Temperature doesn’t really seem to be a major problem for us in our modern day lives. The buildings we work in and the homes we live in are nicely temperature controlled in some form or fashion. Whether it be air conditioning in the summer or a roaring fire in the winter, we have found a way to protect ourselves from harsh weather. However, for the large majority of human existence, there was no such thing as temperature control. When winter came, people simply had to bear the harsh conditions with much less protection than we have today. Naturally, we evolved to deal with those conditions through physiological mechanisms that helped us survive. Nowadays, these mechanisms mostly lie dormant as we rarely expose ourselves to the elements. But what happens to us if we begin to tap into those mechanisms through deliberate cold exposure? We can all remember our mothers telling us to wear a jacket to avoid getting sick. Just how accurate was that motherly advice? There is an emerging body of evidence that suggests we might want to rethink the way we avoid extreme temperatures. Cold water immersion and whole body cryotherapy are beginning to gain a foothold as robust health and performance boosting activities. In fact, some of the potential benefits may just shock our well intentioned moms completely.

 

Health Benefits of Cryotherapy

As it turns out, there seem to be a plethora of benefits that accompany cryotherapy. From mental health benefits to improved mitochondrial health, there is a lot to get into here. So let me break it down into subsections to help you keep things organized:

Brain Health

One of the main physiological responses that occurs after cold exposure is a robust increase in norepinephrine. In fact, some studies show that a proper dose of cryotherapy can increase norepinephrine by 200-500% [11][16]. Norepinephrine is known as a hormone that is released during the “fight or flight” response. However, this hormone has several effects in the body besides motivating us to run from danger. For starters, norepinephrine acts to increase attention and mood when it binds to receptors in the brain. For this reason, cold exposure therapy has been suggested as a potential treatment for those who suffer from depression or attention disorders [15]. However, even if you do not suffer from one of these conditions, the increase in norepinephrine will still help you feel motivated and focused for long periods of time if cryotherapy is used often.

Other potential benefits to the brain have been discovered through mouse studies involving cryotherapy. Researchers have found that extreme cold exposure activates cold shock proteins in the body. These proteins are found in several major organs and are thought to serve a protective role. In the brain specifically, certain cold shock proteins have been found to have a neuroprotective effect by way of recovering lost synapses. Researchers found that exposing mice with neurodegenerative diseases to cold therapy early in life was effective in preventing the onset of neurodegenerative symptoms associated with the disease. Mice who were exposed to cold therapy kept over two times as many synapses and did not display behavioral or cognitive declines compared to the mice who were not exposed to cold therapy [12]. If this same phenomenon holds true in humans (we do have the same cold shock proteins), we could see cryotherapy become preventative treatment for conditions like Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injury.

Inflammation

The topic of inflammation has become a hot one in recent times given its association with health and longevity. Those who live longer and healthier lives tend to have lower levels of systemic inflammation. Additionally, many chronic diseases go hand in hand with inflammation, although it is not clear which one causes the other just yet. We have all heard the advice of putting ice on an injury in order to keep the swelling and inflammation down. So what happens when we effectively ice our whole body through cryotherapy?

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