The FDA vs. Whole-Body Cryotherapy (WBC)

I recently completed an Ironman competition in Louisville with more than satisfactory results, capping off a hectic six months under constant threat of interference with my training. But in those six months, I exercised as much discipline as I could and became almost fanatical about recovery. Judicious use of the different services here at Peak Recovery & Health Center allowed me to recover from my workouts faster and resume training quicker. That is why I attribute my success (2nd overall amateur; 9th including the professionals; qualification for the 2019 Ironman World Championships) to the services of photobiomodulation, infrared sauna, float pod, and whole-body cryotherapy.

I want to devote this post to address the scare campaign being waged by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) against whole-body cryotherapy (WBC). In the beginning of this year, the FDA issued a Consumer Update warning people away from WBC, saying in part, “despite claims by many spas and wellness centers to the contrary, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have evidence that WBC effectively treats diseases or conditions like Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, stress, anxiety or chronic pain.” The paper goes on to say that WBC not only lacks evidence of effectiveness but that it poses risks as well. The risks cited — frostbite, burns, eye injury, hypoxia, asphyxiation — only occur when you’re doing it wrong: that is, when you use the cryotherapy cabinet without the gloves and slippers we require, or when you’re unattended or intoxicated.

Therefore, the risks are quite minimal. As for the claims made on behalf of WBC to treat various medical conditions, I myself have suggested that WBC may be useful for dealing with depression, muscle soreness, fibromyalgia, inflammation, Alzheimer’s, dermatitis, a weakened immune system, tinnitus, and oxidative stress. But every one of these suggestions has been based on the results of a clinical study in a scientific journal. Some of these studies have been small — too small, perhaps, to impress the FDA, which is used to collecting clinical trials from giant pharmaceutical companies. But the studies have all been sufficiently well controlled for me to suggest the possibility that WBC might be incorporated into your personal efforts to manage your medical condition.

Why do I pose it in that way? Because you are the one who is responsible for your own health. I assure you that the FDA takes no responsibility for your health. Its mission is to protect the public health. So for them, you are a statistic. They probably won’t say there is evidence of the efficacy of WBC until they have measured its success as a treatment among hundreds of thousands of people. By that time, you may well have succumbed to whatever condition you need help for.

When I suggest WBC as a help for a medical condition, my most frequent argument is one that I consider undeniable: WBC provides pain relief, and pain relief can help you manage a medical condition and is often an element of recovery from it. If you suffer from one of the conditions mentioned, and you haven’t been scared away by the FDA’s Consumer Update, book a WBC session at Peak Recovery & Health Center. You really have little more to lose than your pain.

Image: “FDA Sign and Building 21 Entrance” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Government work.