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We checked in for a session of  super cooling whole-body cryotherapy at Cryomed in Boston. The treatment involves using a tank combined with cold elements to help reduce inflammation in the body, pain and swelling caused by injury or muscle strain and promote a feeling of general well-being. When your body is exposed to cold treatment, it allows for a gentle “surge-like” jolt through the nervous system to the brain.  This process also induces the release of endorphins resulting in better mental clarity and alertness.

Super cooling for longevity

Firstly, I have to put my hand up and disclose up front that I am one of those people who believes in taking freezing baths, hot saunas, and the Wim Hof method. There are many scientific references supporting whole-body cryotherapy.

I believe in the concept of placing your body under good but difficult stress to help it re-fire cellular activity, including taking freezing baths, showers, or swimming in winter pools.  So the idea of having a quick three-minute whole body cryotherapy session in the middle of the day without too much downtime was music to my ears.

exerciseDifferences in cryotherapy

Before I get to share my experience and also some research findings on whole body cryotherapy, we just need to make sense of the different types of cryotherapy out there. It can be confusing. 

The most long-standing and common form of “cryotherapy” is the application of ice or cold packs to injuries to cause blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow and alleviates pain, swelling and inflammation.

Any use of ice or very cold materials to treat something technically qualifies as cryotherapy. This is where some of the confusion (perfectly understandably) comes from.

Cryoablation

There’s cryotherapy for freezing warts or skin tags and this is called cryoablation. Here a specialist will use a substance like liquid nitrogen or argon gas. Cryoablation can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions and some cancers, including prostate and liver cancer.

This therapy can treat tissue externally (on the skin) and internally (inside the body). It is minimally invasive, pain-free, and practiced most likely by a medically trained person to treat the following:

CryoablationThen there is cryotherapy which uses nitrogen or argon gas to create extremely cold temperatures to destroy diseased tissue for cancer patients.

Doctors also use cryoprobes to treat tumors below the skin surface and deep in the body. Using image guidance, the doctor inserts one or more cryoprobes through the skin to the site of the diseased tissue. The cryoprobe delivers the liquid nitrogen or argon gas and freezes diseased tissue.

Cryosurgery

This should also not be confused with another form of localized “cryotherapy” called “cryosurgery”. Or fat freezing.  With cryosurgery, specific areas of fat are frozen. The body is then meant to absorb this, ultimately flushing it out. It’s most often used in place of liposuction and is considered less invasive.

Ps. We wrote a story on this recently, which features supermodel Linda Evangelista’s experience with fat freezing. Warning. It’s not pretty.

Whole-body cryotherapy  

This review is on whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) which involves standing in a freezing tank for just over three minutes at a temperature of fewer than 220 degrees Fahrenheit (-220 F or – 140 celsius.) Yes, you read it right. Some refer to it as “super cooling” of the body for therapeutic purposes.

Cryotherapy” starts at -166’F  (or – 110 C).  Anything warmer would be “Cold Therapy”.

Well, there is a purpose and exact science to this. So let’s look at the debate and research around it.

cryotherapyThe Japanese discovered cryotherapy

It’s not new. In fact, it originated in Japan in the latter half of 1970s.

Japanese rheumatologist Toshima Yamaguchi has been mostly credited for first developing WBC. He recognized that the combination of cold and physical exercise was beneficial for the clinical outcomes of treatments received by his patients. These patients were battling rheumatoid arthritis. (Yamauchi et al., 1981a,b).

Growth in popularity of sports medicine

At present, the use of very cold air in special, controlled chambers can be considered for treating symptoms of various diseases (Bouzigon et al., 2016). Besides its clinical applications, a brief full-body exposure to dry air at cryogenic temperatures lower than −110°C  (or -166 Fahrenheit) has become widely popular in sports medicine, often used to enhance recovery after injuries and to counteract inflammatory symptoms resulting from overuse or pathology (Furmanek et al., 2014).

The number of studies about the use of whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) in sports medicine is growing, however, it is still lower than the topic’s potential if the wide range of application of this methodology is considered.  More studies are needed.

