Is submerging yourself in freezing temperatures below 130C (266F) good for your health? Apparently so. Whole Body Cryotherapy is a treatment that was developed in Japan and has been used in parts of Europe for about 20 years. Now it is taking the US by storm.
Inside the KryoLife spa in Manhattan, New York, customers pay about $90 (£58) to stand in a tall, tubular cryochamber for no more than three minutes. Along with a bathing suit, they wear socks and gloves to protect from acute frostbite. Liquid nitrogen is used to cool the air in the chamber as an attendant watches for any sign of extreme discomfort.
Customer Lena Roth said she has been using cryotherapy for about two months, initially starting the procedure while recovering from knee surgery. After receiving the three-minute treatment, she says she feels more energetic.
"The energy level, it just increases. You feel wonderful. It helps you sleep. You totally are relaxed. You have a clearer mind. You are thinking straight. It's just energy, energy. You can go – a couple of hours after this, you can go and take a high-impact workout and it just feels wonderful. I cycle, so I can go and I can have 45 minutes of an amazing workout session that I didn't have before. I'm amazed with myself. I'm like a superwoman now," Roth said.
KryoLife opened in New York about two years ago and was at the time one of the few cryotherapy spas in the US. Joanna Fryben, the company's CEO and co-founder, says she was introduced to Whole Body Cryotherapy while living in her home country of Poland.
"It was designed to reduce inflammation and pain. That was the first, most important cause of creating the therapy. But with time, it was found out that, for instance, with cases of fibromyalgia, it helps with depressive and anxiety symptoms. It helps with cognitive behaviour, with stiffness, with sleep, with sleep disturbances or insomnia," she said.
"And then the beauty part of it, which you kind of treat as a side effect, but it is a very, very important part. Your skin gets more glowing because of the anti-inflammatory effect. The skin tone evens out. It supports weight loss.
"It's not going to cause the weight loss if you do not keep a good diet, but it supports weight loss. It boosts metabolism. It reduces the appearance of cellulite. And in general, it gives you overall wellness and strength."
Cryotherapy works by making the brain believe the body is freezing. The body therefore goes into survival mode and begins to send blood, enriched with oxygen, enzymes and nutrients, to the body's core. Scientists say the enriched blood regenerates internal organs, renews cells and expels toxins from the body.
Researchers also say it stimulates energy flow through the entire body, including the brain, creating a sense of euphoria. While cryotherapy involves freezing temperatures, the body itself is not freezing.
"Whenever anybody hears the temperatures ranging from minus 284 to minus 264 [Fahrenheit], they ask, 'Are you freezing people?' No. We don't freeze people. It's actually safer than a hot sauna," Fryben noted.
Recently, athlete Usain Bolt, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and James Bond actor Daniel Craig have all reportedly used cryotherapy, prompting some to write off the treatment as a mere trend. But whilst Fryben believes it may fit that label, the treatment will continue to grow in popularity.
"It is a trend. And I'm glad it is because this is how many great things start. But I also know that it is effective. It really works. So it's not going to be a seasonal trend. The trend is going to change into something significant, which is going to have a beautiful impact on many people's life," she said.
KryoLife now plans to open two more locations in the New York City area by the end of 2015. While there is still scepticism in the medical profession of the benefits of the treatment, with some arguing more quality research needs to be conducted on the effects of cryotherapy, for now the deep freeze treatment looks set to continue being one of the top health trends.