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Bio-hacking with Cryotherapy

 

 

 

Turning the tap to cold and blasting myself for a few minutes at the end of an otherwise warm and enjoyable shower is a habit I have adopted for some time now. And no, I can’t say I really look forwards to it all that much and yes I know it sounds a bit crazy.

So exactly why do I do this? And why on earth would I then also go visit my friends at cryosauna japan and step into a cryosauna chamber delivering an ambient temperature of -170°C ?

Well, that is the purpose of this blog detailing benefits of cold therapy and more specifically cryotherapy.

Let’s get started.


What is Cryotherapy?

Cryotherapy is a treatment administered with a Cryosauna. The cryosauna uses gas from nitrogen to rapidly lower the skin’s top layer to 0°C (32°F) while surrounding temperature drops to a range of -140°C (-​220°F) to -170°C (-274°F).  During two / three minutes of extreme cold, the brain triggers numerous organ regulatory functions that are noted to provide benefits from injury recovery, weight loss, mental boost to anti-aging.

Cold therapy treatments have been around for aeons, but Whole Body Cryotherapy originated in Japan in the late 1970’s by Dr. Yamaguchi who discovered that freezing skin surface provided immediate relief to his patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Yamaguchi and his partner’s ongoing studies concluded that faster short term freezing of the skin’s surface while inside a cryosauna had a raised the effects on the human body by comparison to a gradual cooling provided in other methods (such as a cold shower or ice bath) and thus the modern treatment of the cryotherapy was born.

More recently cryotherapy and cold exposure has become a popularized ‘bio-hacking’ method that has been adopted amongst high profile individuals from athletes.

 


The Science of Cryotherapy

So, is it really possible all these claims could be true? Well, there are numerous studies which are demonstrating the evidence and as with much emerging ‘natural’ therapies, some of which is still debated. One particularly problematic component of scientifically proving cold therapy is the inability to run the scientific standard ‘placebo controlled double blind study’. This is a condition which a control group believes they are receiving a treatment (but not) is matched with results against a group that do. With Cryotherapy there is no sugar pill to give, either the user steps into a cryosauna chamber and experiences the cold therapy or they do not. It is for this reason the science behind cold therapy has been slow to become widely accepted in the scientific community.

Regardless of this, it has not stopped early adopters of the bio-hacking community to embrace the therapy and the numerous direct experience and anecdotal evidence shared by users is difficult to ignore which is what lead me into my own personal exploration of the therapy that I share here.

 


The Benefits of Cryotherapy

There are numerous claims to the benefits of cryotherapy from a depression treatment to even life longevity. I haven’t investigated into these areas and encourage you to explore further beyond the list below, which I have limited to the most commonly noted and scientifically sound benefits.

  • Pain reduction

    As mentioned already, there have been many studies that demonstrate the benefit of cold therapy including those on arthritis sufferers where the treatment was originally developed. This is achieved primarily due to the anti-inflammatory effects and the trigger of release of endorphins in the patients. Additionally ‘topical’ cryotherapy on patients with wisdom teeth extraction showed significant benefit. This was tested in a group of people with dual extractions and applying treatments to one side.

  • Workout recovery 

    After high intensity / endurance activity. Studies have shown that speed of muscle recovery from intense workouts is significantly improved by comparison to those of a control group who were not exposed to the therapy. Cryotherapy is a powerful anti-inflammatory, this is due to cold exposure allowing improved blood circulation (vasodilation) through the muscle groups and into otherwise poorly circulated capillary veins.
    The timing of cold therapy post exercise to maximize the benefits is still debated however, generally speaking the advice is in the window of 1 hour after the exercise (allowing time for muscle repair/rebuild to take place via healthy muscle inflammation) but then within the following 48 hours of the exercise.

  • Mental Clarity 

    By the release of Norepinephrine and adrenaline into the bloodstream. These wonderful and natural body chemicals are commonly experience during a ‘fight or flight’ situation and is aimed at improving your ability to cope with the stress demands of the situation. Cryotherapy is able to artificially stimulate this biochemical response without any real threat of harm and allow us to gain a mental alertness and clarity benefits. The synthetic stresses from our desk jobs that seldom trigger such a biochemical reaction. I personally believe it’s good to experience a shock to the system once in a while.

