“It’s a different cold than you’ve ever felt before,” offers Dr. Vince Hassel, a central Iowa chiropractor and owner of KryoVitality in Clive and Ankeny.
It’s a statement that could very easily go without saying, as the chamber that Matt Boelman is about to climb into is operating at 250-degrees below zero. That’s right - nearly 300-degrees below freezing. At the moment, that easily makes it the coldest place on planet Earth, more than twice as cold as dry ice, and roughly the same temperature as the dark side of the moon.
“Just relax. You’re going to love it."
The treatment that is about to be performed is known as “Whole Body Cryotherapy” or WBC. The modality was first introduced in Japan in 1978 to treat rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and auto immune disorders. Over the last two decades, subsequent studies have established WBC as a powerful adjunct treatment for inflammatory disorders, injuries, and muscle and joint pain. Upon reaching the United States markets in the last few years, the therapy has become popular with professional athletes.
LeBron James was an early adopter of the technology and began using it as part of his regular recovery regimen in 2015. Upon LeBron’s urging, the Cleveland Cavaliers quickly made the treatment available to the team and from there it spread across the country to other teams in the NFL.
As additional sports stars began to praise the benefits of WBC, features began appearing in the media, including television programs such as The Dr. Oz Show, Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, and Entertainment Tonight. From there, clinics began to sprout up to offer the same services to members of the public.
“The goal of the treatment is to trigger the body’s sympathetic nervous system by stimulating the skin’s cold receptors,” Dr. Hassel tells Boelman as the nitrogen gas begins to billow out of the top of the chamber.
“Your body is essentially now entering a minor state of shock, which is causing severe vasoconstriction as your blood flow is being redirected from the skin’s surface and extremities to insulate vital organs and maintain the body’s core temperature.”
In a quieter tone to the crowd gathered around, Dr. Hassel then adds, “These responses are due to his body’s perception that it’s experiencing life threatening conditions.”
-200 to -250 degrees
Of course the treatment isn’t actually life threatening. Each treatment is performed at temperatures from -200 to -250 degrees F but lasts only 2-4 minutes. The short interval and extreme temperature has the effect of shocking the skin and vascular system, without damaging tissue or stressing the vital organs. After the treatment is completed, the body experiences rapid vasodilation, maximizing oxygen and nutrient delivery, while improving the body’s ability to eliminate toxins.
Professional athletes like LaBron believe that the system works on the same principal as an ice bath, but achieves better results in less time and without the discomfort of an ice bath.
“Top athletes are always looking for ways to maximize performance with new technologies,” said Dr. Hassel. “When I saw the results that LaBron and the Cavaliers were experiencing, I knew that I had to make WBC available to people in central Iowa.”
Dr. Hassel opened his first clinic in Clive in the winter of 2015 and then a second location in Ankeny in 2016.
As the availability of the therapy became more widespread, the benefits being realized by the committed clientele began to expand.
How Cryotherapy Works
“The immediate release of endorphins can help with insomnia, fighting depression, and decreasing psychological stress,” reports Dr. Hassel. “The accelerated production of collagen improves skin elasticity and texture, reversing skin aging and the appearance of cellulite. Additionally, studies have shown WBC boosts the body’s metabolic rate, accelerating weight loss outcomes and burning 500-800 calories per treatment.”
The claimed benefits became so widespread, that in 2016 the FDA issued a brief update to consumers urging caution and stating that the therapy had not yet been formally evaluated.
“We simply don’t know [what benefits WBC may have],” says FDA scientific reviewer Anna Ghambaryan, M.D., Ph.D. “At this time, there’s insufficient publicly available information to help us answer these questions.”
Despite the lack of research by the scientific and medical communities, use of the therapy continues to grow as individual benefits are realized by consumers, either physiologically or psychologically.
“Once people try it,” Dr. Hassel says. “They don’t want to go without it.”
A couple of minutes after entering the chamber Boelman emerges, perhaps a shade or two more pink than when he began, but seemingly energized.
“Wow! That’s incredible,” offers Boelman. “I feel great.”
“That’s the rush of endorphins,” quips Dr. Hassel. “Due to your elevated metabolism, you’ll also burn up to 800 calories, so feel free to have a snack on your way home.”
What is whole body cryotherapy?
Simply put, cryotherapy is “super-cooling” of the body for therapeutic purposes. Cryotherapy can include the use of products such as ice packs on a localized portion of the body, submersion into an ice bath of extremely cold water, or new technologies that expose the body to super-cooled liquid nitrogen gas. Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) involves exposing the body to vapors that reach ultra-low temperatures ranging from minus 200 to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who choose to have a WBC treatment are enclosed in relatively confined spaces, typically for one and a half to three minutes, in one of two ways:
- A person stands alone in an individual-size can-like enclosure that is open at the top. A person’s torso and legs are enclosed in the device and exposed to frigid temperatures while the head remains above the enclosure at room temperature.
- Several people sit or stand in a totally enclosed chamber. The entire body including the head is exposed to freezing temperatures, generated by liquid nitrogen.
How to try it?
Visit KryoVitality in Clive (1349 NW 121st Street, Suite 200, Clive, Iowa) or Ankeny (629 S. Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny, IA). Learn more at KryoVitalityIowa.com.