The benefits of cold water therapy are not backed by quality science

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CNN —A systematic review of scientific studies on the Wim Hof method of cold water therapy found the quality of the research inadequate to support most claims of effectiveness without addition investigation.
Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker, is well-known for his ability to withstand the cold.
“It must be noted that the quality of the studies is very low, meaning that all the results must be interpreted with caution,” according to the analysis published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.
Hof attributes his success to his training method, which focuses on a commitment to practicing cold water therapy with a specific form of breathing.
The training reduces stress, improves sleep, bolsters the immune system, and increases energy, focus and willpower, according to Hof.
While some research did hint at “promising” anti-inflammatory effects from a combination of cold water immersion and the Wim Hof method of breathing, “more research of higher quality” would be needed to verify that finding, the researchers noted.
“As revealed by the review, the science is too weak/biased to conclude what the Wim Hof method achieves,” said cold water survival expert Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, in an email.
He was not involved in the study.
Wim Hof has broken his own record of sitting in ice water for hours at a time.
Kin Cheung/AP/FileKnown as “The Iceman,” Hof has swum under ice for 66 meters (72 yards), run a half-marathon barefoot in the snow and climbed Mount Everest without a shirt on.
According to the Guinness World Records Hall of Fame, Hof has earned 18 Guinness World Records titles, often beating his own records to do so.
Other health benefits listed on Hof’s website, which have not undergone scientific validation in large, clinical trials, include increasing sports performance, reducing recovery time after workouts, improving blood pressure, providing pain relief, boosting the body’s metabolism, overcoming multiple sclerosis, and providing relief from arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia and post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Science on Wim Hof methodThe review examined eight randomized clinical trials — considered the gold standard of research — but found the small sample size ranging from 13 to 40 mostly male participants in each study hindered the ability to generalize the results to other populations.
In addition, Tipton said, studies in the review did not compare the impact of ice water with any other physical activity such as indoor swimming, yoga or walking.
“We have no idea what, if any, ‘active ingredient’ is in the Wim Hof method.
We have no idea if any benefits arising from the Wim Hof method could not be obtained more safely by other means,” Tifton said.
“I do not agree that anyone can do things like cold water immersion.”Submerging the body in cold water is not advised for a range of medical conditions, Tipton said.
Those include asthma, high blood pressure, cardiac rhythm disturbances or any heart disease, unstable diabetes, seizure disorders such as epilepsy, and a family history of sudden or unexplained cardiac death.
“We acknowledge the need for more high-quality research to substantiate the Wim Hof Method’s promising effects,” a spokesperson for Hof told CNN via email.
“It’s our ongoing commitment to collaborate with the scientific community to conduct larger, more inclusive studies that address these concerns.”Cold water safety measuresCold water drains heat from the body up to four times faster than cold air, according to the National Weather Service.
“When your body hits cold water, ‘cold shock’ can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure,” the service’s website says.
“The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone (create) a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters.”Yet the popularity of cold water therapy has exploded, with many people immersing themselves in home-based ice baths and cold showers as well as open water swims and dips, Tipton said.
“Wim Hof is encouraging people to get more physical which, at a time of increasing illness associated with a sedentary lifestyle, is a good thing, provided it is done safely,” Tipton said.
Anyone who wants to try cold water therapy at home should do so carefully, and only after a thorough medical checkup.
Ivan Rodriguez Alba/Moment RF/Getty ImagesFor anyone wanting to give the method a try, Tipton published a list of tips in September 2022 on how to do so safely.
First, get a thorough medical checkup.
“A recent study suggests that up to 43% of drownings are associated with pre-existing medical conditions,” Tipton said.
“Pharmaceutical therapies, both acute and chronic, can alter an individual’s response to CWI (cold water immersion) and their perce

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CNN —.

According to a systematic review of scientific studies on the Wim Hof method of cold water therapy, the majority of claims of effectiveness could not be supported by the quality of the research alone without more study.

The ability to tolerate cold weather is well-known for Dutch extreme athlete and motivational speaker Wim Hof.

The analysis was published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday. It states that all the results should be interpreted cautiously due to the extremely low quality of the studies.

