THE SCIENCE OF A SHORT LASTING THERAPY WITH LONG-LASTING EFFECTS
Cryotherapy from Greek cryo = cold and therapy = cure. Also known as cold therapy, dates all the way back to the early BC’s but in its current form, Cryotherapy was first used around the 70s. Particularly in the past 5 years, it has found widespread use over mainland Europe and the UK. It can be found in the therapeutic repertoire of academic clinics, rheumatological centers, rehabilitation clinics, spas, medical practices and also, sports medical and professional institutions.
Stronger Studios worked with a bioscientist and a researcher to go through dozens off white papers reports, in the hunt for the ones that have sufficient evidence to support the benefits. Here is a snapshot:
Westerland et al., (2006) Heart rate variability in women exposed to very cold air (-110C) during Whole Body Cryotherapy
Whole Body Cryotherapy increases parasympathetic tone in a similar way to physical exercise, suggesting this is positive for overall health.
Best summarised as: produced positive effects on heart rate variability and parasympathetic nervous system which are associated with better physical health/reduced risk of CVD, similar to the effects seen from exercise training
Lubkowska et al., (2008) Acute effect of a single whole-body cryostimulation on prooxidant–antioxidant balance in blood of healthy, young men
The level of stress expressed by total oxidative status in plasma, resulting from exposure to extremely low temperatures, was statistically significantly lowered 30min after leaving the Cryochamber than prior to the exposure. The next day, the TOS (Total oxidative status) level still remained lower than the initial values. The TAS (Total antioxidative status) level decreased after leaving the Cryochamber and remained elevated the following day.
Meaning the body is in a better way to heal. eg we consume blueberries and other ‘superfoods’ to try to elevate our antioxidants which help ward off cell damage by ‘cleaning up’ or removing waste products in our cells before they can do harm.
LEPPALUOTO et al, (2008) Effects of long-term whole-body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta-endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females
Habituation to the cooling process was demonstrated over 4 weeks, by lower plasma cortisol after exposure. This also suggests that WBC does not stimulate the pituitary-adrenal cortex axis (i.e. no stress response). Plasma norepinephrine demonstrated a 2-fold to 3-fold increase (p<0.01) immediately after exposure and the response remained at the same level throughout the 12-week experiment, but no response in plasma epinephrine at all, indicating that WBC activates the sympathetic nerve system. A cold-induced increase in norepinephrine may therefore have a role in suppressing pain at the spinal level.
Whole Body Cryotherapy activates the sympathetic nervous system, inducing an increase in norepinephrine, which may have a role in suppressing pain at the spinal level.
“Cryotherapy contributed to the accelerated return of captain Sam Warburton from a knee injury. If a knee or a leg is inflamed, it stops that. Normally, if you have an injury, it will swell after training and cryotherapy stops that inflammation and allows him to keep training.”
— Adam Beard, the head of physical performance of the Welsh Rugby Union
Pournot, et al., (2011) Time-Course of Changes in Inflammatory Response after Whole-Body Cryotherapy Multi Exposures following Severe Exercise.
11 trained runners in a cross-over study comparing Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) post-simulated trail race with a passive recovery. Results summarised by the authors as: “In term of practical applications, data confirm that the treatment induces an anti-inflammatory protection effect, and suggest that WBC reduce the time of recovery by positive effects on immunological parameters and the regeneration process.”
Banfi et al., (2009). Beneficial effects of the whole body cryotherapy on sport haemolysis
10 members of Italian national rugby team, exposed to daily WBC for 5 days, while usual training & diet were maintained. Whole Body Cryotherapy concluded to reduce sports haemolysis, as judged from MSCV and haptoglobin data, supported from other haematological values, as well as the absence of mean corpuscolar volume and reticulocytes increase.
The authors suggest that: "The treatment is useful to prevent the physiological impairments derived from sport haemolysis, e.g. sports anaemia"
Grasso, et al. (2014). Salivary steroid hormone response to whole-body cryotherapy in elite rugby players
25 members of Italian national rugby team, exposed to twice daily Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) for 7 days. Cortisol, DHEA and estradiol levels decreased post-treatment, testosterone and testosterone to cortisol levels increased. "The improvement in muscular recovery induced by WBC could be, at least in part, due to the modification in the hormonal asset, and particularly in cortisol and testosterone. Our data demonstrate that WBC induces changes in salivary hormone concentrations, overcoming those induced by training, and synchronizing them with their circadian rhythms."
