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Beginner’s Guide To Biohacking

Collection summary

Everything you need to know about making those small, incremental yet impactful changes to fasten weight loss or improve your brain functioning. 

Biohacking 101: Cryotherapy

Introduction

Cryotherapy was conceptualised in physical medicine for athlete recovery, sports performance improvement and in the healing of inflammatory and muscular pathologies. As the science around metabolic health, exercise and wellness continues to progress, it has found many other applications. Cryotherapy literally means cold therapy. Let’s examine some of the types, applications, benefits and risks of cryotherapy.

What is cryotherapy?

According to Pharmaceutical Journal, cold analgesia or cryotherapy is defined as the ‘local or general use of low temperatures (close to or below freezing) in medical therapy, or the removal of heat from a body part to relieve pain’. Essentially, the reduction of temperature in one part of the body or throughout the body can have many uses.

In the process of cryotherapy, a medical professional or healthcare provider applies extremely cold air with the aid of liquid nitrogen or argon gas to abnormal tissue. The cells are unable to survive the harsh temperatures and perish. This extreme cooling technique has now also begun to be used on the entire body as a form of treatment. Proponents of cryotherapy suggest that it stimulates the body’s natural healing abilities and provides many benefits apart from just pain relief.

The impact of cryotherapy is reliant on the duration, method, cold temperature and the depth of the subcutaneous fat.

Types of cryotherapy

There are two major types of cryotherapy—topical or local cryotherapy, which is applied to a particular part of the body; and whole-body cryotherapy (WBC), which is the therapeutic application of extremely cold dry air, usually below -100°C.

There are many forms of local cryotherapy—the most common ones include ice packs, topical cooling gels and freeze sprays. Other forms of local cryotherapy are cryotherapy facials, which apply cold to the face only, or cryotherapy ‘wands’, which target specific areas, such as a painful joint.

WBC, on the other hand, cools the entire body and is most commonly used in physical therapy, athletic training or holistic medicine. Ice massages, ice baths or cold whirlpools are methods that can provide cryotherapy to the entire body. However, the most popular form of WBC involves sitting in a cryotherapy booth or cryo-chamber for 3–5 minutes, where extremely cold, dry air between -100°C and -140°C drastically reduces the body temperature. This extreme cold induces responses in the circulatory system, muscular tissue and the nervous system. WBC began in Japan but has developed in Europe and the United States after a number of clinical studies have shed light on its various benefits.

Benefits of cryotherapy

Ice has been used as a form of pain relief for many generations, and is a commonly used clinical intervention, particularly for injuries and reducing inflammation and pain. Though plenty of research supports the claim that cryotherapy offers similar benefits, there are also a number of other health advantages, particularly related to WBC, that are still being researched or show promising results.

Cryotherapy and pain relief

The most popular application of cryotherapy has been in treating various kinds of pain, such as muscle pain, athletic injuries, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and so on. There are a number of ways in which cryotherapy reduces pain—it effectively acts as local anaesthesia, by reducing swelling, nerve conduction and blood flow. 

Cold causes vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, which results in decreased tissue blood flow, and reduces tissue metabolism, oxygen utilization, inflammation and muscle spasms. It helps to avert swelling and bleeding. 

The constriction of blood vessels increases blood pressure as the blood vessels try to trap heat due to the sudden reduction in temperature. This is followed by vasodilation (the dilatation of blood vessels, which decreases blood pressure) a few minutes after cold application. The alternating processes are referred to as the Lewis reaction, which is accompanied by a release of neurotransmitters from the sympathetic nerves that can facilitate improved healing.

In addition to pain relief for injuries, cryotherapy has also proven to be effective in treating chronic conditions like migraine and rheumatoid arthritis. A study found that a wrap containing ice packs applied to carotid arteries in the neck significantly reduced the pain from a migraine, by numbing the nerves in the neck and cooling the blood passing through the intracranial vessels. Various other studies have also found that WBC was effective in significantly relieving pain symptoms for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and chronic lower-back pain, as well as helping with faster rehabilitation for people with those conditions or acute injuries.

Many athletes are known to use cryotherapy to lessen delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and to enhance faster muscle recovery.                                                                     

Cryotherapy and cancer

Because it helps with reducing inflammation, cryotherapy has also been reported to lower the incidence of chronic inflammatory diseases, including cancer. Research in rats has suggested that because cryotherapy reduces inflammation throughout the body and can also reduce oxidative stress, it may be an effective tool in the prevention of cancer. More research is being done on the ways in which WBC can prevent cancer, and how it can also be used as a tool to fight precancerous cells or certain types of tumours.                                                        

Targeted, localized cryotherapy, which is also referred to as cryosurgery in medical contexts, has been used as a form of treatment for cancer. It works by freezing cancerous cells and surrounding them with ice crystals, to destroy the damaged tissue. It’s currently used as a way to treat tumours for certain types of cancer, including cancer of the prostate, liver, skin and cervix. In most of these instances, particularly in the cases of prostate and cervical cancer, results of studies using cryotherapy have suggested it is an extremely effective way to combat or remove tumours.

Cryotherapy and mental health                                              

The extremely cold temperatures in WBC have been shown to create physiological and hormonal responses. Amongst these, the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline and endorphins can have effects beyond mere pain relief, and help alleviate certain negative moods. One study showed that WBC was actually effective in short-term treatment for both anxiety and depression, with over 46 per cent of patients reporting great improvements in their symptoms or moods.

Apart from these disorders, it has also been posited that WBC may address illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia since cryotherapy has demonstrated anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects, which could combat the high levels of oxidative stress and inflammatory response that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients. While more research is required to evaluate the effectiveness of this strategy, the results of studies have been promising in terms of increasing total antioxidant levels and reducing the levels of markers that are known to lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Cryotherapy and blood pressure

Since cryotherapy, particularly WBC, leads to marked improvements in circulation, and the alternating of vasoconstriction and vasodilation that occurs after cryotherapy has been shown to improve blood flow, there also exists a link between cryotherapy and blood pressure. Because the cold reaction forces blood vessels to dilate and expand, the work required by the heart is reduced and high blood pressure could reduce over time.

In a 2004 study, the blood pressure responses to an acute and long-term (three-month-long) WBC were measured in men and women. Acute cold exposure increased both systolic and diastolic blood pressures temporarily. However, the amount of C-reactive protein in the blood was reduced in both acute and long-term cryotherapy. C-reactive protein is a marker of inflammation, and lower levels are correlated with lower cholesterol plaque and blood pressure. Cryotherapy has also been linked to reduced inflammation and weight loss, both of which can reduce blood pressure.

