Could whole body cryotherapy assist in the rehab from substance abuse?
Rehab from substance abuse (alcohol, prescription medicine, drugs etc.) often comes with craving and withdrawal symptoms. The effects of withdrawal on your body and mind can be uncomfortable and dangerous. That’s were detoxification comes in. This detoxification is a claim which is often heard in conjunction with whole-body cryotherapy;
“Whole body cryotherapy will help detoxify your body and creates a healthier you!”
The questions is, is this a legitimate claim?
Let’s first define detoxification and the potential detoxing working mechanism(s) of whole-body cryotherapy.
Detoxification is generally defined as the physiological and medicinal removal of toxic substances from the human body which is mainly carried out by the liver (source; Wikipedia).
The cold temperature affects your skin surface, triggering your thermoreceptors to send electrical impulses to the brain leading to the perception of severe cold. This sends your body into a defensive mode by quickly transporting the body’s blood, nutrients, and resources to the organs in the core. During this process the body starts oxygenating your blood, flushing it of toxic substances.
This working mechanism is probably the basis of the claims on detoxification with whole-body cryotherapy. Though there's no published evidence to suggest that detox treatments, kits or rituals have any effect on our body's ability to eliminate waste products adequately. Also, as can be read on the website of sciencebasedmedicine.org: "Detox" is a legitimate medical term that has been turned into a marketing strategy — all designed to treat a nonexistent condition. Real detoxification isn't ordered from a menu of alternative health treatments or assembled from ingredients in your pantry. Actual detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances.
So if it is not about detoxification, could whole body cryotherapy still assist in these types of rehab programs? Yes, we believe it can:…
a). Multiple studies, like the one from Kruger and colleagues (2015) illustrated that blood flow in the limb is enhanced, and blood becomes more oxygenated, following a single session of whole-body cryotherapy. These results are in line with the working mechanism explained above, and a whole body cryotherapy session might, therefore, assist in the flushing of substances. This finding, however, should be placed in perspective, it is related to elite athletes after intensive exercise and not related to people in rehab.
b). Whole body cryotherapy is suggested to have a possible role as short-term adjuvant therapy for depressive and anxious patients (Rymaszewska and Ramsey, 2008). In this study, the cryo-group was exposed to a cycle of 15 daily whole-body cryotherapy sessions. The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) showed a significant reduction compared to control. Besides, the self-rating life satisfaction scale, the items for physical and mental health, everyday activity, vocational activity, hobbies, and general life satisfaction showed significant improvements for the cryo-group.
c). Ten sessions of whole-body cryotherapy also appear to have a substantial impact on the mental state and quality of life of people with spinal pain syndrome or peripheral joint disease (Szczepańska-Gieracha and colleagues 2014). Two well-validated questionnaires (WHOQOL-bref and PGWBI) illustrated significantly improved scores following the cryo sessions.
d). Sleep is critical to physical and emotional health. Disrupted sleep patterns can initiate and exacerbate underlying mood, cognition and attention problems. Moreover, addiction especially when using substances that act as stimulants can lead to negatively impacted sleep quality. Schaal and colleagues (2013) illustrated an improved quality- and duration of sleep in ten elite synchronized swimmers during a two weeks training period using daily whole-body cryotherapy.
Whether the findings above are also applicable for people who are in rehab from substance abuse is unknown at this point. However, it does give some feeling about the potential benefits of whole-body cryotherapy for addiction recovery. Whole body cryotherapy should be treated as an adjuvant to the rehab program. It can assist in improving the mental state, life satisfaction and sleep quality, which undoubtedly will be of help to cope with the craving and withdrawal symptoms.
Szczepańska-Gieracha, J., Borsuk, P., Pawik, M. & Rymaszewska, J. Mental state and quality of life after 10 session whole-body cryotherapy. Psychol Health Med 19, 40–46 (2014).
Rymaszewska J, Ramsey D. Whole body cryotherapy as a novel adjuvant therapy for depression and anxiety. Archives of Psychiatry and psychotherapy 10, 49–57 (2008).
Krüger, M., de Mareés, M., Dittmar, K.-H., Sperlich, B. & Mester, J. Whole-Body Cryotherapy Enhances Acute Recovery of Running-Performance in Well-Trained Athletes. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 10, 605-612 (2015).
Schaal, K. et al. Effect of recovery mode on postexercise vagal reactivation in elite synchronized swimmers. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 38, 126–133 (2013).