Cryotheropy: The Benefits
Cryotheropy: The Benefits
The Internal Origins of the Positive Benefits of Cryotherapy
When any one person performs whole body cryotherapy, a strong healing process is initiated by your own body to heal and fight any aches, pains and/or symptoms experienced from conditions or diseases you may be experiencing. Below is an explanation of the specific responses occurring within your body in response to cryotherapy.
Upon initiation of a cryotherapy session, temperature sensors in your skin begin to detect the temperature being approximately -250°F. As a result, your body detects an environment in which you have to survive an extreme cold exposure. The body responds by eliciting a physiological response in which specific hormones are released, nerve activity is decreased and immune function and antioxidant activity are stimulated. Each of these responses is responsible for the positive affects of regular cryotherapy use. See these responses below and what they are responsible for eliciting in our body.
The research from these findings can be found when clicking on the research link under the cryotherapy heading above.
Specific Hormones Released
There is an adrenaline release that triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. This reaction causes air passages to dilate which provides muscles with the oxygen they need to either fight danger or flee. Adrenaline also triggers the blood vessels in your extremities to contract and this re-directs blood flow toward your chest and abdominal cavity in order to protect your organs by maintaining core body temperature in this cold environment.
As a result, the majority of your blood is then circulating through your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and all other organs through what is called a short circle. It is called a short circle since the blood does not have to travel all the way to your extremities before returning to the heart. Since the majority of your blood is not stripped of oxygen and nutrients from your extremities, the blood has been found to carry more oxygen and nutrients than normal. As a result, you may call this “supercharged blood.” This effect may become even more apparent after 3 to 5 sessions in which you actually may produce more hemoglobin and thus carry more oxygen.
In addition, adrenaline’s shunting of blood to your core is responsible for preventing swelling from injuries in your extremities and enhancing detoxification through the boost of lymphatic and blood circulation. The constriction of blood vessels also limits crossing of immune cells into the injured area, which reduces swelling and inflammation. Lastly, the reduction of pain sensitivity, reduction of perceived effort and improved overall feeling of wellbeing is attributed to the surge of adrenaline. This creates reduced feelings of pain associated with injuries and high intensity training as well as perceived effort if performed before a training or competition. Specifically, when a cryotherapy session is finished, it is common to experience an analgesic effect for 3 to 4 hours.
Specifically, studies have shown that norepinephrine is released as much as three times more than normal in the body when experiencing one cryotherapy session for 2 minutes. This release of norepinephrine reduces inflammation by decreasing tumor necrosis alpha (TNF- alpha). An excess of TNF-alpha has been implicated in almost every human disease ranging from type-2 diabetes to irritable bowel syndrome to cancer. This decrease in inflammation is also behind the reason why those exposed to cryotherapy have decreased pain perception from any chronic diseases, degenerative diseases or soft tissue injuries they have experienced or recovering from. In addition, such a rise in norepinephrine has been shown to decrease chemicals such as macrophage inflammatory-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha), which is produced by immune cells and play a major role in rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, such TNF-alpha release is associated with reducing symptoms of psorias, dermatitis, multiple sclerosis and various types of arthritis.
Elevated norepinephrine has also been found to increase the expression of a protein called uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1). UCP-1 works on the mitochondria in our cells, which make energy for our body from the use of molecules derived from food. These molecules are the break down products of sugars and fats (body fat). Overtime and continual cryotherapy exposure, the body responds by producing more mitochondria and this can therefore result in even more body fat used for energy than previously.
Lastly, norepinephrine is strongly involved in your sleep-wake cycle and has profound effects on energy, focus and mood. The effects on energy, focus and mood may be because of norepinephrine’s role in neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the production of new neurons in the brain, which has links to improved mood and memory.
