Can Extreme Cooling Make You Look Younger & Treat Health Conditions?
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Can Extreme Cooling Make You Look Younger & Treat Health Conditions?

We investigate whether the latest health trend in the UAE can treat certain health conditions and whether it can actually make you look younger!

Can Extreme Cooling Make You Look Younger & Treat Health Conditions?

Living in the desert can make for a harsh environment at the best of times. Life is a series of extremes – from baking desert heat one moment to any icy blast of air con the next – and the health concerns about such differences in temperature have given rise to a recurrent debate over what constitutes a healthy ambient inside temperature. Colds, muscular pain, asthma and even heart conditions can be exacerbated, or possibly caused, by sudden changes in temperature, particularly those quick drops in heat when going inside to an overly air-cooled environment.

It may come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that a new clinic in Dubai has not only based its very existence around the concept of exposure to extreme cold but is hailing the benefits as cutting edge beauty care and a highly effective treatment for a number of health conditions. Cryotherapy is actually a recognized and well-established therapy used mainly in the care of sports injuries among high performance athletes, but more recently it has been applied outside of elite sporting circles and is quietly becoming all the rage within the beauty and wellness industry.

Cold Therapy – An Ancient Practice

The Egyptians first realized the benefits of cold therapy for treating injury and inflammation around 2,500 years ago. The Romans also incorporated the concept into their own elaborate bathing rituals which were conducted in a series of rooms, temperature controlled to varying extremes, in order to stimulate the body and circulatory system.  

Doctors began experimenting with cold therapy on cancer tumors, with considerable success, as early as the mid 19th century. Gradually, this progressed to the use of various gases and finally to liquid nitrogen, which was first pioneered as a topical therapy in the 1920s and has since grown to become widely used in the treatment of certain types of cancer, warts, verrucae and other skin complaints. The technique is fairly simple and works by freezing the cells to the point where they die.

The Downside – It’s Colder Than Outer Space

If this doesn’t sound like a particularly comfortable starting point for a beauty therapy, you may have a point, because this latest form of cryotherapy – whole body cryotherapy – has patients standing in a specially designed ‘cryochamber’ that exposes the patient’s skin to controlled blasts of gaseous liquid nitrogen cooled to around -110°C and -140°C (-145°F to -184°F) for around 2 to 3 minutes.

To put this into context, your average household freezer has an ambient temperature of around -15 to -20°C, and the surface of Mars has an average nighttime temperature of around -60°C (-80°F). If that sets alarm bells ringing, you may be relieved to learn that patients are required to wear protective underwear and thick woolen socks and gloves prior to entering the chamber, to protect their extremities, although this was of little help to track star Justin Gatlin. Gatlin suffered frostbite following a stint in a cryochamber, thanks to the classic schoolboy error of wearing damp socks. Cryochamber caution is advised, but happily the procedure is a surprisingly safe, if not altogether comfortable experience.

The Purported Benefits

So how does it work? The blast of intense cold has a rapid cooling effect on the body’s surface temperature, which cools the skin to around 15-30°C (30-50°F). The body goes into emergency mode, drawing all the blood away from the skin and extremities and toward to the core, where it gets pumped with masses of oxygen, antiinflammatory molecules and endorphins – the body’s feel good hormones. This process stimulates the body’s regulatory functions and it must then work out which areas are most damaged, sending out requisite reinforcements in the form of all that hormone and oxygen enriched blood.

As a healing therapy, it would appear there is much anecdotal evidence to support the success of cryotherapy. Many famous and high-level athletes swear by its curative and anti-inflammatory effects on injuries, in particular the speed at which they are able to recover and return to competition, when compared with more traditional therapies such as ice baths. The science makes sense too; the theory being that decreasing the cells’ metabolic functioning will lead to less inflammation and pain, which has got to be helpful for anyone with muscle and ligament related injuries. Scholarly research is harder to find, but a 2001 study did show that children diagnosed with threshold retina damage at age 5 and then received cryotherapy were “much less likely than control eyes” to be blind by age 10.

What is less researched is the use of cryotherapy in other treatments, and many scientists are divided on its benefits beyond a few hours post immersion. However, one study has provided some tantalizing results on the subject of weight loss, specifically how mice that were exposed to low temperatures developed more blood vessels in the areas of the body where fat is stored, which enabled the fat to be metabolized more quickly, resulting in thinner mice. Cryotherapy advocates have jumped on this research and, though the scientific jury is still out until more definitive research can be obtained, there is certainly evidence to suggest a course of cryotherapy sessions may be beneficial for kick starting a weight loss regime. 

Other purported beauty benefits of cryotherapy are improved skin quality, greater vitality and a heightened sense of relaxation and wellbeing. Many athletes also report that they sleep better following treatments. Clinics generally recommend starting with five to 10 treatments in close succession, with no more than a day or so in between. But with treatments lasting just a few minutes, they can be fitted into a lunch hour or after work without too much disruption. And with the likes of Daniel Craig using cryotherapy to get in such fantastic shape for his recent Bond movie Skyfall, that’s as good a reason as any to take the plunge.


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