The latest celebrity fad gives a new meaning to chilling out. Lindsay Lohan, Kate Moss and Demi Moore have taken to standing half naked in cryotherapy saunas. It may sound a little nutty, but this new wave of wellness technology promises that only 3-minutes in freezing cold conditions provides renewed skin, boosted vitality and banished calories.
Long ago the Ancient Greeks cottoned on to the medicinal value of cold water. Even after they developed heating systems for their public baths, they continued to lie in cold water. Alternating between a hot spring and the snow is normal for locals of the northern hemisphere. Even Yogi’s prescribe the health benefits of cold showers. For most of us today, these benefits have given way to luxuriating in delicious warm baths. While we spend much of our time in a controlled temperature environment, it may not be to our advantage. Consistent warm air and warm water have been shown to promote the aging process.
Full Body Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy chambers look like something out of the space age. Dressed in a bikini, plus protective gloves and socks, you step into what looks like a cylindrical shower cubical. With your head safely elevated above the sides, dry steam, at a temperature of minus 140C is blasted onto your body for three minutes. Insane as it sounds, this does not burn the skin or turn you into a permanent popsicle, it simply and safely invigorates all the systems in your body. Whole body cryotherapy has been safely used for pain relief in Europe and Japan over the last three decades. European athletes have abandoned their traditional ice baths, finding the cryochambers a far more efficient and effective post training recovery treatment.
Liquid nitrogen gas is used to lower the temperature of the steam in the cryochambers. The skin immediately reacts to the sudden drop in temperature, sending strong messages to the brain. Once you leave the cryochamber your blood surges throughout the body increasing the oxygen supply to all your organs, muscles and skin, as well as a rush of feel good endorphins. The mood-enhancing effects of a session have been known to last for days.
In 30 years there have been no side-effects from cryotherapy. Anyone who is pregnant, suffers from hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, thrombosis, seizures, lung, kidney or any chronic organ disease should not try this chilling treatment. For the rest of us, the benefits are certainly appealing.
People who start using cold showers often report their skin shifting from dry and lifeless to soft, smooth and radiant. Your natural skin oils have benefits far beyond any topical moisturizer. Much like a cold shower, the cryosauna steam closes your pores, preventing these important oils from being lost. At the same time the closed pores block a build up of dirt and grime. The cold steam creates goose bumps, which invigorate your tissue, tightening your skin. It also stimulates the production of collagen, found in your skins fascial layer, improving tone and youthful appearance.
There is nothing like a good blast of cold to speed up your metabolism and burn calories. Firstly the thyroid experiences a positive response to cold therapies. After 10 days of whole-body cryotherapy, cold showers, or swimming in chilly water, the body activates an insulation gear (also seen in other mammals). The thyroid begins to increase thyroxine levels leading to mobilisation of fatty acids and therefore weight loss.
Cold temperatures also have a unique affect directly on our fat tissue. We have two types of fat; weight retaining white fat cells, found on the hips, belly and thighs, and brown fat cells, in charge of regulating body heat. Exposure to the cold burns up the white fat cells as fuel for heat. It also stimulates the brown fat cells, which generate heat without the need for physical movement. Using the cold to stimulate the mitochondria in brown fat cells can protect us from aging, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Some women have even experienced and improvement in cellulite. This cold thermal loading may be a simple yet important weight-balancing tool.
A quick cold shower or cryotherapy is fantastic way to boost ones circulation, even in winter. When the surface of the skin is blasted with cold, the capillaries dilate pulling blood to the surface to warm you up. After a short while, the blood pumps to the organs stimulating warmth through the whole body. This promotes long-term cardiovascular health, increasing nutrient and oxygen supply to the tissue, as well as increasing the lymph circulation, flushing toxins and waste products from the body. In essence the cold warms you up.
Exposing the body to the elements wakes up many systems, including the immune system. Eighteen years ago, Siberean kindergarden director Olesya Osintseva felt concerned about the low immunity she observed in the school children. She decided the answer was to take them outside each day for 1.5 minutes to play in the snow in their swimsuits! With the parents’ permission, the children would happily venture out and pour ice-cold water over their heads. For the children it is a fun game. Within the first 6 months Osintseva clearly noticed the improvement in her pupils resistance to infection. Cold-water therapy has been shown to up regulate the system, decreasing inflammation and flooding T-lymphocytes through the blood boosting immune function.
During intense exercise muscles strengthen by breaking down slightly and rebuilding stronger. This is commonly known as microtrauma, which stimulates the repair and strengthening process known as hypertrophy. Increased muscle size results from an increase of mitochondria in the muscle cells, and increased strength is from nerve impulse stimulation; either way one can experience painful stiff muscles during the repair process. The burst of cold also triggers a release of anti-inflammatory molecules. Unlike the excruciating experience of sitting in a an ice bath for half an hour, 3 minutes in the cryochamber helps the recovery and repair happen faster and more effectively. It also helps the removal of lactic acid from the muscles.
Cold showers have been shown as an effective and harmless treatment for depression. Research has shown that cold hydrotherapy can relieve depressive symptoms and result in improved quality of sleep. Today our bodies often lack brief periods of intense temperature change. This decrease of “thermal exercise” may cause inadequate functioning of the brain. A cold blast stimulates the cold receptors in the skin, which send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses to the brain. In the 2008 study on cold showers and depression conducted at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, researchers found, “Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well.” Noradrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter useful for treating depression, and abnormally low blood pressure. Beta-endorphin is the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel better immediately after an injury. It works by binding to and activating opioid receptors, dulling pain, and increasing feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.
Whether quickly jumping around in a cold shower or getting blasted with minus 140C steam, a little bit of cold will certainly turn on the physical and mental anti-aging switches.