Monday, July 25, 2016

Cryotherapy: Another Magic Bullet

An astute reader from Green Bay, WI brought this to my attention.  A cryotherapy service opened in the area and the local newspaper printed a glowing report.

The word comes from the Greek for cold, so using ice or any very cold material as a treatment may be considered cryotherapy. It has a long history of use for relief from athletic injuries.  Remember RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation.  The “I” may include the application of ice, cold packs or a bag of frozen vegetables. The cold temperature reduces inflammation, but long-term benefits are not clear.

Now, Forbes tells us that instead of just icing a twisted ankle, people are opening facilities “exposing the entire body to very low (subzero) temperatures, sometimes below -200 degrees Fahrenheit, for a few minutes…Often, the person will stand in a tank or closet-like device, wear minimal clothing and be bathed in liquid nitrogen or refrigerated cold air.”  Of course they have their share of celebrity endorsements, which is always a watch-out.

The site reports that while it has been successfully used “to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis” in addition to injuries and muscle soreness, it is now being promoted “to lose weight, improve skin, boost mood and more – despite the fact that it's not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and isn't intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

They point out that, even if it works, which has not been proven, there are better ways to treat all of these conditions.  The newspaper article does not include weight loss as a benefit, but claims that it improves “immune system function,” which would be even harder to prove or disprove.  Forbes adds: “A closer look shows that many of these claims are not yet grounded in credible scientific evidence.”

What we have so far is a lot of placebo effect, a sugar pill clothed as a blast of frigid air at a cost of $59 a pop.  My reader concludes:  “I am thinking of advertising a similar service this winter. Instead of a man-made container, I will advertise an all-natural experience, ensuring fresh air and no exposure to leaching metal containers. I will charge people $20 and let them stand in my backyard in their bathing suit.”  I could point out that he has no medical or training background, but the same is true for the people in the newspaper article, and no one seemed to object.  So there is a market for cold in Green Bay, home of the famed NFL “Ice Bowl”!  (I wonder if heat treatments in Death Valley would also sell.)  Never underestimate the power of America's craving for another magic answer.

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