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Whole-body cryotherapy treatment of depression and anxiety disorders

Rheumatism has been treated utilising whole-body cryotherapy (WBC) since the 1970s. But recently studies have been done to assess WBC and its efficacy as a method of treating depressive and anxiety disorders and the results are positive.


One study was conduct with a study group treated with WBC and a control group treated with standard psychopharmacotherapy. Both groups ranged between the ages of 18–65 years & all had a diagnosis of depression & anxiety (1). Both the Hamilton’s depression rating scale (HDRS) & Hamilton’s anxiety rating scale (HARS) were used as the outcome measures (1).

After three weeks, a significant decrease was scored of at least 50% from the baseline HDRS scores in 34.6% of the study group & 2.9% of the control group. Furthermore, there was a decrease of at least 50% from the baseline HARS score in 46.2% of the study group (1). Other studies research has found that oxidative stress levels were reduced in patients partaking in WBC, which lead to lower depression symptoms in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients (2).

In a 2008 study it was found that persons suffering from acute spinal pain causing depression benefited from WBC as it increases body metabolism & the plasma concentrations of catecholamine (adrenaline, noradrenaline), cortisol, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and βendorphins (3). It appears that the positive effects of WBC on both external & internal pain are due to the activation of the endogenous opioid system &“pain control system”. Researchers believe that this multi-system reaction could play an important role in reducing pain & in conjunction the treatment of mental disorders (1).

What does this all mean?

These findings suggest WBC is appropriate for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders and that a reduction in oxidative stress levels in the body helps in treating persons with anxiety and depression. Therefore, it is recommended for persons to have 2 to 3-min sessions being exposed to temperatures from -110 °C to - 160 °C as a holistic approach to those suffering from anxiety & depression disorders.

(1) Rymaszewska, J., Ramsey, D., & Chładzińska-Kiejna, S. (2008). Whole-body cryotherapy as adjunct treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. Archivum immunologiae et therapiae experimentalis, 56(1), 63–68.

(2) J. Leppäluoto, T. Westerlund, P. Huttunen, J. Oksa, J. Smolander, B. Dugué & M. Mikkelsson (2008) Effects of long‐term whole‐body cold exposures on plasma concentrations of ACTH, beta‐endorphin, cortisol, catecholamines and cytokines in healthy females, Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 68:2, 145-153, DOI: 10.1080/00365510701516350

(3) Elżbieta Miller, Małgorzata Mrowicka, Katarzyna Malinowska, Jerzy Mrowicki, Joanna Saluk-Juszczak & Józef Kędziora (2011) Effects of whole-body cryotherapy on a total antioxidative status and activities of antioxidative enzymes in blood of depressive multiple sclerosis patients, The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 12:3, 223-227, DOI: 10.3109/15622975.2010.518626

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