Cryotherapy and glucose

Cryotherapy can also play a role in the regulation of blood glucose. A 2014 study in Diabetes journal exposed participants to increasingly cold temperatures and then increasingly warmer temperatures every night for 4 months. It was found that this exposure can make your brown adipose tissue (BAT, a type of tissue that can burn white fat and increase the metabolic rate without glucose) more responsive to these temperature changes and help your body become better at processing glucose. 

Another study found that WBC over repeated sessions ‘had a positive effect on glucose homeostasis’, reporting lower blood glucose concentrations and lower levels of insulin. Cryotherapy has also been found to release adiponectin (a hormone that breaks down fat and conveys glucose to the muscles), which can lead to lower blood sugar. Similarly, cold exposure has been found to increase BAT in individuals.

Cryotherapy has been reported to reduce oxidative stress and improve sleep quality, both of which impact the regulation of blood sugar.

Cryotherapy and weight loss

Though it has been found that exposure to extreme cold leads to a spike in metabolism, some studies have found no significant lasting change in body composition. Others suggest that the benefits of cryotherapy, such as recovery from injury or improved glucose regulation ( by helping the body digest sugars which would otherwise be stored as body fat) can eventually lead to weight loss. 

A 2013 study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that daily exposure to cold temperatures (below 17°C) for 2 hours a day over 6 weeks reduced total body fat by about 2 per cent. A 2018 study in the Journal of Obesity found that long-term cryotherapy activates a process in the body called cold-induced thermogenesis. This led to an overall loss of body mass particularly around the waist by an average of 3 per cent.

One factor which is agreed upon is the impact of cold on BAT, which, as discussed above, burns fat to help make energy when the body is exposed to extreme cold.  

Other research supports the idea that cryotherapy works best when it’s combined with other strategies for weight loss, such as exercise, particularly since it helps with recovery of the muscles or improved healing after injury.

Cryotherapy has also been found to be effective in the treatment of certain skin conditions such as eczema, atopic dermatitis and the removal of warts.

Side effects and risks of cryotherapy

Like any treatment, cryotherapy has its risks and should be used with caution. Since it deals with extremely low temperatures, WBC, specifically, must be utilized very carefully.  

The most frequent side effects of any type of cryotherapy are numbness, tingling, inhibited muscle function and irritation of the skin. These side effects are usually temporary. But if you’re not careful, cold therapy applied for a long period can result in skin, tissue or nerve damage.

Although there are claims that cryotherapy can lead to people catching a cold, there is limited evidence of this. The immediate impact consequently leads to a raising of the internal body temperature for a short period, and cryotherapy has also been shown to improve overall immune functioning. 

One should be careful to never apply cryotherapy for longer than the recommended period or fall asleep while applying cold. WBC should rarely be done for more than 3–4 minutes. Ignoring this precaution can result in frostbite, tachycardia or other severe conditions.

If one has certain conditions, such as cardiovascular or heart disease, diabetes, circulation or nervous system disorders, it is important to consult your doctor before using cold therapy. Usually, cryotherapy is not recommended for people with these conditions because it may exacerbate nerve damage or have effects that can compromise patient safety.

Conclusion

Cryotherapy, particularly WBC, is a relatively modern treatment that is still being researched. Using cold therapy for pain relief has been found to be effective in many situations. Research suggests that cryotherapy has positive effects on glucose regulation, blood pressure control and inflammation reduction. It has also found some applications in the field of cancer and mental health. Although the link between cryotherapy and weight loss is still being researched, the signs are promising, especially when used in conjunction with exercise. However, it is important to be aware of the risks and potential side effects of cryotherapy, especially if you suffer from cardiovascular or nervous system conditions.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319740
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/cryotherapy-benefits#benefits
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21099-cryotherapy
  4. https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/ld/thermotherapy-and-cryotherapy
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-86430-9

What is Thermotherapy and its benefits

According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, thermotherapy is defined as the application of any substance to the body that increases tissue temperature. Heat therapy, or thermotherapy, can refer to any method of applying warmth to the body, either in one particular area or over the entire body. Most commonly, thermotherapy is used in case of injuries or for pain relief, though it could also have other uses or medical benefits as heat widens blood vessels, and increases blood flow to the skin.

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Highlights

  • Thermotherapy has improved blood flow, tissue metabolism and connective tissue extensibility,
  • Increased blood flow also facilitates tissue healing by supplying protein, nutrients and oxygen at the site of an injury,
  • Consequently, it relaxes muscles it comes into contact with, decreases muscle spasms and reduces the stiffness of joints.

Types of thermotherapy

Regular exposure to heat therapy in the form of saunas and compresses has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. Both types of heat therapy warm up the body gradually. Moreover, in some situations, thermotherapy should be avoided or applied with caution. For instance, when an area has an open wound, swelling or inflammation, heat therapy should not be used at all.

There are two different kinds of heat therapy:
1. Dry heat therapy: Dry heat therapy includes the use of heating pads, heated gel packs, heat wraps, heat lamps and so on. These methods are easier when you are trying to treat an isolated muscle, organ or body part. For example, if someone is suffering from a sore hamstring or experiencing menstrual cramps, applying a heating pad can effectively relieve pain because the heat is concentrated in that particular area.

2. Moist heat therapy: Moist heat therapy, on the other hand, comprises warm baths, saunas, hot tubs, warm damp towels and even paraffin wax treatment. Moist heat methods are often considered easier for whole-body treatments. For example, a warm bath or hot sauna will warm up the entire body much more effectively. These can be used for muscle soreness and different kinds of recovery.

There are also other professional heat therapy treatments, such as heat from an ultrasound, infrared heat therapy and others, that are used for particular conditions or in professional environments. The choice of thermotherapy usually depends on the conditions that lead to any kind of discomfort and your personal preferences. Similarly, individuals with neuropathy (damage or impairment of nerve endings or the nervous system) or any kind of decreased nerve sensations should be careful with thermotherapy, as they may not be able to tell when the temperature increases too much; in extreme cases, this could lead to inadvertent burns. That said, when used correctly, thermotherapy has been reported to deliver some great results. 

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Benefits of thermotherapy

Thermotherapy is used primarily for muscle injuries, pain relief and overall fitness. However, it also has a variety of other benefits and potential applications that are explored below.

1. Pain relief: Studies have found that thermotherapy could relieve acute back pain, as well as stiffness and soreness. Reviews have also shown the effectiveness of thermotherapy in the rehabilitation of skeletal muscle injuries and in the management of conditions associated with chronic pain. Blood flow to a particular muscle increases when its temperature increases. This can soothe discomfort and has other benefits.

