Updated: Oct 3, 2022
What are you willing to do to improve your physical and mental health? Does hanging out in -160 degrees Fahrenheit sound doable? I’m not suggesting you participate in an Alaskan dog sled race or anything quite that extreme anytime soon. Rather, I mean undergoing a cryotherapy treatment to help with the signs of aging, an injury, or anxiety.
Cryotherapy is one of the newest trends in wellness, and I recently had the opportunity to give it a try. Wearing only a bathrobe, hat, socks, slippers, and mittens, I simply walked into a chamber and exposed my entire body to air chilled by liquid nitrogen for two and a half minutes. This is something you’d find at a spa or retreat, not necessarily a medical office. The process is said to become more tolerable with every attempt.
So, what kind of health benefits are we talking about?
Eskimos Do It
The science is still playing catch up, but the practical benefits of cryotherapy are said to include reducing inflammation, speeding up recovery from workouts, burning hundreds of calories, improving the appearance of cellulite, and even helping with stress and anxiety.
We have learned a great deal from Eskimos (native Inuit) and their ability to have fewer wrinkles and youthful skin. Some scientists believe that the cold Arctic temperatures preserve the skin’s ability to produce collagen, and because Eskimos are exposed to the cold regularly, they retain healthy and glowing skin. Without collagen, or even with reduced amounts of collagen, skin sags and forms wrinkles. As a result, some dermatologists see cold air on the face reducing the appearance of wrinkles as a quick and easy approach.
That being said, a lot of the evidence surrounding cryotherapy is anecdotal. The Food and Drug Administration has said emphatically that there is no scientific evidence that whole body cryotherapy effectively treats disease or conditions, to include chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, stress, and anxiety. The FDA has also said that there is "little evidence" that cryotherapy can improve your blood circulation, increase your metabolism, improve recovery and soreness after workouts, or relieve joint and body pain. Despite this, cryotherapy is common practice for freezing off warts (using liquid nitrogen).
Part and Parcel
When it comes to cryotherapy, you can go all-in or just focus on specific body parts. Typically, there’s what is called Whole Body Cryotherapy or Cryotherapy Facials, also referred to as “Frotox.” But you can even isolate an injury or muscle soreness, treating it with cold blasts of air.
When you expose your body to extreme cold, your skin begins to try to generate heat. Also, the blood vessels constrict to push the surface blood towards the body’s core to warm it up. This also enriches the blood with oxygen and inflammation-healing enzymes, which revitalize the skin. To maximize results, multiple exposures are required, so some people will go as often as three times a week to enhance the experience and amplify the benefits.
But there’s more going on than just what’s on the surface. Cryotherapy can help reduce some joint and muscle disorders like arthritis by reducing inflammation. Researchers even believe that if cryotherapy reduces inflammation, it could also reduce the risk of developing dementia and cancer. Preliminary research also indicates that cryotherapy could treat mental health conditions linked to inflammation.
Taking the Subzero Plunge
So, you’re ready to take the plunge and wondering what to do next? Well, the price for whole body cryotherapy depends on the country and the additional services the center or spa recommends. So, it’s good to do some comparison shopping. A session in the U.S. ranges from about $30-$40, but most establishments offer package deals.
You can also opt to purchase, rent, or lease your own cryo-chamber for a fixed monthly fee. This could be more cost-efficient if you plan on using it more than once a week. However, as with any device that can impact your health, you should first consult with a physician. There are some potential hazards associated with the treatment—for example, the potential of asphyxiation when liquid nitrogen is used to cool the chamber. The addition of nitrogen vapors to an enclosed space lowers the amount of available oxygen in the room and can result in hypoxia, or oxygen deficiency, which could lead to unconsciousness. Moreover, individuals run the risk of frostbite, burns, and eye injury from the extreme temperatures.
Therefore, it's important to do your homework and make sure that your body can handle the extreme frigid temperature, even for a short stint. You don’t want to complicate matters and make your ailments worse. If you have any underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart or lung disease, allergy symptoms triggered by cold, poor circulation, or nerve disease in your legs or feet, this treatment is probably not meant for you.
Until next time, Wellness Warriors, Live Well, Live Long!