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Health and Wellness

Increase Metabolism with Cryotherapy

Tom Polakow, RN, BSN

12 July 2016

This is probably one of the most popular questions asked when people start talking about whole body cryotherapy, and rightfully so. There are a multitude of cryotherapy clinic’s around the United States that are making claims for cryotherapy burning 500-800 calories after a single session. Now tell me, who wouldn’t be interested in that?

As of the date I am writing this post, there are no studies that directly link weight loss with whole body cryotherapy. I’m not quite sure where the “500-800 kcal” number came from either. However, with that being said, it’s worth a discussion because the human physiological response to cold can actually elicit mechanisms that make this a theoretical possibility.

We simply cannot rule out the idea that using cryotherapy in conjunction with dieting and exercise, can improve the speed at which one might lose weight.  Just because studies haven’t been done to prove this idea, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t actually work. As far as I know, there are also no studies available that disprove this idea either.

So let’s get into the science of it, shall we?

There are two main mechanisms in which our body responds to cold stress that can theoretically cause increased metabolism.

Shivering Thermogenesis

Non-Shivering Thermogenesis

Shivering thermogenesis is exactly what it sounds like. Your body responds to the cold by inducing rapid muscular contractions, what you know as shivering, which helps produce heat as a byproduct. This in turn, helps to warm the body to a certain degree in order to protect the vital organs.

Non-Shivering thermogenesis is the more interesting and promising path to weight loss. Before we get into the way it works, it is important to understand what types of fat our body produces. There are two:

White Adipose Tissue (WAT) or white fat

Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) or brown fat

White fat is everyone’s most dreaded enemy because it tends to pile up around the waist, lower back, neck, and thighs and is the most difficult to eliminate.

Brown fat is the good fat because it helps to generate heat to keep our bodies warm when exposed to extreme cold. Studies have shown BAT actually has an inverse correlation to the percentage of body fat and an inverse correlation to BMI. The easiest way to understand BAT is to think of it as: more BAT = more fat your body will burn.

So the question is, how do we convert the white fat into brown fat?

One answer is, through cold temperatures such as whole body cryotherapy.

The process of non-shivering thermogenesis is, in part, regulated by the hormone and neurotransmitter, norepinephrine. Studies have shown that cold exposure can help increase norepinephrine release in the body by 500%!! Norepinephrine causes a release of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), which uncouples mitochondria (the energy producing part of the cell). UCP1 increases the metabolism by producing more mitochondria in the adipose tissue, causing a “browning effect” and creating the more metabolically active brown adipose tissue (BAT).

It would be great to see a study done directly relating whole body cryotherapy with weight loss but for now, these findings are enough to suggest that cryotherapy might be a potential aid in speeding up weight loss when combine with proper dieting and exercise.

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