  • Weight Loss

    Via non-shivering thermogenesis. To vastly oversimplify, this is a process whereby the body’s response to cold exposure speeds up the metabolism in order to regain body temperature and in doing so burns energy from brown adipose tissue (‘brown fat’ stored on the body that is readily consumed for fuel).

  • Skin Revitalisation 

    Achieved through the speed up of metabolism, improved blood circulation and stimulation of an increase in collagen production in the skin.


If you would like to try cryotherapy for yourself and based in Tokyo, please visit my friends at Cryosauna Japan (booking is essential!) to arrange a session.  

They are located at:

Cryomed Japan
La Muse Juban BLDG.
4F, 1-6-5 Azabu Juban
Minato-Ku, Tokyo

If you have the space for it, they can even arrange to install a cryosauna in your own home!

 

 

 

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My arctic experience at -180° with Cryotherapy

 

Stripped down to my boxers, given thin cotton gloves and booties to wear; the single person chamber I was standing in had reached -160° celsius, blood was rushing away my extremities and I felt a deep chill like nothing I have ever felt. Only a minute more and this would be over!

It doesn’t sound like the start of a story that a sane person would volunteer themselves for. While my sanity certainly is debatable, I have been interested in Cryotherapy ever since learning about it from ultra motivator and life coach to the masses Tony Robbins describing his daily routine.  As it is with cognitive biases, I had then consequently kept hearing more about it including that a number of top athletic sports people turning to this therapy as treatment for fatigue, anti inflammatory properties and faster recovery muscle and joint soreness and other maladies.

So when earlier this year, while attending the Tokyo Health and Sports Technology conference SportTec  I chanced upon a Japanese company named Saraya demonstrating their Cryotherapy machines, I took note and contacted them to arrange to try it out for myself. They generously invited me to their office to discuss and try it out and the following photo’s are from my experience.

 

 

The Experience

While I already have a daily routine which involves me finishing my morning shower by turning the temperature to ice cold, I don’t know anyone who had done this and I confess, I was still a little nervous. I took confidence that lot’s of other people had done this before and there was no reason for me to be a chicken about it!

Stepping into the chamber you notice quickly the ice cold temperature dropping rapidly and it was around 1 minute and around -140° that I felt arctic, my elbows were the most noticeably cold feature perhaps because my knees were covered with a thin cotton cover or that my elbows were a bit close to the edges of the unit I’m not sure. Shortly after my legs were starting to chill deeply and then, my whole body started to somewhat pleasantly ‘numb’. Then, it’s around minute two and you know you are in a deep freeze and your brain is telling you something isn’t normal! You are told you can ‘turn’ yourself in the unit if it’s bothering you a lot and I did move around a little but even though I was starting to freeze, I didn’t feel panic and it wasn’t as ‘shocking’ as I had expected. But I’m a guy that does ice plunge after sauna and goes from hot shower to cold shower, so perhaps I’m conditioned for it.

In the third minute of the session I was counting down until I stepped out and the chamber had reached its lowest temperature of just under -180°, but honestly -160° or -180°, at these temperatures it’s all feels just bloody freezing!

As soon as I stepped out into room temperature the sensation of blood returning to my extremities was palpable and would continue to give me a tingling sensation for the following 10 minutes or so but that wasn’t the highlight. The “WOW” experience was how good I felt mentally! I felt refreshed, more alert and clear in my thoughts, these being the exact same reasons I cold shower in the mornings, but this was on another level! For this point alone I will be doing future treatments when I have the chance.

In terms of muscle recovery or joint pain improvements I can’t provide an strong opinion as this was a one off treatment and I don’t have any injury I’m focused on recovering from.  But for the sensation of alertness and freshness alone I would certainly consider to get one of these units installed my apartment, but that’s going to need to wait until I have something a little bigger than my shoebox in Shibuya.

 

Saraya Story

Saraya have only recently started develop of the Cryotherapy units and are the only Japanese business currently manufacturing the devices. They initially intended to bring in imported models from Europe, but given Japan’s engineering and technology excellence it was not at all surprisingly found they could create a superior product with more features at a lower cost for the domestic market. The features they developed were those such as a safety switch emergency stop button, self drying operation and exhaust features to prevent the machine from suffering from moisture buildup.

If you would like to speak to Saraya about acquiring a unit or trying the product for yourself, please contact the very helpful (and English speaking) Deputy General Manager of Saraya, Marlon Amado V. Mamaril