Cortisol, Dopamine, and Serotonin
Cryotherapy has been found to significantly reduce cortisol levels in the body thereby providing the benefit of decreasing anxiety, depression and sleeplessness. In addition, cryotherapy has been found to significantly increase dopamine and serotonin levels in the nervous system and brain that produce feelings of well-being and pain relief. A rush of these two hormones in the blood can lead to immediate mood enhancement. Through these effects long-term, cryotherapy has been found to reduce overall stress and have been noted, in routine use, to stabilize sleep patterns and reduce nighttime anxiety. The elevated serotonin in the body can also significantly help combat fatigue.
Slower Nerve Transmission
During your cryotherapy session, your sensation of soft tissue (i.e. muscles and tendons) pain from an injury or medical procedure is decreased and muscle tightness and spasms can begin to release. The sensation of pain is decreased because the drop in temperature slows the rate at which signals are sent to the spinal cord and brain that there is damage. As a result, there is less of a sensation of pain. Muscle tightness and spasm also begin to release because of receptors in the muscle, called muscle spindles, that stimulate muscle contractions are less sensitive.
Preventing Collagen Breakdown and Promoting Collagen Growth
In regards to skin health, cryotherapy exposure has been found to affect collagen. Collagen is the protein behind strong cartilage, joints and healthy looking skin and hair. Collagen decreases as we age which can weaken the skin and cause wrinkles, necks to become saggy and lines to form around the eyes and mouth. Cryotherapy has also shown to inhibit cortisol and collagenase activity on collagen. Cortisol is a hormone, mentioned above, that works to break down collagen and collagenase is an enzyme that breaks down collagen.
In addition, collagen production has also been found to be stimulated. To ensure proper collagen production, the cells need vitamins, minerals and healthy vascular function. During cryotherapy, blood vessels respond by a quick constriction to keep the core temperature and protect the organs and tissues. In this process, toxins are drawn out of the blood as it circulates in the core, becoming nutrient-dense and oxygen-rich. Once the treatment is finished, there is a rapid dilation of blood vessels when we are approaching a normal exterior temperature and this allows blood to circulate better. In addition, there is an enhanced distribution of vitamins and nutrients and cells are receiving the ingredients they need allowing for effective collagen production. As a result, now free of toxins and poor circulation, cells are properly nourished with vitamins and essential nutrients and regaining their natural ability to provide the collagen we need in our bones, tissues, joints, ligaments, tendons and skin.
Stimulated Immune Function
Habitual cold exposure has also been show to have an effect on the immune system. After cryotherpy exposure, researchers found that an immune response was stimulated through an increase in white blood cells and interleukin-6.
Increases Antioxidant Activity
Whole body cryotherapy has also been found to increase the activity of two of the most potent enzymes systems that battle what is called oxidative stress. These enzyme systems are superoxide dismutase and glutathione reductase. The enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), is one of the body’s most powerful natural antioxidant enzymes that play a critical role in reducing the damage and inflammation from oxidative stress. As we get older, SOD decreases and as a result it leaves our bodies more venerable to aging and diseases. At the same time, our body creates energy by burning nutrients with oxygen, but in the process of generating energy, certain inevitable oxygen molecules known as free radicals are created and they can cause this oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can ruin other molecules that they come in contact with producing cellular damage and inflammation.
The second enzyme system is glutathione reductase and is encoded by a gene, which is used to help red blood cells. In addition to working with the red blood cells, glutathione reductase will also help cells reduce oxidative stress levels in the cells of the body by hunting out free radicals and other harmful agents found to be harmful to the body and created by stress, specific drugs and chemicals. In addition, this enzyme will also reduce the oxidation of glutathione peroxidase, which will turn into hydrogen peroxide that can be dangerous to the cells. As a result of these benefits, this will help the cells of the body receive the vitamins that they need to stay healthy including Vitamins E and C. The cell will then be able to properly oxidize these vitamins and get the nutrients that they need.
Overall, these two enzyme systems can battle oxidative stress and therefore prevent damage of our DNA. This may then help prevent many chronic and inflammatory diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, atherosclerosis and diabetes but more research is needed.