There are a number of physiological findings that underscore the benefits that cryotherapy can have on one’s mental health, particularly as a complementary treatment for depression. Most substantially, whole-body exposure to cold water has been shown to enhance synaptic release of noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is one of the key excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain (accompanied by serotonin) that is the target of many antidepressant drugs; which are designed to increase the concentration of noradrenaline in brain synapses.2 Cold water immersion has also been shown to induce production of beta-endorphin and floods of other mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Beta-endorphin is responsible for producing a sense of well-being and suppression of pain through opioid receptors. Lastly, it must be acknowledged that cold water swimming activates stress responses in the body, and repeated exposure can result in a process of adaptation called, “habituation”. British doctor Chris Van Tulleken, a proponent of this therapeutic treatment explains, “if you adapt to cold water, you also blunt your stress response to other daily stresses”.3 Through this specific process of targeted adaptation, cold water swimming carries the potential to reduce this chronic stress response that is particularly high in people struggling with mood disorders.4
Throughout millions of years of evolution, primates have endured numerous physiological stressors such as extreme temperature changes as a part of daily life. Cryotherapy is designed to take advantage of the natural anatomic reaction to these changes in order to strengthen both the mind and the body.5 However, while used extensively for hundreds of years as a remedy for medical challenges, relatively minimal clinical research has been conducted examining the effects of cryotherapy on mood. More empirical research is needed in order to fully understand this link. Nonetheless, considering its low-tech, low-cost application, cryotherapy is worth a try as a complementary therapy for those combatting mood disorders, as it holds a tremendous amount of potential to enhance mood boosting mechanisms and increase one’s overall sense of wellbeing.6
None of the statements on this web site should be construed as dispensing medical advice nor making claims regarding the cure of diseases. You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. Partaking in any dangerous activity such as cold water exposure should be done under the supervision of a trained expert and only with the advice of your doctor.
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