For a long time it was believed that hypothermia can literally resurrect people after death. It was believed that the neural system and the basic functions of the body were only "suspended" in a state of hypothermia, which subsequently allows a person to be reanimated.

Moreover, doctors from different eras have recognized that hypothermia can have a therapeutic effect on patients who have suffered various injuries and neurological diseases. The fact that cold can have a positive effect on the body has never been a secret.

Have you ever heard of the highly publicized cold showers? This is just one of the many aspects of cold treatment. After all, ancient man had no access to soothing, steamy hot showers. Ice cold water was the only option - and it was very beneficial.

However, science has taken cold treatment to a whole new level, leading to attempts to preserve nerve tissue and save its function through hypothermia, the most extreme condition of cold. For centuries, up to the present day, these attempts have not been crowned with success and continue to remain a major scientific problem. However, history has a lot to tell us about the strange animating effects of the hypothermic state, and some of the stories seem to defy all logic.

Anne Green, a life story

One of the most cited stories is the story of Anna Green, and is hard to believe. Miss Green of Steeple Barton in Oxfordshire worked as a maid in the wealthy home of Sir Thomas Reed in the 1650s.


At the age of 22, seduced by beautiful stories and empty promises, this girl became pregnant by the son of the owner of the house. She tried to hide her pregnancy, because otherwise she would have faced heavy public censure.

Alas, fourteen weeks later the girl had a miscarriage. When she tried to throw away the stillborn fetus, she was caught in the act and charged with infanticide. In accordance with the laws of the time, she was tried and sentenced to death by hanging.

This happened on a particularly cold morning on December 14, 1650. Anna was hanged in front of a large crowd of spectators, her body was held by the legs and several times hit on the chest with the butt of a musket - all this in order to "relieve her of pain."

Dead but for a little while

After hanging for half an hour, she was pronounced dead, and her body was handed over to doctors and students at Oxford University for dissection and study in anatomy classes. Immediately after the execution, the body was placed in a coffin and sent to renowned Oxford doctors, Sir William Petty and Thomas Willis, leading professors of anatomy.

But soon an amazing thing happened. When the coffin was opened the next day, the anatomists were amazed to find that Anna Green had a faint pulse and weak breathing. After using several medications of that time and strong warming of her body, doctors were surprised to see that Anna Green completely recovered. In fact, she was revived.

At the time, this event was called a miracle and a real "providence of God." The woman was pardoned and subsequently led a normal life, married and gave birth to three children. But modern scientists argue that the extreme cold that day could have caused her miraculous survival.

Maybe she suffered from hypothermia before being hanged? Since her bodily functions were minimized by the cold, it is possible that hanging had little or no effect on her vital functions.


The famous Scottish surgeon and anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793) was the first to realize this and subsequently conducted the first full-fledged experiments on the study of life in a state of hypothermia. His work has made a significant shift in scientific circles in Europe.

Cold and Egyptians

However, we can look even further into history to understand how people perceived the icy cold. In one of the most ancient origins of medicine, people realized that extreme cold has a unique effect on the body and nervous system.

In search of the origins, we will return to Ancient Egypt, whose eminent figures laid the cornerstones of medicine many thousands of years before our era. The legendary adviser to Pharaoh Djoser, the man known as Imhotep, lived around 2780 BC and was an influential figure of his time.

Imhotep was a skilled physician, surgeon, architect, engineer and high priest of Ra. He was also instrumental in designing and supervising the construction of the famous step pyramid of Djoser. In addition, it is believed that he made many advances in medicine at the time by observing and treating workers who were injured during construction.

Of course, due to the great antiquity of Imhotep, his possible methods and findings have not survived to this day. However, due to the fact that he was deified and remembered even two thousand years after his death, it is likely that he was considered a great healer.


One unique papyrus text, acquired by Edwin Smith in 1862, dates back to 1600 BC and is the oldest known surgical treatise on trauma and its treatment. It is possible that this is a copy of a much older papyrus, possibly dating back to the time of Imhotep.

The hieroglyphic text describes many wounds and injuries, mentions neurosurgical procedures, as well as orthopedic and plastic treatments. This clearly shows that the ancient Egyptians knew a lot about medicine.

And best of all, it shows that they knew about the benefits of extreme cold too! Example 46 in the text describes the treatment of a non-infectious blister on the chest. The papyrus says that applying extreme cold will help cure this ailment. It is thus the oldest known document detailing the use of cold to treat disease.

Greeks agree

Several thousand years after Imhotep, the famous ancient Greek philosopher-physician Hippocrates was another person who recognized hypothermia as an effective treatment. Before that, he knew that excess heat was a sign of potential problems.

He and his students experimented with mud. By covering the patient and observing where the dirt dries first, they identified the source of the disease.

On the opposite spectrum of this theory, Hippocrates began to tackle extreme cold. He began to induce hypothermia in tetanus patients, and later suggested that cold can have acute effects on humans.


He argued that "cold should be applied in the following cases: when bleeding or the danger of its occurrence. In these cases, the cold should be applied not to the place where the bleeding occurs or is expected, but around it." Joint swelling and pain, not associated with ulceration, gout and cramps, is generally relieved and relieved by cold, and the pain is thus dispelled. Moderate numbness relieves pain."

With these statements, Hippocrates also actually recognized the potential of extreme cold as a primitive anesthetic. He advised wounded soldiers to be packed in ice and snow as a treatment.

Although these observations were crude and semi-effective, Hippocrates's thoughts can be considered one of the first examples of the use of hypothermia as a treatment for systemic diseases. Over the centuries that followed, such reports and treatises appeared constantly.

Throughout the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the modern era, cold was repeatedly recognized as a powerful tool and a sure recipe for general well-being. Cold water immersion has often been promoted and prescribed.

The English pioneer physician John Foyer, in his 1697 study, A Study of the Proper Use and Abuse of Hot, Cold, and Mild Baths in England, wrote that extremely cold baths provide many benefits and called this therapy "cold regimen":

"In the hot summer air, our bodies are weaker, so in the summer it is necessary to concentrate our strength and spirit with the help of cold baths."

Dangerous science

Undoubtedly, extreme cold is deadly, but it can also have an amazing effect on the preservation of vital body functions. Thus, when applied correctly and in dosage amounts, hypothermia can have significant therapeutic benefits.

Modernity also remembers some amazing cases when people survived after exposure to freezing temperatures - their vital functions survived the test in an almost suspended state.

One of the most famous such cases is that of Jean Hilliard, a young woman who got lost in the harsh winter weather on December 20, 1980. Unable to find a safe place at night, she collapsed into the snow and by the morning of the next day froze, and her vital functions were minimized.

Despite this, she managed to fully recover and continue to live a normal life. Perhaps, in the end, it was the strange effect of the cold that kept life for such a long time, despite the fact that it "turned into ice".

In any case, we will probably never fully know what effects cold can have on our bodies. Of course, in small amounts and under controlled conditions, the use of cold and water can be beneficial for us, especially for circulation, cardiovascular system, weight loss and skin health. Every now and then a cold shower is good for everyone.

However, extreme conditions such as hypothermia are still in the margins of the medical and scientific world. Whether it can be used as an effective therapy remains to be seen. But, judging by the history of this concept and various precepts of ancient times, there may be something grandiose in this idea!

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