For instance, after a vigorous bout of exercise, also known as anaerobic exercise – an activity that converts glucose into energy without the use of oxygen, like strength training, where your body requires more energy than produced through aerobic respiration, leading to a build-up of lactic acid in the overworked muscles. When heat is applied to an area that has a build-up of lactic acid, the blood vessels expand slightly and blood flow increases, which helps with the transport of excess lactic acid and other toxins away from those muscles, bringing relief and accelerating cell metabolism. Heat also increases oxygen uptake and accelerates tissue healing.

2. Vasodilation: Due to the widening of the blood vessels near the surface of the skin, your metabolic rate also increases. In turn, this helps the healing process by increasing the catabolic and anabolic reactions that comprise metabolism, both of which are required to process and remove the metabolic by-products of tissue damage at a cellular level. This counteracts the activity of destructive enzymes, such as collagenase, and can also reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a disruption of the cellular equilibrium between free radicals and antioxidants, and is correlated to glucose variability, disrupted metabolic health and ageing or degenerative diseases. 

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3. Angiogenesis: The formation of new blood vessels in skeletal muscle, which increases blood flow and improves tissue extensibility, and the flexibility of connecting tissues. Thus muscles are also made more elastic by heat, improving flexibility, and nerve endings are stimulated to block pain signals. For this reason, pain from injuries, chronic pain, soreness and even arthritis can be relieved or reduced with heat therapy.

4. Longevity: Thermotherapy has been reported to display benefits in improving cellular health and thus enhancing longevity. Thermotherapy has a hormetic effect. In the fields of biology and medicine, hormesis is defined as an ‘adaptive response of cells and organisms to moderate (usually intermittent) stress’. Exercise, dietary energy restriction and exposures to low doses of certain phytochemicals are some instances of activities that have a hormetic effect.

In the presence of heat stress that occurs due to thermotherapy, heat shock proteins (HSPs) help protect the body by scavenging free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells) supporting cellular antioxidant capacity and thus reducing oxidative stress. HSPs also repair damaged proteins, allowing them to return to their proper structure and function. Structurally intact proteins are critical for maintaining the normal functioning of cellular mechanisms.

Research has indicated that exposure of cells to mild heat stress can protect them from damage by oxidative stress or toxins. Regular use of thermotherapy techniques such as a sauna or warm bath can have long-term health benefits. In fact, heat stress has also been shown to activate FOX03, a well-known longevity gene. However, more research is required to ascertain what forms of thermotherapy would be most effective for long-term health benefits.

5. Heart health: The metabolic effects of heat therapy have led to research into its benefits for cardiovascular health. In recent years, several studies have examined thermal therapy as one alternative to exercise for patients who are elderly, obese or otherwise unable to exercise regularly. A number of studies have examined whether heat therapy, primarily through methods such as saunas and bathing, can achieve benefits similar to those of exercise. They found that the efficacy of thermal therapy on cardiovascular health can be demonstrated and shows great promise. However, there needs to be more research to determine whether the benefits of thermotherapy shown in young, healthy subjects could be achieved in patients with significant risk factors for cardiovascular illness.     

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So far, thermotherapy has been studied as a preventative measure for cardiovascular disease. But evidence suggests that there can also be risks for some people, such as those prone to orthostatic hypotension (a condition in which you are prone to sudden blood pressure drops that can be dangerous). They should avoid heat therapy because of the significant decrease in blood pressure, which usually occurs immediately after heat therapy. Although heat therapy requires significantly more research before being commonly considered a treatment for patients with cardiovascular disease. But its effects on circulation, metabolism and blood pressure suggest it is a viable option for individuals who are not at risk. 

6. Hormones: The practice of thermotherapy has been reported to have potential benefits for mental health as well because it releases ‘happy hormones’. Studies have shown that the use of infrared heat or saunas can have therapeutic benefits for people with depression because it activates the release or reuptake of serotonin in the brain. Moreover, these effects were observed even days after the heat therapy. Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) are exploring how whole-body hyperthermia could improve depressive symptoms, reduce stress and improve sleep. One of the hypothesised causes of this is that serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine all play a role in thermoregulation (maintaining the core body temperature).

Dr Charles Raison, a UA associate professor of psychiatry has spearheaded research that suggests inflammation can prompt the brain to get depressed. This led him to investigate other sensory pathways, like the one linking the skin and the brain. He discovered that the pathways implicated in thermoregulation are also the ones related to depression. His research indicates that norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin, held as anti-depression chemicals, are thermoregulatory chemicals as well. However, more research is required to fully understand the link between these hormones, thermotherapy and overall health and mood.

7. Glucose tolerance: Thermotherapy is also tied to glucose tolerance, as it has been reported to affect cell metabolism. For instance, the heat from saunas or spas, or thermotherapy more broadly, can affect blood glucose in the following ways:

  • It can lead to excessive sweating, which can result in dehydration, producing a decrease in blood volume and, consequently, higher blood glucose levels.
  • It may increase the levels of certain hormones that oppose the action of insulin, such as growth hormone and glucagon, which raise the blood sugar and thus have a hyperglycemic effect.
  • It has also been reported to dilate the blood vessels, which may increase the speed of insulin absorption and lead to unusual variations in blood glucose levels.

A recent study has also shown that heat therapy improves blood glucose levels and generally improves insulin signalling in fat cells. This suggests increased fat metabolism in these cells, which balances blood glucose levels. Other research has also shown that thermotherapy can improve glucose tolerance. In one study, 30 one-hour hot tub sessions (40.5°C for 60 minutes) over 8–10 weeks reduced fasting glucose and improved glucose and insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a neuroendocrine disorder characterised by marked insulin resistance.

As a potential form of exercise replacement for people with type 2 diabetes, thermotherapy mimics the increase in body temperature that is caused by exercise. Heat stress treatments using either water or air have demonstrated positive effects such as the increased presence of heat shock proteins, reduction of oxidative stress and increased insulin sensitivity.

8. Fitness: Apart from benefits in terms of pain relief, cardiovascular health and glucose tolerance, thermotherapy is also considered to be useful in general fitness, for both warm-up and recovery. This is because heat therapy warms connective tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments), which allows them to stretch and move more easily, and thus aids in injury prevention. Thus, it is often used by athletes as part of a warm-up routine. While heat therapy is unnecessary for most people before stretching or exercise, it may benefit individuals who have excess scar tissue or those who experience tightness in particular areas before a workout. The heat helps increase blood flow to the area and increase tissue elasticity so that the muscles are ready to work at a higher rate.

