Cryotherapy is a dangerous health fad that needs regulation

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The usual health and fitness fads that populate the pitiful space of late night infomercials are familiar to the American public. Both men and women are subject to the bombardment of advertisements for pills, oils, treatments and equipment that promise to make them look and feel younger, more attractive and bring a degree of self-improvement not found anywhere else. Mostly, these are harmless. Whether or not someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on Kardashian-approved waist-trainers and blood facials (yes, unfortunately a real thing) is ultimately their personal decision. It is when fads become more popular, hiding under the pretense of a trusted medical practice and readily available with no regulation that someone needs to step in.

This is exactly the case with Whole Body Cryotherapy, a treatment vouched for by athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. The act involves a secluded chamber of temperatures ranging from -166 to -319 degrees Fahrenheit in which an individual stays for two to four minutes at a time. Localized cryotherapy is used on small parts of the body to freeze off warts, but this new fad immerses the entire body in excruciating temperatures. Proponents of the practice promise faster healing due to cellular regeneration, mood enhancement, a slowing down of the aging process and an overall increase in general wellness.

Although cryotherapy is rapidly becoming more popular, it has made headlines recently with the death of 24-year-old Nevada cryotherapy clinic employee Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, who was found frozen in a fetal position in the chamber of a cryotherapy machine. She had apparently dropped her phone, bent down to pick it up in a space that quickly became overwhelmed with more nitrogen than oxygen, causing her to pass out and eventually freeze to death. This senseless death has subjected the treatment to well-deserved scrutiny.

The fact that cryotherapy is not approved by the FDA or regulated state to state by any larger medical or scientific governing body is worrisome. No licensed overseer approves the equipment or chemicals used, and the therapy itself is mistrusted by medical professionals. Although two to four minutes in a chamber is not enough to do great damage, even a few seconds inside with damp socks can cause intense frostbite, as was the case with U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin. It must be remembered that this refrigerator-like compartment is deadly after more than four minutes. At that temperature, internal organs start to fail and the heart will stop.

I am not debunking the results some supporters demonstrated from this therapy, but it is in dire need of professional regulation. It would be too ambitious to hope that fads like cryotherapy will ever be completely eradicated, since the philosophy behind them — gaining health benefits from weekly sessions instead of making major life changes — is central to the American ideology of self-improvement. The least that can be done is a strict inspection of the technology and its subsequent effects, the mildly positive and the deadly.

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