Hof credits his success to his training approach, which emphasizes a dedication to using a particular breathing technique while undergoing cold water therapy. According to Hof, the exercise boosts the immune system, lowers stress, enhances energy, concentration, and willpower.

While some research did suggest that a combination of cold water immersion and the Wim Hof breathing technique might have “promising” anti-inflammatory effects, the researchers pointed out that “more research of higher quality” would be required to confirm that finding.

Expert in cold water survival Mike Tipton, a professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, stated via email that “as revealed by the review, the science is too weak/biased to conclude what the Wim Hof method achieves.”. The study did not involve him.

By sitting in ice water for hours at a time, Wim Hof has beaten his own record. Kin Cheung/AP/Dataset.

Known as “The Iceman,” Hof has completed a half-marathon barefoot in the snow, climbed Mount Everest without a shirt on, and swum under ice for 66 meters (72 yards). Hof has achieved eighteen Guinness World Records titles, frequently surpassing his own records in the process, according to the Guinness World Records Hall of Fame.

Hof’s website lists additional health benefits that have not been scientifically validated in large-scale clinical trials. These benefits include improving blood pressure, lowering recovery times after workouts, reducing pain, increasing metabolism, helping people overcome multiple sclerosis, and relieving symptoms of fibromyalgia, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, and post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

The Wim Hof method in science.

The review, which looked at eight randomized clinical trials, which are regarded as the gold standard of research, discovered that it was difficult to extrapolate the findings from each study’s small sample size of 13 to 40, mostly male participants, to other populations.

Furthermore, according to Tipton, studies included in the review did not determine how beneficial ice water was in comparison to other forms of exercise like walking, yoga, or indoor swimming.

The “active ingredient” in the Wim Hof method—if there is one—is unknown to us. Tifton stated, “We don’t know if any advantages resulting from the Wim Hof method couldn’t be obtained more safely by other means. “I disagree that someone can perform actions such as submerging themselves in cold water.”. “.

According to Tipton, there are several medical conditions for which it is not advisable to submerge the body in cold water. These include conditions like asthma, hypertension, irregular heartbeats or heart disease, unstable diabetes, epilepsy and other seizure disorders, and a family history of unexpected or unexplained cardiac death.

“We recognize that additional high-caliber research is necessary to validate the promising outcomes of the Wim Hof Method,” an email from a Hof representative was sent to CNN. “We are dedicated to working in tandem with the scientific community to carry out more extensive, inclusive research projects that tackle these issues. “.

Cold water safety precautions.

The National Weather Service claims that cold water removes heat from the body up to four times quicker than cold air. The website for the service states that “cold shock” can result in significant changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing when your body comes into contact with cold water. Even for experienced swimmers in calm waters, the sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone increase the risk of drowning. “.

However, Tipton noted that the demand for cold water therapy has skyrocketed, with many people taking advantage of open water swims and dips in addition to at-home ice baths and cold showers.

As long as it’s done safely, “Wim Hof is encouraging people to get more physical, which is a good thing at a time of increasing illness associated with a sedentary lifestyle,” Tipton said.

If someone wishes to use cold water therapy at home, they should proceed with caution and only after a complete medical examination. Ivan Rodriguez Alba/Getty Images/Moment RF.

In September 2022, Tipton released a set of guidelines on how to safely try the method for anyone who is interested.

Get a complete medical examination first.

According to a recent study, pre-existing medical conditions may be linked to up to 43% of drownings, according to Tipton. “Both acute and long-term pharmaceutical treatments can change a person’s reaction to cold water immersion, or CWI, as well as how cold they feel. “.

He said that you should only swim on beaches that have lifeguards and other watchmen present. You should also check the forecast to avoid risks like rip currents. Consider using a thermal wet suit for buoyancy, wear a visible hat, and bring a tow float.

Start the process in warmer weather to help you get used to the water. Enter the water gradually as it gets colder, waiting for the shock to pass before putting your body in. Holding your breath, submerging yourself in colder water for longer than ten minutes, and relying just on your gut instinct are all bad ideas, according to Tipton. Float on your back if you run into trouble.

After getting out of the water, quickly dry off and change into warm clothes with a windproof outer layer. Don’t get in a car for at least half an hour.

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