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9. Muscle growth: For people recovering from injuries or in cases where muscles have atrophied, thermotherapy has been found to be very beneficial in improving recovery and promoting muscle growth. One study suggests that thermotherapy administered before exercise advances the effect of the exercise and enhances muscle growth in individuals with disuse muscle atrophy and elderly persons. Research also suggests that heat-based interventions may improve muscular health after injuries that lead to temporary immobilisation or reduced movement. Heat may reduce the loss of muscle mass and/or improve elements of muscular contraction in these situations, leading to faster recoveries and quicker growth of the muscles involved.

Side effects of thermotherapy

Although thermotherapy can be useful for a variety of reasons, as explained above, there are also potential side effects. The most common one is overheating or burns. When using heat therapy, it is important to be very careful about burns. Place insulation between the heat source and skin and ensure you monitor the time of use. Falling asleep with any heated therapy treatment in contact with skin can be dangerous. Similarly, if you have an infection, heat therapy must be avoided, as there is a chance that it could increase the risk of the infection spreading. It should also be used with caution for patients with burns, skin ulceration, wounds or inflamed skin.

When to avoid thermotherapy?

There are certain cases where heat therapy should not be used. In people with diabetes, peripheral vascular diseases, dermatitis, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, thermotherapy must be avoided, as it may increase disease progression. Similarly, people with hypertension or pregnant women should consult with a medical professional before using saunas, hot tubs or any other form of thermotherapy. In terms of injuries, it is important to know what kind of injuries require cold therapy rather than heat therapy, as cooling down an area reduces blood flow and inflammation. If the area in question is bruised, swollen, or both, it may be more appropriate to use cold therapy, while heat therapy is better for soreness, stiffness, pain, etc.

Conclusion

Thermotherapy has come a long way in recent years, and new applications of it continue to be discovered. Research suggests that the application of heat improves circulation, blood flow and metabolic rate, and can be very beneficial for pain relief, cardiovascular health, glucose metabolism and muscle recovery or overall fitness. Nonetheless, it is important to know when thermotherapy should and shouldn’t be done. Far more research is required to better understand all of its possible uses, particularly for people with certain medical conditions or some types of injuries.  

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References 

  1. Heat Therapy
  2. Passive heat therapy: the next hot thing for cardiovascular health
  3. Why Does Heat Relax Your Muscles
  4. 6 Techniques for Heat Therapy

What is Red Light Therapy?

Introduction

Light therapy, also called photobiomodulation, is a non-invasive form of therapy that uses wavelengths of light to treat a variety of conditions. Only a select range of wavelengths of red light and near-infrared light is seen as being potentially therapeutic. The window of wavelengths ranges from 600–1200 nanometres. (1)

Red light absorbs into the skin and can provide therapeutic benefits at the cellular level. Unlike other light-based treatments, red light therapy (RLT) doesn’t cause damage to the skin (2), and it doesn’t rely on heat, drugs, chemicals or excess UV rays. (1) RLT isn’t new. Photobiomodulation has been studied for decades and research continues to be done to test its effectiveness. 

What Is Red Light Therapy?

RLT is a type of treatment that uses red or near-infrared light as a way to treat skin inflammation, pain and other conditions. Other names include low-level light therapy (LLLT), cold laser therapy and light-emitting diodes (LED) light therapy. (3) RLT uses either lasers, filtered lamps, LEDs or a combination of LEDs and lasers. (4) Infrared light can’t be perceived by the eye. Red light is similar, but the naked eye can see it. (5)

When red and infrared light waves are deployed, they are believed to increase mitochondrial function and affect the cells on a biochemical level (6, 7, 8, 9, 10). The light penetrates 8–10 millimetres deep, sometimes leading to an increase in the production of cellular energy. (11) The surrounding layers of skin, blood vessels and tissues are affected, and stem cells can be activated to allow improved tissue healing and repair.

What Are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?

RLT stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) within the mitochondria. (12) This means it increases the ability to produce cellular energy by working from the inside out, and it may help cells to repair themselves.

This process can lead to benefits such as a decrease in skin inflammation, the repairing of the effects of sun damage, the reduction of stretch marks and wrinkles and the stimulation of hair growth. (11) Other benefits backed by clinical research include decreased joint pain and inflammation and the improved healing of wounds. There’s some evidence of improved cognitive functioning in people with a history of traumatic brain injury. (1)

*Skin

Many people are interested in the possibility of obtaining improved skin health from RLT. Skin is the organ most exposed to natural light. It responds well to red and near-infrared wavelengths used with therapeutic intent. (4)

Red LED lights act on skin cells known as fibroblasts. These cells aid in collagen production, which can help the skin to recover when it’s damaged. (13) 

This form of therapy may also help to rejuvenate the skin by increasing circulation between blood and tissue. A variety of skin conditions may respond to LLLT, including burns, UV damage, pigmentary disorders and psoriasis. (4) Participants in some studies have reported visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles. (1).

*Ageing

RLT penetrates through the skin and improves the body’s physical health at the cellular level. This may have a positive effect on life expectancy and overall good health. (14) 

Scientists are continuing to research the impact red light may have on life expectancy and quality of life. For example, Professor Glen Jeffrey of University College London researched the effects of RLT on fruit flies. He was surprised to find that after the therapy, the metabolism of the flies improved and they lived longer. (15) This may indicate that RLT may have a recharging effect on weakened mitochondria.

*Testosterone

Testosterone is a sex hormone mainly released in the Leydig cells of the testes. Testosterone levels play an important role in the onset of puberty, growth of facial hair, sex drive and sperm production. (16) These hormones also have a significant influence on the body-fat composition and muscle mass. (17)

Healthy levels of testosterone in men can decrease the risks of metabolic health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes. (18) Research suggests that testosterone may increase skeletal muscle mass and lower abdominal obesity through the hindrance of lipoprotein lipase action. Some studies show a relationship between low testosterone levels and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome (19). These conditions may have long-term adverse effects on your health and longevity. Studies make a case for examining testosterone as an anti-ageing hormone correlated with longevity. 

