I Tried Cryotherapy as a Treatment for Depression

RIP Oliva Rodriguez - 12/31/18

Can going into a chamber chilled to -200 degrees help your mental health? I first heard about cryotherapy from the hippest girl I know, the quintessential person who knows about everything a good year or so before the rest of us. She told me that a Russian debutante she knew took her to a glorious place on La Cienega in West Hollywood where the two of them lost weight by standing in an ice cold chamber for three minutes, rocking out to Tame Impala (note: I didn’t know who that was). Right away, I had three conflicting thoughts simultaneously: one that she was insane, two that I complain that LA summer nights are too chilly so I could obviously never do it, and three that I had to try it right away.

The Cold Hard Facts

A month or two later, I found myself at the place she’d told me about—Cryohealthcare, the leading spot for Angelenos who like to freeze (the company is now expanding to New York). I was there, yes, because I’m a little obsessive and my perspective is admittedly a little skewed when it comes to body and weight and so I will try many things as a result. But I had also learned something else when I spoke to Robin Kuehne, who owns the Cryohealthcare monopoly with his brother Jonas—the MD who was the first doctor to bring cryotherapy to the US—and Jonas’ wife Emelia. Robin told me a social worker was bringing a group of depressed patients in regularly because of the impact cryotherapy can have on brain chemistry.

This really got my attention, because if there’s anything that rivals my interest in physical health, it’s mental health. I actually keep an Excel spreadsheet mood chart and every day I give the previous day a 1-10 rating. In addition to suffering from alcoholism (I’m sober a little over a decade-and-a-half), I’ve had bouts of depression since my early 20s. In other words, I was a good candidate to put the “positive impact on mood” cryotherapy theory to the test.

The Research

There have been some studies done on the topic, largely out of Poland, where the original cryotherapy machines were manufactured. One of the studies, “Whole-body cryotherapy as adjunct treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders,” focused on a group of 18-65 year-olds who had daily, 2-3 minute cryogenic treatments for 15 minutes and found that they showed more improvement after three weeks than a control group.

How, exactly, does this happen? In non-scientific terms, the idea is that when your body is in -200 degrees, it produces endorphins—sort of like a spinning class on crack. Add in the positive impact cryo is said to have on sleep (I’m a sometime insomniac so this really got my attention), the immune system and serotonin and you’ve got some faces, perhaps, frozen into perma-smiles.

Source: I Tried Cryotherapy As a Treatment For Depression, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/after-party-chat/201604/i-tried-cryotherapy-treatment-depression., Retrieved Jan. 1, 2019