What Is Whole Body Cryotherapy and Why Is the FDA Warning People About It?

In simple terms, cryotherapy is the process of using low temperatures for medicinal purposes, usually to relieve pain. In recent years, it has become popular in spas and sports centers for relieving muscle pain, relieving arthritis symptoms, “slowing down aging” and even for weight loss. Your bullshit counter may already be out of order, and rightly so. That’s the point.

Honestly, if you’ve ever applied an ice pack to any part of your body to relieve pain or swelling, you’ve used a form of cryotherapy. A more extreme form of this is called “partial body cryotherapy” (although in the US we call it “whole body cryotherapy” or WBC), in which you sit or stand in an individually sized chamber with your head up. outside and in minimal clothing. Then vapor of liquid nitrogen or chilled cold air at temperatures from minus 200 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit gradually fills the enclosed space. The procedure usually takes two to four minutes.

I used to take full ice baths and I can say that they are unpleasant. Allegedly, leukocytes with cold air are more tolerant than an ice bath. Overall, cryotherapy supposedly works by significantly cooling the muscles and temperature of the skin, as shown by this study at PLOS ONE , which causes your blood vessels to constrict, so less blood flows to the injured (or sore) area. In fact, it relieves the feeling of discomfort. It makes sense, but when it comes to applying this technique to the entire body, there are still many cryotherapists we don’t know about yet. However, as is the case with any other fitness rage, this has not stopped people from falling on the air with freezing temperatures and paying a lot of money for it.

Several celebrities and famous athletes swear by it for various reasons. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, for example, use white blood cells to reduce muscle soreness and help them recover faster from hard workouts. Kate Moss and Jessica Alba use it for purported beauty benefits such as younger, healthier skin. Some spas that offer leukocytes claim that they also reduce cellulite and, contrary to intuition, increase blood circulation in the body. However, this will not be the first time that athletes and celebrities have offered expensive but useless products and beauty treatments to the gullible public.

It is also not surprising that treatment for leukocytes is expensive. They cost around $ 35-65 per session and can go up depending on where you do it. So is it worth it? According to the FDA and other agencies: no.

There is no scientific evidence to support the WBC claims

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reported that the purported medical benefits of whole body cryotherapy do not have any scientific evidence .

And despite claims to the contrary by many spas and wellness centers, the FDA has no evidence that leukocytes are effective in treating diseases or conditions such as Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, migraine, rheumatoid arthritis. , multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety, etc. chronic pain.

In fact, the FDA says none of the WBC devices used in these spas have been “endorsed or approved by the agency in support of these claims.” In short, we just don’t know what will happen to the body if it is exposed to ultra-low temperatures for two to four minutes.

In addition, any benefits for muscle soreness are unclear, according to a review of the study in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews . Overall, the authors reviewed four studies that compared resting leukocyte treatment with no leukocyte treatment for muscle soreness in active men (no studies and data are available for women at this time). Overall, the authors determined that the WBC’s claims of preventing or treating muscle soreness simply did not help. WBC does not reduce muscle soreness or improve recovery.

The study authors also noted a clear lack of evidence of side effects, especially when the dangers of prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures are known. This, and the continued lack of WBC data on women, are huge gaps in the literature.

However, cryotherapy, at least an ice pack (or frozen pea bag) for trauma or soft tissue sprains is effective for pain relief , but obviously does not cure it.

It took a cryotherapy-related death to get everyone’s attention

In 2015, a Nevada spa worker named Chelsea Ake-Salvation was found dead at the spa she worked for. According to the coroner’s report, the cause of her death is associated with suffocation . According to the FDA report:

The addition of nitrogen vapor to a closed room reduces the amount of oxygen in the room and can lead to hypoxia or oxygen deficiency, which can lead to unconsciousness of the user.

In addition, there are concerns about frostbite, burns, or eye injuries due to extreme temperatures, the FDA says. In Nevada, the State Department of Health recommends that machines not be used by “minors under 18, those under 5 feet tall, and those with certain medical conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, seizures and infections, or those who are pregnant, have a pacemaker, or have claustrophobia.” However, these rules are voluntary and no one actively enforces them. If you are looking to test this, or are already doing whole body cryotherapy, the least you should do is talk to your doctor.

The WBC theme is grossly understudied and overselling. We know it can be dangerous, and we know that whenever a spa or a celebrity says something is good for health, it picks up steam and also just turns out to be costly, it’s probably more marketing and courtship than actual science and medicine. However, many important questions about the WBC remain unanswered, and those questions will have to wait until the benefits and dangers are properly understood – and until they are explored, you must do that too.


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