Red light and near-infrared light enhance ATP production in mitochondria and have been shown to boost sperm production in animal studies. (20) Studies indicate that testosterone levels can be boosted with a natural red light if a device with wavelengths from 600–950 nanometres is used. Devices such as lamps and bulbs that are sold for RLT may generate greater than 1000 nanometres of light, which can result in burns. (21)

*Acne

Acne vulgaris is a condition that involves the blockage of the sebaceous glands. It is known that the sun can alter the way these glands behave and can help to calm overactive glands. Since too much sun can lead to other problems such as damage from ultraviolet light, RLT is a potential alternative for reducing inflammation, irritation and sebum overproduction. (22)

*Wound Healing

Cells that are important for tissue regeneration such as mast cells, neutrophils, macrophages and fibroblasts can be stimulated using a high degree of penetration of red lights. (23) Both laser and LED light therapy appear to increase collagen synthesis and decrease inflammatory cells, which can promote the healing of skin wounds. (24)

*Hair Growth

Low-level laser therapy may encourage hair growth by irradiating photons into scalp tissues. Weak tissues can then absorb the photons. The results are inconclusive, and the treatment seems to work for some but not for others. (25)

Studies are ongoing on the effectiveness of RLT on hair loss. One study concluded that people with alopecia who had low-level RLT showed improved hair growth. More research needs to be done in this area. (22)

*Reducing Pain

Low levels of red light can penetrate layers of skin and reach nerves and muscles. This increases blood flow and cellular activity in and around the treated area, which may lead to relief in some conditions that involve joint and muscle pain and stiffness. (26) 

Examples of painful conditions that may benefit from RLT include dental pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and neck pain. (27)

*Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s response to an irritant such as a pathogen or an injury. Metaflammation refers to constant, low levels of inflammation throughout the body. This is a sub-optimal health condition that is considered a factor in chronic metabolism disorders. Studies show that inflammation is correlated with metabolic health. (28) Signs of inflammation include pain, swelling, redness and heat. Preliminary research suggests that RLT has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. (22) 

The reduction of inflammation can benefit a variety of conditions including joint disorders and traumatic injuries. Anti-inflammatory effects have been demonstrated in animal studies on conditions such as traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, lung inflammation and arthritis. (29)

Side Effects

The non-invasive nature of RLT means there are very few side effects. It’s reported to be a completely natural process, and the amount of light the skin is exposed to isn’t harmful. The potential danger this kind of treatment poses would be the treatment given by an inexperienced person. Products manufactured for use at home may be flimsy and lead to burns or damage to unprotected eyes. (22)

The use of LED devices has reduced many concerns associated with lasers, such as the need for professionally trained people to operate them. Many LED devices are designed for home use. (4)

In most cases, there are no adverse side effects when LED devices are used as directed. It isn’t yet known whether there could be potential long-term effects. (30)

Conclusion

RLT may be beneficial for certain conditions such as skin problems, acne, wound healing, and pain. It has also been found to support healthy testosterone levels and counter inflammation, a predictor of metabolic syndrome. Healthy levels of testosterone in men can decrease risks of metabolic health problems. It can be administered by a dermatologist or a rheumatologist, and treatment may be available at day spas, tanning salons and wellness centres.

Abundant caution should be exercised with regard to devices purchased in stores, which may be more likely to result in misuse, burns and damage to the skin.

There is promising early evidence of the benefits of RLT. However, continued clinical trials are needed to help answer unresolved questions.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/biohacking-articles/red-light-therapy-benefits/
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/red-light-therapy
  3. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/red-light-therapy-benefits-and-side-effects-of-this-skin-therapy-technique
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/
  5. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/red-light-therapy

Biohack Your Breathing: The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof method is based on the belief that we, as humans, have grown overly comfortable in our modern surroundings, that we no longer battle the extreme temperatures and harsh environments and are losing our incredible power to adapt by giving way to homeostasis—a state of steady internal and physical conditioning. This method claims to be able to correct that—to voluntarily influence the autonomic nervous system as well as the body’s innate immune response to revive this allegedly immense, dormant capacity.

Wim Hof Method

Highlights

  • Wim Hof, is a Dutch extreme athlete who has a noted ability for withstanding freezing temperatures, running a marathon barefoot in the snow and climbing a mountain shirtless,
  • The ‘method’ that allowed Hof to perform such feats invited scientific interest and led to a series of studies that sought to uncover his bold claims,
  • Wim Hof is now described as a ‘global health leader’ and motivational speaker, with 21 Guinness World Records.

This is a bold claim, given that the autonomic nervous system is a control system in our body that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as our heart rate, digestion and respiration. This system is further divided into the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system—the former being the primary mechanism that controls our reflexive fight-or-flight response.

Who is Wim Hof?

Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete who has a noted ability for withstanding freezing temperatures. He started his career with a circus act, trying to shock viewers with how long he could stay covered in ice —often significantly over an hour. This earned him the epithet ‘The Iceman’, and he went on to perform more seemingly impossible feats like running a marathon barefoot in the snow and climbing a mountain shirtless.

The ‘method’ that allowed Hof to perform such feats invited scientific interest and led to a series of studies that sought to uncover his bold claims, such as voluntarily affecting the autonomic nervous system, influencing the immune system, and adapting to extremely cold temperatures. With 21 Guinness World Records, Wim Hof is now described as a ‘global health leader’ and motivational speaker, with a significant following that practises his famous ‘Wim Hof’.

What is the Wim Hof Method?

Wim Hof describes his method as one that consists of three ‘pillars’.

Pillar 1: Breathing exercises

Wim Hof’s breathing technique involves cyclical periods of hyperventilation followed by breath holds, where you are invited to pay attention to your body. To hyperventilate is to ‘breathe rapidly’, but this isn’t the usual panicked style of hyperventilation—rather, it is a controlled, modified form of it. Each iteration of this exercise is called a ‘round’. You can do as many rounds as you like—as long as it feels good and you aren’t forcing it. Wim advises that it is best to do between 3–4 rounds, always on an empty stomach.

Pillar 2: Cold exposure for tolerance

This cold-exposure element of the method is strongly linked to the idea of letting your body interact with harsher environments. Wim Hof advises frequent, controlled exposure to the cold with the objective of building your body’s tolerance and stress response. In the absence of ice baths, Wim advises taking a cold shower for its effects on vascular health, mental strength and muscle fatigue.

Pillar 3: Meditation for focus

This final pillar closes in on the capacity of the brain and promotes the ‘mind over matter’ approach to mental strength and commitment. With stress response being a focal point of the Wim Hof Method, Wim advises you to calmly approach the various ‘stressors’ in your life. He emphasizes the importance of not ‘forcing’ yourself to fight the stress, but instead acknowledging, accepting and facing it steadily. Hof says that developing a focused mind is essential to the other two pillars and is therefore central to the Wim Hof Method.

practise Hof Method

Tummo Meditation, Thermogenesis and the ‘Brain Over Body’ study

In 2009, Wim Hof set the world record for the longest time in direct, full-body contact with ice, clocking in at 1 hour, 42 minutes and 22 seconds. The body naturally reacts to the cold in order to preserve heat and energy. It constricts blood flow to vital areas and makes us shiver to generate heat.

