Cryotherapy is fast becoming the go-to therapy for sports recovery and anti-ageing. Daniela Fischer visited three cryotherapy clinics in Los Angeles to see what the hype is about
If you are an avid runner and go to the gym regularly you probably deal with aching muscles more often than not.
How would you feel if I told you to strip off and put on a pair of gloves, thick socks, and a protective headband to cover your ears and face and step into a cold room for three minutes to speed up your recovery? And by cold, I mean freezing: ranging from −95°C to −125°C.
The rejuvenating effects and medical value of (ice) cold water was known to the Ancient Greeks already and alternating between a hot spring and ice baths has always been part of daily life for locals in the Nordic countries. But most of us choose luxuriating in delicious warm baths instead. Are we missing a trick? A new trend in sports recovery and anti-ageing which is literally taking off in Los Angeles (where I spend a lot of my time, despite being London-based) suggests so.
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a modern take on the traditional ice bath. Although WBC originated in Japan, it was a group of Polish scientists who took the idea and made it into the therapy it is today. It’s said to be helpful in healing and relieving pain from muscle aches and stiff joints but also improve sleep quality and overhaul the whole body.
How does it work?
The treatment uses cold liquid nitrogen to soothe the muscles and rejuvenate the whole body. Athletes in particular have been taking advantage of the rehabilitating qualities WBC offers.
Before stepping into the chamber you have to undress down to your underwear, then cover up your feet, hands and ears. With the temperature slowly dropping, you are enveloped with the cold for approximately three minutes.
In order to prevent hypothermia, the body responds by regulating blood flow to the core, the most nutrient-dense part of the body. When stepping out of the cold chamber, the blood picks up those nutrients and distributes them throughout the body. Additionally, the cold also helps decrease inflammation and pain in joints and muscles.
Daniel Craig, Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore are cryotherapy fans
Cryotherapy has become popular in recent years with many celebrities embracing it including Daniel Craig, Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore reportedly engaging in WBC.
I sat down with Josh Leeson, clinic manager at CryoZone, Santa Monica, Emilia Kuehne, owner of Cryohealthcare Los Angeles and Anthony Ibrahim, member of the upgrade labs team in Beverly Hills and asked them about the main health benefits of cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy is said to be a fantastic way of cleansing and revitalizing the body and mind.
‘Through flushing out the bloodstream of toxins, the blood moves body waste materials from organs like the kidneys that would otherwise remain in the bloodstream’, says Josh Lesson.
‘It also carries carbon dioxide out of the body as well, likewise with removing [the stress hormone] cortisol, which if built up too much, impedes the immune system from functioning properly.’
#2 Weight loss
Can you literally freeze your butt off? The idea of freezing off fat might sound tempting to some but how realistic is it?
‘Our bodies naturally have evolved to become more adaptable to the harshness of the elements; one of which is the cold,’ says Anthony Ibrahim. ‘Through cold thermogenesis (another word for cryotherapy), our body starts to recruit more brown fat (good fat) in an effort to keep us warm. The creation of heat requires a considerable amount of energy; to fulfill this energy requirement, the body calls on the body’s excess fat stores as fuel’.
Indeed, studies have actually shown that having a quick 30 second burst of cold water at the end of a hot shower can help activate brown fat.
So, three minutes in a cryo chamber won’t replace your gym session or a healthy diet but it will support and enhance the benefits of your workouts and healthy lifestyle.
#3 Better sleep
If you want to optimize your health or lose weight, then getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do. Often this is easier said than done.
‘Just as cryotherapy assists in releasing the ‘happy’ and mood boosting chemicals such as serotonin, it simultaneously releases hormones that directly correlate with relaxation and sleep,’ says Josh Leeson.
‘One of these is norepinephrine, which helps the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body and mind to relax and fall into its natural cycles of sleep and restfulness. It also helps remove high levels of cortisol from the body releasing stress and anxiety.’
#4 Anti-inflammatory and pain reduction
Backs, shoulders, necks or knees – it’s not uncommon to have a niggling pain of some sort. Pain is probably your body’s most effective way of letting you know something is out of balance and needs your attention. So, can cryotherapy help?
‘Cryotherapy stimulates an influx of the anti-inflammatory neurotransmitter and hormone norepinephrine which helps chronic inflammation,’ says Ibrahim. ‘This reduction in inflammation has a plethora of benefits on overall well-being and pain reduction.’
#5 Helps reducing oxidative stress and might slow signs of ageing
When we talk about ageing we are not only talking about how this looks on the outside but what it means on the inside. Oxidative stress is a big contributor to ageing less gracefully – but what is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When the free radicals can’t be kept in balance by antioxidants, they start damaging fatty tissue, DNA and proteins.
Over time this can lead to a vast number of diseases and propel the ageing process. The good news is, cryotherapy can give you an advantage when it comes to fighting free radicals.
Cryotherapy can give you an advantage when it comes to fighting free radicals
‘Cryotherapy focuses a lot on the bloodstream,’ Leeson asserts. ‘As we send the body into a fight or flight state, we are actively hyper-oxygenating the blood by sending all of the blood from the extremities to the core.
‘This blood becomes hyper-oxygenated and goes back out into the body and brain which helps with oxidative stress as the body is actively working hard to revitalize the blood with essential vitamins and nutrients.’
