Cryotherapy is gaining popularity amongst elite athletes, weekend warriors and the health conscious but if your anything like me, you want to know what it is actually doing to your body. This article covers the science behind cryotherapy.
Exposure to cold and cold therapy is becoming more and more recognised as a therapy to help manage a magnitude of conditions as well as improve overall health and wellbeing. Cryotherapy is a form of cold therapy which exposes the body to temperatures of approx. -120 degrees celcius for up to three minutes. Cryotherapy uses liquid nitrogen meaning that you don’t get yet during your treatment, the air is dry. But what is the science behind it and how does it work?
Norepinepherine and Cryo
One of the most outstanding physiological responses to cryotherapy is the release of norepinephrine into the bloodstream. In fact, a recent study found that those that did whole body cryotherapy for 2 minutes at 110°C three times a week for 12 weeks experienced an increase of norepinephrine levels in their blood by 200 - 300%! This powerful hormone and neurotransmitter has an important role with focus, attention, cognition, energy and mood. Norepinephrine also has positive effects on metabolism, pain and inflammation as well as results in vasoconstriction - the constriction of the blood vessels.
During a cryotherapy treatment your body also releases cold shock proteins. Cold shock proteins are involved in the metabolism of lipids or fat burning which means your body becomes more efficient burning fat.
Cryo Decreases Inflammation
Cryotherapy was initially invented by a rheumtologist over 30 years ago to help reduce inflammation and chronic pain for his client. Yes, inflammation is an important process to initiate tissue repair in the event of cell injury. However, at times our body goes a little overboard with the inflammatory process and it continues despite any injury. Inflammation has been named the silent killer and is found to be a key player in the aging process and associated with multiple chronic and complex health conditions. To highlight the detrimental impact of inflammation, a research study looked at pathology of people between the ages of 85 and 110 yrs + and were above to find only ONE bio marker that predicted survival and level of cognition – LOW INFLAMMATION! And guess what reduces inflammation – norepinephrine.
How your asking? Norepinephrine inhibits the inflammatory pathway by limiting the amount of TNFalpha (or tumor necrosis factor alpha) which is released. TNF-alpha is known to increase inflammation and have implications for disease including cancer and diabetes when in excess in our body. If that isn’t a reason to expose yourself to the cold in the cryo, im not sure what is!
How Cryotherapy Enhances the Immune System
Exposure to the cold has also been shown via research to improve the immune systems functioning which plays a role in preventing disease as well as the ageing process. Basically, you want to have a good supply of immune cells in your body however, you want them to remain dormant, unless of course there is a reason for them to become active and do their job. Research has revealed that exposure to the cold appears to increase our 'stock' of immune cells. One study found that exposure to the cold increased the body's white blood cell numbers including cytotoxic T Lymphocytes. These immune cells play a vital roll in killing cancer cells.
Cryo Increases Energy Production
Exposure to the cold has also been shown to increase the production of mitochondria in our cells. This gives our body more energy and increases aerobic capacity. Particularly useful for people looking to increase their endurance… any runners or cyclists reading??
What Does This Mean For My Performance?
Whole body cryotherapy is a powerful tool to help enhance athletic performance. The use of cryo has been shown to increase strength, power and agility.
Research has found that whole body cryotherapy performed 1 hour after plyometric exercise resulted in improved power and pain (at rest and during the next workout). Another studies revealed that runners who did a cryotherapy session 1 hour, 24 hours, or 48 hours post hill sprint running had a 20% increase in speed and power, that’s 20% performance enhancement after the cryo session! Cryo 1 hour and 24 hours post exercise enhanced muscle recovery by decreasing the inflammation according to another research.
Cryotherapy has also shown the ability to improve stroke effectiveness and accuracy in ball sports including tennis giving those who use cryo an advantage over those who didnt.
People have been exposing their body to the cold for many years and have been feeling better, looking more youthful and enjoying a range of benefits for their health and wellbeing. With the comfort of research, we can now understand what is happening to our body during regular cryotherapy and why it feels so good!