Cold is interpreted by our bodies as a noxious experience or a painful stimulus—a person becomes hypothermic when their core body temperature drops below 35°C, and when left untreated they are prone to heart/respiratory failure and, eventually, death. Our body generates heat in a process known as thermogenesis. One way of generating heat while experiencing cold is through ‘shivering thermogenesis’, where the body works its muscles by shivering to generate heat.

Another way is through ‘non-shivering thermogenesis’, where heat is generated without shivering and through the burning of special fat reserves. Scientists sought to study how Wim could stay in full contact with ice for extended periods of time while being fully communicative and without any noticeable shivering.

Wim attributes his success to the three pillars of his method. Although practices involving deep breathing, cold exposure and meditation have always existed, Wim insists that it is their combination that sets his method apart from other techniques. Individually, however, these pillars of the Wim Hof Method aren’t fundamentally new creations. Similarities have already been noted between Wim’s breathing technique and g-Tummo or Tummo meditation. Tummo (often pronounced ‘dumo’) is a sacred Indo-Tibetan practice that uses deep breathing and visualization techniques designed to release one’s ‘inner fire’.

meditation helps mindful

It is said that the monks who practised Tummo meditation could generate enough heat to dry wet sheets wrapped around their bodies. Some say that this released visible amounts of steam, all while the monks sat or walked in the freezing cold of the Himalayas. A study published in 2013 sought to examine the neurocognitive and somatic components, i.e. the mental and physical components, respectively, of tummo meditation by testing two groups. One of the groups comprised expert meditators, while the other group (which served as the control group) consisted of Western non-meditators. The study showed that the expert meditators were able to generate heat through the physical act of breathing.

practise Wim Method

It appears that they were using their intercostal muscles, i.e. the muscles between their ribs, by inhaling and exhaling to generate heat. However, a key finding was that their breathing techniques alone were not enough to raise their body temperature. It was learned that deep focus (as seen through the alpha brainwave activity during Tummo visualization) was a primary factor in sustaining the heat generated through non-shivering thermogenesis. Neither the expert meditators nor the Western non-meditators could maintain their core body temperature without engaging in deep, focused meditation.

This discovery reveals a close relationship between Tummo meditation and the Wim Hof Method. In a 2018 study by Wayne University, Michigan, it was discovered that Wim’s capacity to tolerate freezing temperatures was largely influenced by his mental ability to ‘ignore’ the sensation of cold. This ‘mind over matter’ element of the Wim Hof Method is partly why this study is popularly known as the ‘brain over body’ study.

Wim was asked to wear a special, water-infused, full-body suit through which the scientists could pass temperature-controlled water. The suit allowed them to study how Wim’s brain and body reacted to the cold. Wim’s skin temperature behaved the same as anyone else when he did not perform the breathing method—it rose when there was contact with neutral water and dropped in the case of contact with cold water. But when Wim performed his breathing technique, he was able to maintain a steady skin temperature of around 34°C, regardless of the suit.

Here’s a graph from the study:

Thermogenesis Body Study

The empty blue circles represent the normal responses from the control group, the empty red circles represent Wim Hof when he’s not performing his breathing exercise, and the solid red circles represent Wim Hof when he is performing the breathing exercise. Excited by this finding, the scientists studied Wim through functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI) scans (which measure and map the brain’s activity) and positron emission tomography (or PET)/computerized tomography (or CT) scans (which provide detailed internal images of the body) to see what was going on.

It was found that there was increased glucose consumption in Wim’s intercostal muscles, which generated heat and dissipated it to his lung tissue, thereby warming the circulating blood in his pulmonary capillaries (the blood vessels in the lungs). This stabilized his skin temperature at a steady 34°C without any significant deviations, despite the neutral – and cold-water stimuli. Further imaging revealed that Wim was able to activate the primary control centres in his brain’s periaqueductal gray (or PAG)—an area that plays a critical role in autonomic function and pain suppression—and used it to modulate the sensation of pain.

Periaqueductal during cooling

In addition to this, Hof’s engagement with the insula of his brain (a higher-order cortical area that is associated with self-reflection and internal focus) dipped and peaked much higher than anyone else in the control group. These results provided compelling evidence for the primacy of the brain over the body in mediating Wim’s responses to the cold. With such remarkable similarities, Wim is often asked about the difference between his method and g-Tummo breathing. He says that his method doesn’t require years to learn, is easier to access, and is more suited to the Western, sedentary lifestyle. Also, breathing can influence on blood glucose level of your body

Cortex reponses cooling

Brown Fat, Twin Brother, and Mice 

In 2007, Wim set a world record for the fastest half-marathon run barefoot on ice and snow, clocking in with a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes, and 34 seconds. In addition to Wim’s deliberate influence over his brain, it was also believed that he could consciously activate his body’s brown-fat reserves to generate heat.

Fat, also known as adipose tissue, is large in two types—white and brown. Most of our body fat is white adipose tissue (or WAT), which is used to store energy. Brown adipose tissue (or BAT) is significantly rarer than white fat and is used for producing heat through non-shivering thermogenesis. Newborn babies have a lot of brown fat, but this volume gradually decreases as they age into adulthood. To test whether Wim could affect his BAT levels, a study was conducted along with Wim Hof’s genetic twin brother, Andre Hof.

Andre lived a sedentary life, did not practise the Wim Hof Method, and didn’t have as much exposure to the cold. Both Wim and Andre were examined through PET/CT and fMRI scans to see if the Wim Hof Method could really influence brown-fat levels. Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive; there was no evidence that practising the Wim Hof method could either increase or activate brown fat in any remarkable manner.

It was, however, discovered that the Hof twins had much higher levels of BAT than normal, and were thus genetic outliers in this regard. In fact, Andre had a higher amount of brown fat than Wim did. It’s also worth noting that mice have been found to increase their BAT levels in response to repeated cold exposure. More research is required to prove this effect in humans.

Biohack your breathing

Eustress and Distress

The stress response is a core element of the Wim Hof method. Wim speaks frequently about how unnecessary stress is and how it has been manufactured by humans. He advocates practising focus through breathing exercises and cold showers. In the case of cold showers, Wim advises approaching the stressor (the cold), without the mindset of fighting to survive it. Rather, he says to calmly accept the cold and allow yourself to get accustomed to it ‘without force’.

Studies have shown that his breathing exercises can help activate the sympathetic nervous system. This can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which aids the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) during moments of controlled hyperventilation. Wim believes that such positive stressors, also known as eustress, can help you adjust your reaction to sources of distress that are common in modern life.

