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
Cryotherapy as a Hormetic Stressor.
Human bodies have a very quick response when exposed to cold, as experienced by stepping outside on a snowy day. Your 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.
Both cold and heat are stressors. Why would anyone want to intentionally expose themselves to it?
Cryotherapy is the practice of exposing a person’s body or targeted parts of the body to extreme cold for a predetermined amount of time. It is similar to introducing the body to extreme heat, which people do with things like hot tubs and saunas, or to exercising and fasting. The purpose is to create bodily stress that will trigger a cellular response.
Cryotherapy’s Effect on the Brain
Though you first see the body’s reaction to 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.
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.
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:
- When the body is exposed to cold
- 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:
- Body surface area that will be exposed
- 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.