Credible Research Continues to Demonstrate Whole-Body Cryotherapy Benefits
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
It is often difficult to separate fact from hype about the benefits of the latest “medical miracle,” and especially when it may be endorsed by celebrities. This is very true for cryotherapy – and specifically whole body cryotherapy (WBC) – which boasts a wide variety of well-known adherents. Many people swear it helps with everything from reducing muscle pain after strenuous workouts, firming sagging skin, losing weight and getting a mood boost.
While some of these claims are still anecdotal and unproven, research continues, however, to demonstrate that whole body cryotherapy does, in fact, offer tangible health benefits that hold the promise of treating an expanding variety of conditions.
But before getting into them, it’s important to review some key terms and definitions.
The field itself is known as “cryotechnology,” with “cryo” coming from the Greek word for “icy cold.” The four most well-known applications of this technology are:
Cryosurgery is well-established (if you have ever had a mole or wart frozen off, that is cryosurgery); cryostimulation is having cryotherapy for the general benefits rather than for a specific reason, such as a sports injury; and cryonics is often the stuff of science fiction where people are frozen after dying in the hope of being resuscitated once a cure is available for whatever caused their demise. As for cryotherapy, for example putting ice on a sports injury, it is a well-known, and ancient, practice for reducing swelling and inflammation.
WBC differs from “spot” cryotherapy, where you apply cold to a specific area of the body, such as an ankle or wrist, in that your entire body is treated all at once. It is usually performed in a special chamber – aptly called a cryogenic chamber. This ensures that appropriate treatment conditions such as temperature and humidity are maintained. You must always have regular contact with the therapist while in the chamber. (In my case, I obtained my treatments from Chiltonic and my neck and head were completely visible and above the chamber. As a result, I was able to have a continuous dialogue with the therapist). Some chambers may maintain visibility using glass doors and a speaker.
The original theory, which has now been borne out by research, is that whole body cryotherapy can help reduce chronic inflammation. In contrast to acute inflammation, which is a perfectly normal and healthy immune response, chronic inflammation is inflammation that lasts several months or even years. And you can have chronic inflammation and not feel any pain at all. It can have long-term and whole-body effects. Chronic inflammation is essentially believed to be the root cause of many diseases Americans face. It then follows that reducing chronic inflammation would offer health benefits.
Perhaps one of the first researchers to study the benefits of WBC was Professor Toshiro Yamauchi. In the 1970s, he used a cryogenic chamber to treat rheumatoid arthritis. He found that rapid cooling offered by WBC had a more beneficial effect on his research subjects.
The use of cryotherapy in general has been endorsed by many in the medical community. In fact, a survey of emergency physicians in Ireland found that 73% of consultants frequently “prescribe” cold as a treatment for inflammation, among other conditions.
Other studies suggest that WBC does, indeed, induce anti-inflammatory effects. And, while researchers may continue to debate the effectiveness of WBC, almost all agree on its general benefits of improved pain management, mood and overall quality of life.
One good example of these benefits was found in patients with fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by chronic systemic inflammation, generalized pain and severe fatigue. Those receiving WBC treatment showed large clinical improvements in quality of life as well as in the ability to perform daily activities. Research also has suggested that WBC may help decrease oxidative stress in male patients who had inflammatory arthritis of the spine and large joints.
Other studies on the benefits of WBC to treating arthritis have also shown promising results. In one pilot study, participants had significantly reduced pain after having WBC treatments. Another reported that participants having three cryotherapy sessions of two to three minutes each over a week reported a reduction in pain. What was interesting about this particular study is that patients undergoing WBC have a more marked reduction.
Other preliminary studies are indicating that WBC, because of its anti-inflammatory effect, may also hold promise for atopic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease. And while more research is needed, some experts theorize that WBC could help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias, by countering the inflammatory and oxidative stress that occur with this disease.
As with any other medical therapy, WBC is not appropriate for everyone. Before using it, be sure to talk with a competent healthcare provider. This is especially the case if you have unchecked blood pressure, any type of heart or lung disease, neuropathy, cold intolerance, Raynaud disease or hypothyroidism, among others. You also may not be a good candidate for WBC if you have claustrophobia or diabetes.Other ways to be proactive.
In addition to considering WBC for treating inflammation, autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, you should also make sure that you are eating an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean Diet. This type of meal plan is rich in green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, nuts, fruits and fatty fish. You should also avoid such foods as refined carbohydrates, sugary beverages, fried foods and processed meats.
Finally, it is always good to take routine nutrient tests in order to identify any nutrient imbalances or deficiencies. If a deficiency or imbalance is identified, your doctor can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and help you with supplementation if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.