#6 Accelerated muscle recovery and tissue repair
Do you ever wake up the morning after a core or vinyasa yoga class and your muscles hurt so badly you can barely swing your legs out of bed. It’s completely normal to feel sore and achy after you ramped up the intensity of your workout from what you’re used to – or if haven’t worked out in a while.
Cryotherapy can help you feel better faster. How?
‘Exercise has a natural inflammatory response and is a good indication that your body’s tissues are repairing and growing,’ says Ibrahim. ‘The timing of cryotherapy is when the magic happens for repair. Cryotherapy an hour post-exercise is an excellent way to boost recovery and getting you back in the gym.
‘During cryotherapy, your body kicks into fight or flight and your body rushes blood from your limbs into your torso as a defense mechanism to protect the organs. As soon as you step out, all that freshly oxygenated blood rushes back into the limbs which aids in recovery’.
#7 Helps relieve PMS pain
PMS affects up to 75 per cent of menstruating women. Many start experiencing discomfort a week or two before their period starts.
Symptoms include mood swings, bloating, back pain, and breast tenderness. Women who experience severe PMS are often prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs.
Inflammation peaks on the first day of menstruation then naturally declines which is why most women find relief from PMS one or two days into their period.
The specific inflammatory marker shown to increase during a PMS flare is C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Whole Body Cryotherapy is shown to be effective at naturally reducing CRP.
‘Many of our female clients use cryotherapy for PMS because it helps reduce their symptoms and boost their mood,’ says Emilia.
A typical WBC course is 5 – 10 treatments, three times weekly to begin with. To maintain and improve results, it is recommended to cryo once a week or bi-weekly.
‘I had cryotherapy in three different LA clinics and this is what happened’
I had the chance to try cryotherapy during my last stay in Los Angeles and got to experience some of the benefits first hand
I was greeted by the CryoZone receptionist, who created a guest account for me containing my basic information, waiver, and a short medical history review. Then I was shown to a private therapy room, where I undressed and slipped into my Cryo-Outfit (socks, slippers, gloves and dry undergarments).
Once changed, I stepped into the CryoSauna and pressed the alert button to call in Josh who’d run the session. To be honest, the session was not a walk in the park for me; more like I was caught in a sudden ice storm.
My mind was trying to find a reason to escape the chamber while Josh kept talking me through the session in a calm manner. Immediately after I stepped out of the chamber I felt a warm sensation rushing through my body.
I completely forgot that I had just stood in an ice chamber and could feel my lips forming a smile that I believe I kept until I fell into bed that night – I was oddly euphoric for the rest of the day. I also noticed my legs and midsection feeling tighter.
I suffered from intense jet lag before I went to CryoZone but the night after the session I slept for ten hours straight and felt rejuvenated and energised again.
CryoZone Special 7-Day Offer. Book 7 sessions for $100US. 10% of your purchase is given to charity when you book through this page: CryoZone.com/seven-sessions-7-days
My second cryo session was a bit of a different experience. Upgrade Labs lets you choose your favourite song before you step into the chamber so you can shake your booty while in treatment.
Upgrade Labs lets you choose your favourite song before you step into the chamber so you can shake your booty while in treatment
To be honest, not much was shaking while I stood in there. I felt more like a frozen popsicle waiting to be taken out of the freezer. Though the music helped to distract me it was still freaking cold. But as soon as the door opened and I stepped out I was smiling and giggling ready to take on the rest of the day.
The burst of energy and endorphins helped me get through LA traffic with ease and once again I slept like a baby that night. I have heard people say their appetite increased after a cryo session. But for me it was the other way around – I wasn’t hungry at all – which shows how different our bodies’ responses to changing environments are.
This time I opted for a facial cryo. When you think of a traditional facial, steaming, rich oils, and exfoliators come to mind. But the cryo facial didn’t involve anything other than freezing air.
After a brief stint in the waiting area, I was escorted to one of the treatment rooms. I sat down in a chair and my aesthetician, Maria started applying the icy air.
It was definitely cold, but my face did not turn into an icicle, I actually enjoyed the procedure, it was refreshing and felt rejuvenating, especially the times Maria took the vapor over my head.
I immediately relaxed. After 10 or so minutes it was over and to be honest I wasn’t ready to leave yet, I could have stayed for a second round.
I didn’t have any major skin issues to begin with so I cannot speak about the effects the facial has on acne prone skin (which they say it helps) but what I can say is that my skin definitely felt tighter and refreshed, especially around the eyes.
So, should you try Cryotherapy?
Speaking from my own experience I give cryotherapy a thumbs up and will definitely be becoming a more regular consumer – all those Rugby players and their ice baths in wheelie bins are on to something. I can honestly say health benefits I experienced are worth freezing for.
Disclaimer: WBC has not yet been cleared or approved for medical treatment of any specific medical conditions. Pregnant women, people suffering from hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, thrombosis, seizures, cancer, lung, kidney, or any chronic organ disease should avoid cryo treatment.
Daniela Fischer is a writer and photographer specialising in travel & wellness who divides her time between Bali, Los Angeles & London. Together with Healthista’s Nutritional Director Rick Hay, Daniela co-founded The Nourish Company to develop nutritional plans, plant based recipes, herbal tonics and superfood products.
Daniela qualified as a Hatha Yoga teacher at The Practice Bali and holds one-to-one classes and retreats.