Kryotherapy – Freezing the Balls off a Brazen Quack

The Quackometer is far from perfect. Sometimes quackery slips though its little webbed feet and I need to update it. Often a story in the paper requires a little more dissection to reveal its inner quackery.

So, today we hear that standing in a freezer can improve your health. Daily Mail reporter, Barney Calman, freezes his bits off as a piece of investigative journalism into whole-body cryotherapy. This is a technique that claims to cure a whole host of problems by allowing yourself to stand in a freezer at -120C for a few minutes. Funny, the chickens I put in the freezer never appear to get any better.

As is often the case in the Daily Lunacy, the article is a thinly veiled piece of advertorial for a new business in Battersea, the London Kriotherapy Centre, which charges £300 pounds for the benefit of sticking you in its deep freeze.

The newspaper article looses all credibility when it describes how the technique works.

Cryotherapy apparently shrinks the molecules in the body and then, when you emerge from the cold, the molecules then expand, increasing the blood flow which then helps ease pain and swelling, as well as fighting inflammation.

Obviously, the science editor was having a day off. For that matter, anyone with a science GCSE was probably down the pub or at the dentists too, as this is just plain bollocks. Its possible to see where the confusion has slipped in here, confusing the thermoregulatory response to cold of vasoconstriction with some imagined molecular physics.

Anyway, poor reporting does not mean that there is no merit in the claims that getting your extremities cold very quickly can help with:

rheumatism and osteoporosis to multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression, and even … as an anti-cellulite and skin-firming treatment.

The Kriotherapy Centre even suggests that low libido can be helped by a short, sharp cold shock!
However, the cryotherapy bandwagon is fully rolling with sports injuries. The Guardian can be just as quacky as the Mail at times. They have already reported on crytherapy treatments as part of a healthy holiday in Poland. The Poles treat injured athletes in this way and, aparently, it has nothing do with former Soviet times when failed athletes were sent to Siberia.

So, what evidence is there that this is an effective treatment for illness and injury? Well, pubmed is the place to look. A search for crotherapy and sports injury reveals a study entitled “Does Cryotherapy Hasten Return to Participation? A Systematic Review.” This concludes, that whilst the technique may work, the studies that show an effect are of “low methodological quality” and,

Despite the general acceptance of cryotherapy as an effective intervention, evidence on which to base these conclusions is limited. Only with strong randomized, controlled clinical trials will we know the true efficacy of cryotherapy.

So, those that do promote such techniques right now, may well be guilty of quackery. Without evidence, you stand the risk of severely overstating your case. However, we should be careful here. Cryotherapy is a broad term that implies the use of cold temperatures for many therapeutic ends. Warts have been frozen off with extreme cold for long time. Some cancers use similar techniques to kill the cancerous cells. But standing in your grundies in a very cold room? Can this really be a miracle cure for multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis?

People report pain relief for this sort of activity. Studies show that this may indeed be true, but that there is no evidence that this has any long term benefit. It is easy to see how endorphins released during the process of freezing your skin off may temporarily take your mind of your back pain or arthritis. People report similar effects from saunas or even having needles sticking in them. This does not mean that the technique is cost effective (would a locally applied ice pack do just as well?) or have any lasting effect beyond the immediate relief. People who report long term effects may just be confusing a general remission with treatment effectiveness or be suffering from plain old wishful thinking. That is why controlled and blinded trials are so important.

Of course, the Daily Wail backs up its claims with anecdotes (why trust any authorities?) and so acts as a good free advertisement for the Kriothrapy clinic. (Why am I thinking of Krusty the Klown?) I bet they were popping the ice-cold bubbly there today.

Depressingly, and despite showing a few signs of critical thinking, Barney ends his article on a completely credulous note:

I have suffered from eczema around my eyes for four years; I use a medicated cream daily to stop flare ups, but remarkably, since having cryotherapy it’s been itch and pain free. I’ve not needed to use my medication for the first time in a year and a half.

As bizarre as whole body cryotherapy sounds it’s worth remembering that commonplace alternative treatments such as reflexology, acupuncture, massage and osteopathy, now available on the NHS, were once considered ‘loony’ and ineffectual.

A future blog entry will be on the NHS and their State Sponsored Quackery. Just because they have a web site about so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) does not mean that these techniques are not loony and ineffectual.

In the meantime, I fully recommend a Finnish sauna and ice plunge pool if you want to see various external bits of you shrink back into the body cavity. Cheaper, communal and the vodka is good.

On this theme…

3 Comments on Kryotherapy – Freezing the Balls off a Brazen Quack

  1. I just finished 10 sessions of my kriotherapy and Im most amazed at how rejuvenated, alive and happy I feel after each one. My skin is much, much smoother and my back pains have gone- for now.

    I dont understand, why in a city where you pay 120 pounds to go to a private doctor- and you actually have to diagnose yourself, where people flock out of the country to get good specialist treatments, where there are so many scam treatments that cost THOUSANDS, not hundreds of pounds (if the author actually read carefully- one session of kriotherapy costs 30 pounds, not 300), a simple but very effective therapy gets crushed.

    Does the author have any idea how this countries doctors and ‘therapists’ completely lack in basic knowlege? Its horrifying.

    Kriotherapy is completely refunded by a large number of eastern eauropean countries’ health system. Which means it must be a very effective remedy for many conditions. The authors ignorance and plain stupidity (your referral to the sportsmen and Syberia? are you normal? ) is of the same level as Uk’s health system

    Thank you.

    • I´d feel good too if I was able to get out of the freezer and back to life! And “kriotherapy being refunded”?? A refund sounds like a really good idea!

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