Cryotherapy Explained

Human bodies have a very quick response when exposed to cold, as experienced by stepping outside on a snowy day: Your body extremities react first, with fingers begin to feel cold and turn blue, while your body starts shivering. If you remain in the cold, it begins to affect your ability to think and react…

So why would anyone want to intentionally expose themselves to extreme cold?

Icepacks, Cold Immersions or Whole Body Cryotherapy fall into the category of eustress activities— a fancy word that means moderate or normal psychological stress.

Among other “eustress” activities figure exercise and things like intermittent fasting and heat stress from a hot sauna.

What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy, which literally means “cold therapy,” is a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes. Cryotherapy can be delivered to just one area, or to the whole-body.

One can get benefits from just one session of, but users report it’s most effective when used regularly. Some athletes use cryotherapy twice a day. Others will go daily for 10 days and then once a month.

Back in the days athletes used ice baths but now most teams have invested in cryotherapy machines (chambers & saunas) with the purpose of stressing the body to trigger a cellular response.

Cryotherapy benefits come from being hormetic

Eustress activities such as cryotherapy have the quality of being hormetic which means that, at the right dose, they can trigger a net gain in resilience and this occurs by a variety of different mechanisms.

For instance, the potential benefits of hot saunas might include improving athletic endurance preventing muscle atrophy improving insulin sensitivity increasing neurogenesis such the growth of new brain cells improved learning and memory and improving possibly even longevity.

What are the Benefits of Cryotherapy?

When people think about cryotherapy or cold water immersion, the first thing they think about is the effect on metabolism or muscle soreness, athletic performance and recovery. But there’s anecdotal evidence that cold exposure improves mood and cold showers may prevent and treat depression.

How Cryotherapy Affects The Body

Dr. Rhonda Patrick is a leading figure in the cryotherapy industry. This article takes some of the highlights from her findings to discuss the benefits of cryotherapy. We’ll detail the effects of Cryotherapy on athletic performance, the brain, metabolism, and immune System.

We’ll detail the effects of Cryotherapy on athletic performance, the brain, metabolism, and immune System.

How Cryotherapy Affects the Body

1. Cryotherapy’s Effect on the Brain

Though you first see the body’s reaction to extreme cold, the brain also responds. Cryotherapy works to stimulate certain bodily responses, which includes stimulating certain hormones in the brain and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Norepinephrine manages how focused a person is and can improve their mood, both of which are more obvious when a person first reacts to extreme cold.

The brain also released proteins related to col, such as RNA binding motif 3. This is a protein that is in most parts of the body, even the brain. The primary purpose of RNA binding motif 3 is to increase the synthesis of other proteins to improve cognitive and behavioral responses. This can be used to help mitigate certain neurodegenerative diseases.

2. Cryotherapy’s Benefits to Reduce Inflammation and to Improve the Immune System

Inflammation happens both as the body ages and following an injury. One of the benefits of cryotherapy is that it can help reduce inflammation. The release of norepinephrine can help reduce the levels of tumor necrosis alpha, a chemical related to inflammation.

It is thought that norepinephrine may reduce both inflammation and pain associated with arthritis.
The specific introduction of the body to cold also helps produce more healthy immune cells. This helps people to recover from ailment and injuries faster, as well as helping to reduce the risk of cancer.

3. Cryotherapy’s Regulation of Metabolism

One of the first things you will notice when a person is exposed to cold is that their body shivers. What you don’t see is that the body also begins to try to warm itself through an increased metabolism. As the metabolism increases, the body burns through fat more quickly, making it a way of encouraging targeted weight loss.

Cryotherapy and it’s Benefit for Athletes

Cold can definitely promote a healthier body for athletes, but there are two key factors:

  1. When the body is exposed to cold
  2. The type of exercise done around the time of the exposure to cold
    Following exercise, your body begins to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals, which will eventually create a production of anti-inflammatory chemicals. Both of these responses are important, so you do not want to prevent either of them. However, the introduction of cold can reduce the negative effects of the immediate production of pro-inflammatory chemicals. Because of this, customers should not have cryotherapy immediately following an exercise session. The amount of time that a person should wait is based on what kind of exercise the person does, strengthening or endurance.

The Importance of Modality

When determining with cryotherapy modality to use (whole-body, cold-water immersion, or ice packs), you have three considerations:

  • Exposed body surface
  • Temperature gradient
  • Thermal conductivity

Every modality has its own benefits and drawbacks. Current data shows that both whole-body and cold-water immersion are highly effective when a person is exposed to cold for a sufficient period of time.

The Bottom Line

As more research is conducted into cryotherapy, there is more support showing that it is an effective way of promoting health and improved performance. There are a lot of unknowns, such as exactly how and when it works best, but those are being researched to better understand why more people should invest in this kind of care.