Cryotherapy (Whole Body Cryotherapy), a health treatment from Japan, is effectively an ice bath taken to the absolute extreme. Here patients are subjected to temperatures as low as -150 degrees and beyond in a bid to help treat cellulite, fatigue, acne, joint pain and more. It has been recommended by many celebrities and high profile individuals like Tony Robbins and Mark Webber but can this 'cool' new health fad really help?
How it Works
In order to cool the body down, patients first enter a chamber and are then 'blasted' with nitrogen gas at incredibly low temperatures. A session will typically only last for as little as three minutes – you probably wouldn't want to spend much longer – but reportedly these short bursts of cold can illicit highly impressive results. Just to give you an idea of how insanely cold that is, spending only twice as long at those temperatures would actually be enough to kill you. The coldest temperature ever recorded naturally on Earth was -89 degrees in Antarctica and this is significantly colder.
It sounds like pure madness but the idea is that it can stimulate your body and immune system in order to help you combat illnesses and recover from a range of health complaints.
You've likely heard by now about the health benefits of cold in general. Taking a cold shower or an ice bath can give your immune system a boost, it can increase your production of testosterone and it can help to reinvigorate you. It can also ease joint pain and can help to burn calories and get rid of fat. The idea then, is that by taking it one step further and going to such extremely low temperatures – even only temporarily – can stimulate even greater benefits and also help a range of other conditions including psoriasis, insomnia and more.
In theory, whole body cryotherapy 'tricks' your body into believing it is in danger of dying and as such, triggering a response that leaves you revitalized.
According to some, a single cryotherapy session can increase white blood cell count by four hundred percent and burn 1,000 calories.
What Is Whole Body Cryotherapy Like?
When you enter a cryotherapy chamber you will be wearing nothing more than underwear and slippers – as other clothing might freeze. You'd then stay in the room for about two to three minutes while blasts of nitrogen are emitted into the room. At first you'll likely find the process to be relatively comfortable, though you may shiver a little. Once the temperature gets really low though, you might find it literally takes the wind out of you and that it becomes unpleasant. Just as the urge to escape gets unbearable, you are let out. Wales rugby union player Sam Warburton describes the experience as 'savage'.
Afterwards, your skin will look blotchy and red (as though you had been sun burned) and it will feel likely 'tingly'. Your temperature will very quickly feel relatively normal.
Surprisingly, most people report that they feel revitalized and energized afterwards. This is likely due to the 'fight or flight' response that comes from such low temperatures and which floods the brain with noradrenaline and raises the heart rate among other things.
Does it Work?
What's really important though, is whether or not the treatment works. Does it really treat such a diverse range of conditions? Can it really boost white blood cell count by so much? Is it dangerous?
Unfortunately there has not been that much research conducted on the process, but there is some evidence both for and against its use.
For instance, it was found that the use of whole body cryotherapy could help to reduce pain in patients suffering from rheumatoid disease (1). But on the downside, the effects only lasted for ninety minutes and it was found that there was no long term benefits. The study concluded that the treatment could be useful to mitigate the painful effects of intensive physiotherapy.
Another study concluded that cryotherapy would not cause long term harm and that it might increase antioxidant effects over time (2). It has also been shown to help improve recovery from various muscular injuries (3). Other studies have shown that it may even be useful for treating mood disorders in the short term (4). Claims regarding white blood cell count have been supported by research but only to an extent (5).
At the moment, it's possibly still a little too early to draw any concrete conclusions regarding the effectiveness of cryotherapy. What we can say though, is that there is certainly some evidence to back up at least a number of the claims. And other than that, we have various promising testimonials.
Ultimately though, the only way to know for sure whether cryotherapy will work for you is to try it yourself. If you struggle with muscle soreness and joint pain, with psoriasis or acne, or you just want to do something that will leave you feeling reinvigorated… then give it a go! Of course it's not the cheapest thing in the world and it's not 100% proven, so if you have a serious complaint and a small budget there may be more reliable ways to spend your money for now.