Hyperventilation, Hypocapnia and Hypoxia

Wim’s breathing exercises start with a round of controlled hyperventilation—you are required to fully inhale through your nose and then ‘let go’ of the air through your mouth. There are no pauses while doing this; every inhalation is supposed to deeply fill your lungs and each exhalation is supposed to be ‘without force’. This is repeated between 30–40 times—a process that Wim describes as ‘charging’ the body. The volume of air you inhale and exhale is important, and in many of Wim’s guided breathing sessions, you can hear him say, ‘Not fully out, but fully in’.

After you exhale or ‘let go’ of your 30th or 40th breath, you are required to begin the ‘retention phase’. This is where you hold your breath and continue to maintain focus. Wim emphasizes that ‘retention’ is not a breath-holding competition, and that you can take your next breath when you feel your body needs it. When you feel the urge to breathe again, you are permitted to inhale deeply but are required to once again hold your breath—and this time for 10–15 seconds. This breath is termed the ‘recovery breath’. Once you exhale this breath, you will have completed one ‘round’ of the Wim Hof breathing exercise.

To summarize, each round is 30–40 deep breaths, followed by an exhaled breath-hold, and is completed with a shorter, inhaled breath-hold. Wim advises doing 3–4 such rounds without an interval. It may be tough to infer the physiological effects of this exercise or to link it to Wim Hof’s many achievements without looking at the science behind it.

Benefits WimHof Method

It starts right from when you start taking the 30–40 breaths—several interesting things happen when you hyperventilate. Hyperventilation is more about removing CO2 than it is about increasing O2. When you breathe rapidly, you actively drop the amount of CO2 in your body. Your O2 levels don’t change much.

CO2 is a mild acid, and expelling it causes the pH of your blood to rise (you may remember that ‘acids’ have a low pH value, and that ‘bases’ rank higher). The pH value of an average healthy person is between 7.35–7.45, but hyperventilation can push it to around 7.50–7.75. A higher pH means your blood is more alkaline. And the lower level of CO2 that helps achieve this alkalinity is known as hypocapnia. Hypocapnia plays a major role in your ability to hold your breath.

Your desire to breathe isn’t triggered when your O2 drops, but rather by how high your CO2 levels are. You may also notice that your heart beats harder during the breath-hold. This is because hypocapnia causes vasoconstriction (the narrowing of your blood vessels), and your heart has to beat harder to get the blood through this constriction.

While you’re holding your breath, your body continues to use the oxygen in your blood and release CO2 into your bloodstream. Your oxygen drops and your blood is no longer alkaline. This drop-in O2 is called hypoxia, and this hypoxic state of stress triggers your sympathetic nervous system.

Your sympathetic nervous system stimulates the fight-or-flight response, which results in controlled stress response and is believed to be accompanied by the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and endocannabinoids (which are neurotransmitters often associated with a pleasurable sensation of ‘euphoria’ following physiological stress, for instance, the ‘runner’s high’).

During hypoxia, your body attempts to restore the oxygen supply and therefore undergoes vasodilation, i.e. the widening of your blood vessels. When the levels of CO2 have risen high enough, the pons (nerve fibres that connect the medulla with the cerebellum) and the medulla oblongata of your brainstem trigger you to take a breath. This time, when you inhale and hold your ‘recovery breath’ for a shorter duration of 10–15 seconds, your blood gets a chance to normalize its levels of O2 and CO2. You then exhale to complete this cycle.

We have been using a lot of scientific terms. Here’s a table to help you follow the Wim Hof Method:

table WimHof Method

Blood alkalosis, as achieved through hyperventilation, can also have a significant effect on your ability to bear the pain. Have you ever noticed yourself breathing heavily when in pain—for instance, when you stub your toe? ‘Nociception’ is the name of the process through which your central nervous system detects pain. It is mediated by specific sensory neurons (or ‘pain-detecting’ nerves), a component of which is a protein called the acid-sensing ion channel 3 (ASIC3).

ASIC3 is a key area of focus for painkilling drug research. Interestingly, this protein is also quite sensitive to pH. A drop in pH can activate ASIC3, but an increase in pH to around the levels achieved through hyperventilation can deactivate them—thereby effectively improving the pain threshold. This explains how deep breathing and blood alkalosis can improve tolerance to a noxious stimulus like cold.

Poland, Endotoxin and the Wim Hof Immune Response

In 2007, Wim climbed to an altitude of 7200 metres on Mount Everest, wearing nothing but shorts and shoes. Despite the many accomplishments and world records that imply he is unique, Wim believes that his methods can be taught and practised by others. He believes that the body can be healed from within and that these methods can be used to influence the immune system and fight various diseases. In 2014, these claims were put to the test.

A team of scientists at Radboud University, the Netherlands, put together an experiment to test the Wim Hof Method’s ability to voluntarily influence the sympathetic nervous system and the body’s innate immune response. Male participants numbering 30 were randomized into two groups: a 12-member control group and an 18-member intervention group. The intervention group was personally trained for 4 days by Wim Hof himself. The training took place in Poland and consisted of various meditation, cold exposure, and breathing exercises. In particular, the group walked barefoot on the snow, swam in freezing waters, and climbed a mountain at an elevation of 1590 metres wearing only shoes and shorts.

The wind chill during the climb was between -12°C and -27°C. Upon their return from Poland, this group was required to continue the training at home for 5–9 days, where the cold-exposure requirement was taken care of through the use of cold showers. The control group, on the other hand, received no training. On the day of the experiment, all participants were injected with endotoxin (a piece of dead bacteria) to elicit their immune response. Typically, when injected with endotoxin, our immune system will flare up in order to fight it—even if the bacteria is dead. This can trigger various physiological changes like fever, headache, or nausea.

The scientists studied all participant responses by tracking metrics like blood composition, cytokines, white blood count, and so on. Also, cytokines, cell-messaging proteins that stimulate the functioning of the immune system, were a key focus during this study. It was found that the intervention group, trained in the Wim Hof Method, reported elevated levels of adrenaline and blood alkalosis in their body. Interleukin 10 (IL-10), an anti-inflammatory cytokine, rose sharply in correlation to increased adrenaline. Furthermore, the pro-inflammatory markers (namely, TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-8) were lower in this intervention group and correlated negatively with the levels of IL-10.

Research WimHof Method

Even though the inflammatory response was suppressed in the intervention group, their white blood cells were not. Rather, the increased adrenaline caused leukocytosis, which is an increase in the white blood count. This showed that the immune system was still working in the background despite the dampened inflammation response. The intervention group committed to the breathing techniques for 2.5 hours of the 8-hour experiment. They reported fewer symptoms of nausea, headache, shivering and muscle/back pain, and their symptoms also reduced much faster than the control group.