Celebrities have put whole-body cryotherapy on the map 

Cryotherapy is not new to the US. For a few years already, media has reported that elite athletes and celebrities using whole-body cryotherapy have included Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and France’s midfielder Amandine Henry. Some claim it can even improve appearance, slow aging, and shed body weight.  Whole-body cryotherapy has been labeled as a new weight loss trend. However, there are no studies to substantiate this to date, and are anecdotal.

How does whole body cryotherapy work?

Firstly, the process is so easy. I walked into the Cryomed Boston center and within a few minutes was undressed and in the tank wearing just wooden socks and gloves. My head poked out over the top. From this position, I could still communicate at all times with the operator. I was also assured that if it was too uncomfortable at any time he could switch it off and I would get out. Additionally, I was also encouraged to move slowly around in the tank which makes it easier to endure the cold.

I was bathed in liquid nitrogen induced cold air.  at – 220 F  for just over three minutes.

The experience of whole-body cryotherapy

When I got out of the tank, my legs felt a little wobbly and were very red, but within ten minutes everything was back to normal and I was back on my bike and peddling my way home. The difference was that within a few hours and for the rest of the day I felt great. It is known that ultra-cold temperatures in whole-body cryotherapy can cause a positive physiological hormonal responses. And yes, I slept like a baby that night. 

Cryotherapy

Why should you try it?

Nowadays, whole-body cryotherapy is a medical physical treatment widely used in sports medicine. Recovery from injuries (e.g., trauma, overuse) and after-season recovery are the main purposes for application. 

However, the most recent studies confirmed the anti-inflammatory, anti-analgesic, and anti-oxidant effects of this therapy by highlighting the underlying physiological responses.

 In addition to its therapeutic effects, whole-body cryotherapy has been demonstrated to be a preventive strategy against the damaging effects of exercise-induced inflammation and soreness. Novel findings have stressed the importance of fat mass on cooling effectiveness and starting fitness levels in the final result. Exposure to cryotherapy somehow mimics exercise, since it affects myokines expression in an exercise-like fashion. It may help support strategies for metabolic diseases such as obesity.

cryotherapy | Longevity LiveThe key benefits

The main benefits of whole body cryotherapy are circulation, musculoskeletal pain, and inflammation. Health professionals have used it to relieve pain and inflammation from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis, and injuries. 

There are a fair number of studies. Many are positive, some are inconclusive. It must be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved whole-body cryotherapy as a medical treatment.  

Pain relief and muscle healing

Whole-body cryotherapy helps with muscle pain, as well as some joint and muscle disorders, such as arthritis. It may also promote faster healing of athletic injuries.

Doctors have long recommended using ice packs on injured and painful muscles. Doing so may increase blood circulation after the ice pack is removed, promoting healing and pain relief.

Because cryotherapy helps with muscle pain, it could make it easier to get back to a fitness routine following an injury.

Reduced inflammation

Inflammation is one way the immune system fights infection. Sometimes the immune system becomes overly reactive. The result is chronic inflammation, which is linked to health problems, such as cancer, diabetes, depression, dementia, and arthritis.

As such, reducing inflammation could also improve overall health and reduce the risk of numerous chronic ailments.

Some studies suggest that cryotherapy can reduce inflammation. However, most research has been done on rats, so to confirm the data, more research is needed on people.

Preventing and treating

Because whole body cryotherapy might reduce inflammation, it is possible it could also lower the risk of developing cancer.

So far, there is no evidence that whole-body cryotherapy can treat cancer once the disease has developed. However, medical cryotherapy is a well-established treatment for certain forms of cancer.

Note: A doctor might use a cryoablation  (this is not whole-body cryotherapy) to freeze cancer cells on the skin or cervix.

Reducing anxiety and depression

Research findings suggest that it could treat mental health conditions linked to inflammation. Some preliminary research on cryotherapy and mental health also supports this claim.

A 2008 study  found that in a third of people with depression or anxiety, cryotherapy reduced symptoms by at least 50 percent. This was a much greater reduction than in people who did not undergo cryotherapy.

