We’re pleased to publish a guest blog post by Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, a Trudeau Fellow and the author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture And Science Clash”. It’s his first blog post on our site.
Freezing your ass off using whole body cryotherapy has emerged as yet another celebrity fueled health fad. What are the alleged benefits of subjecting yourself to sub-zero temperatures? According to a recent article in the New York Post they include a flatter stomach, looser muscles (whatever that means), reduced cellulite, a boost to the metabolism and the burning of 800 calories in just three minutes.
Of course, this is all bunk. There is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that whole body cryotherapy has any of these benefits. Burn 800 calories in a few minutes? Ridiculous. But this does not stop the popular press from jumping on the critic-free, celebrity bandwagon. As one devotee gushed in the Post article, “If Demi Moore does it [and, by the way, she does], it’s good enough for me.”
The current whole body cryotherapy craze has followed the well-established how-to-build-a-health-fad recipe. Mix in one serving of clever marketing with science-y language (endorphins, immune boosting, lymphatic system movement, etc.). Add a generous portion of anecdotes and testimonials. And sprinkle in a few social media images of beautiful celebs that suggest a weight loss and beautifying benefit. Presto. A new, bunk-infused, lifestyle trend is born.
Just how science-free are the pop culture portrayals of whole body cryotherapy? If you Google “800 calories cryotherapy” you will find dozens of articles that uncritically convey this physiologically impossible weight loss miracle, including pieces in the New York Magazine and Shape.com. In general, there is no evidence presented in these articles, they are largely absent of any serious critique of the claims and the articles provide only quotes from the owners of clinics and anecdotes from customers and celebs.
Is there any value to whole body cryotherapy? While small studies have found a slight beneficial effect on the recovery from specific forms of exercise, other studies have found that it does not improve athletic performance. Overall, the evidence of benefit is pretty underwhelming. There is certainly no evidence to support the claims of benefit flowing from the celebrity universe. Once again, this is little more than marketing by cryo clinics and science-free pontificating by celebrities and the popular press.
As an aside, it is worth considering the celeb embrace of cyrotherapy in the context of the ongoing debate around the value of icing sports injuries. Despite the popularity of icing injuries, some studies have found no benefit and that it may, in fact, hurt performance and delay recovery. Yes, the data is still emerging, but there certainly isn’t strong evidence to support the practice. Even the studies that have found an effect suggest that the benefits are small and probably only relevant for competitive athletes.
So, save your money and ignore the hype. You can’t freeze your way to a James Bond body.