“It often takes decades to find enough evidence to ‘prove’ a treatment is effective. With complementary therapies this means they are often not available on the NHS for some time but thousands of people use them regularly because they find it beneficial. Physical activity is a good example of something now recognised to be beneficial for a number of physical and mental health conditions, but was not ‘prescribed’ until recently”
Klimek, et al. (2011). The influence of single whole body cryostimulation treatment on the dynamics and the level of maximal anaerobic power.
15 each of men and women, single exposure to Whole Body Cryotherapy, wingate test before and at 15min intervals after exposure, up to 90 mins.
Authors state: "It may be concluded that single whole body cryostimulation may have a minor influence on short-term physical performance of supramaximal intensity but leads to improvement of velocity during the start as expressed by shortened time to obtain maximal anaerobic power."
Douzi, et al. (2018). 3-min whole body cryotherapy/cryostimulation after training in the evening improves sleep quality in physically active men
22 active healthy men randomised to WBC or passive recovery 30mins following 55min training session.
Authors state: "In conclusion, the use of 3-min WBC after training in the evening improves subjective and objective sleep quality in physically active subjects, which may be due to greater pain relief and improved parasympathetic nervous activity during the SWS period."
“For both Athletes and Patients that have passed the initial health check, there is no evidence of risk of using Whole Body Cryotherapy. It is available for individuals to try and assess for themselves if they find it beneficial. Everyone will respond and want something slightly different out of the treatment. There is an art in they way you can use it.”
Rymaszewska, et al., (2008). Whole-body cryotherapy as adjunct treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders
A control (n=34) and a study group (n=26), of outpatients with depressive and anxiety disorders received standard psychopharmacotherapy. The study group was additionally treated with a series of 15 daily visits to a cryogenic chamber (2–3 min, from –160°C to –110°C). After three weeks significant reductions in both depression and anxiety symptoms were demonstrated in the study group, with no significant change in the control group.
Pawick et al. (2019). The effectiveness of whole-body cryotherapy and physical exercises on the psychological well-being of patients with multiple sclerosis: A comparative analysis.
60 patients with MS, randomised to 3 groups – gym, cryo & cryo gym. 2 week intervention.
Significant improvements in general wellbeing, anxiety and depression were found for all treatments. However, the most significant improvement was observed in the group using Whole Body Cryotherapy with exercise training (CryoGym).
Cryo gym group had significant improvements in anxiety symptoms, and cryo gym & cryo group had significant improvements in depression symptoms
“It is amazing! It was developed for people with arthritis. I got one for my mother in law; no more arthritis challenges. So I started using it. It gives you endorphins, resets your system. It is an extraordinary piece of technology. ”
— Tony Robbins
Sarac & Gur, (2006). Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies in Fibromyalgia.
The paper summarises evidence, including the following two papers: Samborski et al., (1992) - The authors found an increase of the pressure pain threshold, a decrease of the number of tender points as well as a positive -150C in a cryo-chamber in 17 patients with FM. Gutnebrunner et al., (1999) - After exposure to -67C for 13mins, Pain scores reduced, overall wellbeing increased, and tolerance to temperature increased after exposure.
Miller (2011). Effect of whole body cryotherapy on uric acid concentration in plasma of multiple sclerosis patients
MS patients had lower Uric Acid (UA) at baseline than healthy controls. UA showed a statistically significant increase after 10 exposures over 2 weeks, whereas no change was observed in controls. Increasing UA concentration has been proposed as a therapy for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases including MS because of the neuroprotective properties of UA.
Rymaszewska, et al., (2018). The improvement of memory deficits after whole body cryotherapy - the first report
Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (a condition which is likely to develop into dementia) undertook 10 sessions of WBC over 2 weeks. Results showed a significant increase in NO plasma levels (considered as one of the most important mechanisms controlling vasomotor function). SIgnificant improvements were also observed in multiple domains of cognitive function, using standardised, validated measures. Whole Body Cryotherapy was acceptable to participants as a treatment and participants declared more energy and vitality directly after WBC and after 2 weeks of treatment.