I recently did a web search for “cryotherapy for weight control.” There were 1,670,000 hits. Some of them had titles like “freeze away fat.” It was probably just such websites that inspired the FDA to issue a consumer update warning people away from cryotherapy. That is unfortunate. Whole-body cryotherapy, when done properly, is virtually risk-free. And it offers a number of benefits. But freezing away fat is not one of them.
That’s not to say freezing away fat is a myth. It actually happens. It’s called “cryolipolysis.” The electrolytes in fat cells are the first to crystallize in very cold temperatures. By focusing extreme cold on targeted areas of the body, you can crystallize fat cells before any crystallization of skin, muscle, or nerve tissue. The crystallized cells die and leave the body as waste. This is the process that powers our Cryoskin 3.0 service, which is a type of cryotherapy. Cryoskin 3.0 can be used to eliminate stubborn fat deposits. But it is not a weight loss system. For serious, balanced weight loss, you need to control calories, on both the intake side (diet) and the burning side (exercise).
Extreme Cold Burns Fat
But cryolipolysis is irrelevant to whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). WBC is by definition unfocused and generalized. It lowers the temperature of your whole body, and it doesn’t target fat cells the way the Cryoskin wand does. A 2018 study reported in the Journal of Obesity showed that WBC achieves weight loss without cryolipolysis.
WBC manages weight control through another process entirely, one called “non-shivering thermogenesis.” To explain this process, I need to point out that shivering is something of a weight loss technique. When your body becomes very cold, it begins to engage in involuntary movement in order to burn more calories. This involuntary movement is shivering. Shivering is an automatic process, but it’s not something you’re born with. Human infants cannot shiver. Instead of shivering, the infant body protects itself from cold through non-shivering thermogenesis, which happens by the activation of special cells known as brown adipose tissue (BAT), or brown fat. In the words of a 2009 study in the journal Diabetes, “The sensation of cold causes sympathetic nerves to release catecholamines in BAT that stimulate proliferation and heat production by brown fat cells.”
Burning Calories Without Shivering
Infants have proportionally more brown fat than you do. But you still retain some after you grow up. Research has shown that activating your brown fat can cause you to lose weight. A 2013 study among human volunteers found that, over 10 days, “repeated intermittent cold exposures” recruited BAT in humans and caused non-shivering thermogenesis. The experiment placed participants in water-cooled suits, which allowed researchers to lower skin temperature to the point where people reported being cold but before they started shivering.
We don’t provide water-cooled suits here at Peak Recovery & Health Center. But we do offer sessions in a cryotherapy cabinet that, used regularly, can afford “repeated intermittent cold exposures.” We don’t have the instruments to measure it, so I can’t tell you with certainty that WBC activates your brown fat. But I can tell you that the standard three-minute session is not long enough to start you shivering, so it very likely causes non-shivering thermogenesis.
Cryotherapy for Weight Control
That does not mean that a three-minute cryotherapy session will noticeably reduce your waistline. But it suggests to me that if you’re trying to control your weight through diet and exercise, regular WBC sessions can help to keep your calorie-burning process on track. Book a few sessions today.