Improving symptoms of eczema

The chronic inflammatory skin condition known as eczema can cause intensely itchy patches of dry skin. A study of people with eczema had participants stop using eczema medications. They then tried cryotherapy. Many saw improvements in their eczema symptoms, though some complained of frostbite in small areas of the skin.

Treating Migraine Headaches

Targeted cryotherapy that focuses on the neck may help prevent migraine headaches. In a 2013 study, researchers applied cryotherapy to the necks of people who had migraines. The treatment reduced, but did not eliminate their pain.

cryotherapy for migrainesPreventing dementia

If cryotherapy reduces inflammation, it could also reduce the risk of developing dementia.

A 2012 paper suggested cryotherapy may be able to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress associated with dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and other age-related forms of cognitive decline.

Helps treat mood disorders

The ultra-cold temperatures in whole-body cryotherapy can cause physiological hormonal responses. This includes the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and endorphins. This can have a positive effect on those experiencing mood disorders like anxiety and depression. Another study found that whole-body cryotherapy was effective in short-term treatment for both.

Reduces arthritic pain

Localized cryotherapy treatment isn’t the only thing that’s effective at treating serious conditions; one study found that whole-body cryotherapy significantly reduced pain in people with arthritis. They found that the treatment was well-tolerated. It also allowed for more aggressive physiotherapy and occupational therapy as a result. This ultimately made rehabilitation programs more effective.

Is it safe?

Whole-body cryotherapy is generally safe, however, with any therapy,  it may not be suitable for all. If you have an underlying medical condition that is not conducive to whole body cryotherapy, you should rather check in with your doctor.

In extreme cases or misuse, subjects run the risk of asphyxiation, frostbite, burns, and eye injury from extreme temperatures. Having a cryotherapy treatment for any longer than a few minutes can be dangerous if not fatal.

It’s important to choose a responsible and professional therapeutic center.  You should never consider doing this therapy without supervision. Those who should not consider this therapy are:

  • Pregnant women, children, people with severe high blood pressure, and people with heart conditions
  • A person must never sleep during cryotherapy, and they should time each session to ensure it is not longer than the recommended timeframe.
  • If you are hypertensive or have an underlying medical condition, you must discuss this treatment with your doctor.
  • You should never use cryotherapy for longer than is recommended for the method of therapy you’re using. For whole body cryotherapy, this would take more than four minutes. If you’re using an ice pack or ice bath at home, you should never apply ice to the area for more than 20 minutes. Wrap ice packs in a towel so you don’t damage your skin.
  • Those with diabetes or any conditions that affect their nerves should not use cryotherapy. They may be unable to fully feel its effect, which could lead to further nerve damage.

CryotherapyThe bottom line

I felt great after just one session. I would definitely go back, as this is a more efficient alternative to taking cold showers or freezing swims. Each session at Cryomed Boston costs around  $50.

Whole-body cryotherapy is a growing business worldwide. Because this therapy is not regulated by the FDA, it has come under some criticism.

However,  we found more positive than negative reviews and many research papers on the use of the therapy for a variety of medical reasons (listed below).  

Upon checking the credentials of Boston Cryomed,  I was satisfied they had been in business for several years with professional credentials. They also offer infra red sauna, ultra-red light therapy, IV drips among other therapies.

Dr. Daniela Winston is the medical practitioner who founded  Boston Creamed. She graduated with honors from the University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj- Napoca, Romania in 1996. Dr. Winston completed her Internal Medicine Residency at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester in 2005 and has practiced as a hospitalist since. Dr. Winston is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. She is trained in aesthetic dermatology, bio-identical hormonal rebalancing, and IV nutritional therapy. She has been on the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine.

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Gisèle Wertheim Aymes

Gisèle is the owner of the Longevity brand and a self-proclaimed health hedonist. When she is not working, you'll find in her in a yoga class or active in the great outdoors. Gisèle is passionate about health and sharing information. You can follow her @giselewaymes on Twitter and Instagram or read her Linked-In profile for full bio details.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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