LEASHA WEST’S BODY HAS been through the wringer.
As a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former combat instructor, she hiked 15-plus miles several times a week with a 150-pound pack on her back. The bottoms of her feet turned raw and blistered, her toenails fell off, her legs went numb. “It’s not uncommon to have blood in your stool” from the training regimen, says West, who served from 1998 to 2002. “My body took a serious beating.”
But the 42-year-old – who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and spends her winters in Texas – hasn’t stopped. In addition to running her own insurance agency, she regularly runs, lifts weights and swims.
And, for three minutes every morning for the past two months, she’s stepped, nearly naked, into a negative 250 degree F (or colder) chamber. That’s more than twice as cold as dry ice.
“It’s the best way to start [the day],” says West, who pays $269 a month for unlimited treatments – called whole body cryotherapy – although single sessions can run up to $100 in some areas of the country. What for? Initially, to ease her back pain and muscle stiffness after hearing rave reviews from her professional athlete clients. But West also appreciates its added benefits. Namely: more energy and focus, a boosted metabolism, improved tolerance to cold and pain, faster-growing hair and nails, younger-looking skin and sounder sleep – even though she never had a problem snoozing to begin with. “You will not believe the crazy energy it gives you,” she says.
Whole body cryotherapy, which essentially means “cold treatment,” is a procedure that exposes the body to temperatures colder than negative 200 degrees F for two to four minutes. While it’s been used to treat conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis in Japan since the late 1970s, it’s only been used in Western countries for the past few decades, primarily to alleviate muscle soreness for elite athletes, according to a 2015 paper in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
But now, it’s being promoted by spas as a way to lose weight, improve skin, boost mood and more – despite the fact that it’s not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and isn’t intended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease,” according to Cryohealthcare, a company that makes cryotherapy equipment.
“Cryotherapy is well-established for treatment of athletic injuries,” says Dr. Jon Schriner, the medical director of the Michigan Center for Athletic Medicine in Flushing, Michigan. “To carry it into weight loss and other benefits is not mainstream.”
But people like West swear by it. While it feels cold right away, the time passes quickly, she says. “You’re going to get the shivers; you’re not going to feel like you’re frozen,” she says, noting that the treatment just penetrates the skin, so the organs stay safe. Plus, West adds, “you can open the door at any moment to get out.”
Article originally posted in U.S. News by Anna Medaris Miller
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