Wim Hof, the “Iceman” is known for his unusual human capabilities. In 2008, he registered his name in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest stay in an ice bath, completing 1 hour and 13 minutes. A year earlier, Wim also tried summitting the Mount Everest with only shorts and shoes as his attire. Though he failed in his task, nonetheless he was able to climb 6700 meters.
The records achieved by Wim Hof will appear uncanny to many people however he believes that extreme cold condition helps him achieve mental stability and keeps him fit.
Cryotherapy is a relatively new concept that is increasingly becoming popular, for it is known to yield several health benefits. Although a lot of research studies are still being conducted to arrive at a conclusion, scientists believe that the advantages of this therapy may outweigh the consequences.
This article will explore Cryotherapy in detail examining its technique and health benefits. On a concluding note, the known side effects will also be highlighted
What is Cryotherapy and How it is Performed?
Cryotherapy or Cryosurgery is the use of extreme cold to destroy tumours or abnormal tissues which are known to cause harm to the body. The therapy uses liquid nitrogen (argon may sometimes be used) at the temperature range of -320F to -346F. At this temperature, anything that comes in direct contact with the liquid instantly freezes. Thereby someone known to have damage-causing tissues in their body will find that this therapy will instantly kill these group of cells.
The modern technique of cryotherapy involves immersing oneself in a bath commonly known as cryotherapy booth for about 5 minutes. This is the whole-body procedure and is more frequently used than any other method. Though it is known to cause discomfort initially, subsequent immersion may turn out to be normal as the body will be able to adjust to the temperature. The process appears to be very similar to a spa.
Other procedures include the use of cryotherapy facials where the liquid nitrogen only comes in contact with the face region. In other instances, the use of cryotherapy wand is also applicable that will only encounter the area where harmful tissues are known to be present.
Cryotherapy is increasingly becoming a useful alternative to chemotherapy which is a treatment for destroying cancerous cells. Freezing liquid nitrogen can directly attack cancerous cells and prevent them from replicating in the body. The studies are still being conducted to establish a proper relationship between cancer treatment and this form of therapy, however, there have been fortunate results for patients suffering from prostate cancer.
Cryotherapy is generally categorized as being very safe, yet some of the people should avoid undertaking this therapy. These include pregnant women, cardiac patients, people with high blood pressure and children under the age of 12. Moreover, it is important to not prolong immersion for more than the required time limit (5 minutes) and should always be performed under the supervision of a professional.
As mentioned earlier, studies are coming up with the advantages of cryotherapy, yet a final conclusion has still not been sought. Some of the known health benefits are as follows.
Aiding Weight Loss
Cryotherapy itself may not cause the body to lose weight directly, it only helps in the process in an indirect manner. In the post immersion phase of immersion in freezing liquid nitrogen, the body works hard to revive the temperature to its normal level. It may involve the use of stored fat by breaking it down to release energy that helps in warming up. Proponents have gone to the extent of claiming that frequent sessions of immersion on every alternate day can boost up the metabolism rate. Therefore it is not uncommon for people to experience munchies after cryotherapy.
The therapy should not be considered as a viable alternative to exercising. The latter being the best form to fight obesity and related illnesses caused. Needless to say people who have reduced muscle mass and are categorized as underweight should not undertake cryotherapy
Fighting Inflammation and Psychiatric Illnesses
Inflammation is necessary and an automated response of the immune system in case of an injury. Sometimes when the system gets disrupted (obesity may be one cause), there are unnecessary cases of inflammation which medical scientist categorize as being a chronic illness. A lot of medical complications like arthritis, diabetes and even cancer are caused by chronic inflammation.
Cryotherapy has an anti-inflammatory quality known to reduce cases of acute inflammation in the soft tissues. Although most of the research to elucidate this anti-inflammatory response was confined to animals, scientists still believe that the same reasoning can be applied to the human model as well.
If the hypothesis on humans has some significant reality, it can prove to be a groundbreaking discovery in the field of neuropsychology. Dementia, that affects every third person in the UK, is a major psychiatric illness that is a consequence of inflammation in the brain region.
A research paper put forward by Professor Misiak B has been able to contextualise the linking of cryotherapy with reduced symptoms of Dementia. According to the paper, the therapy can improve cognition, reduce oxidative stress and enhance memorizing ability.
Furthermore, the whole-body therapy is known to reduce anxiety and depression. Results put forward of a study conducted to examine the impact of depression on 35 people of age group between 18 to 65 show a positive relationship. At the termination of the experiment, 34% of the sample population had a 50% decrease in their Hamilton’s depression rating scale.
Yet more research is still necessary to augment the psychological advantages associated with Cryotherapy.
You might have come across instances where a physiotherapist would recommend using an ice pack on encountering an injury. Cryotherapy is able to provide the same healing benefit at a higher scale.
Athletes who involve themselves in vigorous exercise activities may undertake Cryotherapy as a way of relieving pain in the muscles and joints. They report speedy healing of the bruised region post-therapy,
There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the use of cryo-wand can lessen the symptoms of arthritis.
If the purpose of having cryotherapy done is to relieve muscle and joints pain, professions would advise on seeking the wanding procedure over whole body immersion.
Potential Risks of Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy with all the advantages it has to offer is not without its side effects. If not performed properly can cause health complications within the body. A prolong whole body immersion can even be fatal. Thereby, regardless of what purpose it is being performed for, supervision of a profession should be ensured.
The following is an exhaustive list of side effects that can occur as a consequence of Cryotherapy:
- Nerve Irritation
- Unable to feel sensations
- Redness and irritation
- White patches on the skin
- Blisters and ulcers
Medical Scientists have also warned against sexual dysfunction as a possible long-term side effect of cryotherapy.