In an earlier experiment, Wim Hof himself reported a slight headache that just lasted for around 10 minutes. These results showed that the Wim Hof Method could not only be taught and practised by others but also that it could voluntarily activate the sympathetic nervous system and suppress the innate immune response. This could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive inflammation such as various autoimmune diseases. It is worth mentioning that the control group was quite disappointed at not being selected for the training imparted by Wim Hof, and were personally promised his guidance after the experiment.

Intriguingly, this suggests that the participants were already believers of the Wim Hof Method, which could have compounded a placebo effect. In 2015, the authors wrote a follow-up paper about how optimism and mental expectation of the outcome affected the result. Though this is the very essence of a placebo effect, it doesn’t necessarily trivialize the findings because placebos are a reflection of the body’s immense power to truly affect its own physiology.

What’s truly lacking, however, is research into the long-lasting effects of practising the Wim Hof Method. While it’s unlikely that the body’s homeostatic response will allow the pH value from blood alkalosis to last long, there is still scope for understanding how long the physiological effects, like increased adrenaline, endocannabinoids and anti-inflammatory markers, will last. This can help us better understand the scope of the Wim Hof Method with respect to autoimmune diseases.

Altitude sickness, Metabolic activity and the Cori cycle 

One of the most compelling results of practising the Wim Hof breathing exercise can be its ability to circumvent altitude sickness. This illness occurs during ascent to high altitudes and is often accompanied by nausea and exhaustion due to the shortage of oxygen.

Some people are more prone to altitude sickness than others. The likelihood of the occurrence of this condition can be determined by a person’s hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR), which refers to the increase in a person’s rate of breathing as a result of hypoxia (low O2 levels). This rate usually returns to normal once they acclimatize to the altitude.

Some people are unable to mount an increased ventilatory response and are thus prone to altitude sickness. They are typically prescribed the drug Diamox, which causes mild metabolic acidosis (a disorder marked by a disturbance in the acid-base balance of the body) and subconsciously forces them to breathe faster and blow out CO2 in order to correct the pH levels. As a result of doing so, they breathe in more oxygen and avoid falling sick.

Practising breathing altitudes

Consciously practising the Wim Hof Method during climbs can serve as an alternative to taking Diamox and avoiding altitude sickness. In the Journal of Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, it was advised that though one shouldn’t make their way up mountains too quickly, practising the Wim Hof Method can be helpful during urgent times—for example, in the case of mountain-rescue teams.

Presently, more research is being conducted into the Wim Hof Method. In 2020, Radboud University followed up on the endotoxin experiment with an article that looked further into the effects of the Wim Hof Method. It was learned that the breathing exercises resulted in increased activation of the Cori cycle and higher concentrations of lactate and pyruvate, which correlated with high levels of the anti-inflammatory protein IL-10.

The Cori cycle is a metabolic process that uses lactate and glucose to produce energy. Further research can help uncover more about the role these metabolites play in the anti-inflammatory results of training in the Wim Hof Method.

Exercising caution

One must take note of the warnings associated with the Wim Hof Method because the breathing exercise can affect motor control or lead to loss of consciousness. People suffering from heart disease, epilepsy, and migraines are generally discouraged from performing these exercises.

The Wim Hof Method is advised to be practised in a safe area while sitting or laying down, and never while piloting a vehicle or while in or near bodies of water. Prof. Dr Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, one of the researchers who studied Wim, is known to have said that it wouldn’t hurt to try the Wim Hof Method—with some ‘common sense’ and without ‘excessive expectations’.

Conclusion

The Wim Hof Method consists of three pillars: breathing exercises, focused meditation and cold exposure. Many scientific studies have been conducted to review the effects of performing this method. While there are compelling results showing that practitioners can influence their sympathetic nervous system as well as dampen their immune response, more research is required to ascertain the longevity of these physiological changes.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. Wim Hof Method
  2. Neurocognitive and Somatic Components of Temperature Increases during g-Tummo Meditation: Legend and Reality
  3. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans
  4. Respiratory Alkalosis – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf
  5. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans | PNAS

Food Logging: Hacking Nutrition with the Cyborg

Eating healthy can be a Herculean task for some people.  Whether you want to cut back on sugar or reduce your portion size, figuring out where to start and what to do can be overwhelming. This is not a one size fits all approach and an ‘ideal diet’ is  a fallacy. Personalised food choices are at the heart of metabolic health. Knowing what works for your body is the best way forward. Logging your food digitally and receiving insights with the use of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) is one way to kickstart the habit of eating right. 

Food Logging Cyborg

Highlights

  • Food logging is a tool to help you track the food and beverages you consume in a day with the time of their intake,
  • Meticulous food logging can help you understand the breakup of the macronutrients consumed,
  • Our algorithms constantly help you optimise the impact of food and drinks on your body. The food score monitors the impact of food and beverages on your blood sugar 2 hours after you have consumed them.

What is food logging?

Keeping a record of your dietary patterns is often suggested by doctors, dieticians and nutritionists as a means to understand eating habits and make relevant changes that correspond with your health goals. Food logging is a tool to help you keep track of all the food and beverages you eat/drink in a day and the time at which they are consumed. 

How do you do it?

The simplest way to log your food is by inputting the following details:

1. What you ate

Type in the food you eat. This doesn’t mean you just mention the meal. Break it down and enter each item consumed. For instance, if you ate a chicken breast and rice with sauteed vegetables, make sure to include the names of the vegetables and the kind of rice you ate. Each vegetable will make for a different calorie count. Meticulous food logging can help you understand the breakup of the macronutrients consumed. Carbohydrates, fat and proteins comprise the former while the latter are smaller nutrition categories like vitamins and minerals.

2. How much you ate

Note the quantity of what you ate using any measurement scale you prefer. For instance, if you ate a chicken breast and rice with sauteed vegetables, make sure to log in how much chicken you had – say 100 gms, the quantity of rice you ate – say one cup of rice and the portion of each of the vegetables – for instance, 20 gms carrot, 25 grams broccoli and 30 gms zucchini. This will help you get an accurate calorie count and nutrient analysis.

3. What time you ate

Try to input the details in real time without too much delay. This will help you keep track of the timing at which you ate certain foods. This will not only help you build consistency in your food timings but also reveal how the same foods consumed at different times can yield different results. For example, you may find that eating a dessert after your meal may not lead to blood sugar spikes but eating a sweet breakfast may increase your blood sugar.
Most CGM applications, including Ultrahuman, allow you to document this information with great ease.

Food logging with the Ultrahuman Cyborg

Food logging is one of the fundamental inputs that the Ultrahuman app asks you to provide. Our algorithms constantly help you optimise the impact of food and drinks on your body. This Ultrahuman Cyborg calculates a food score based on the glucose peak (highest glucose point in the 2 hour food intake window), glucose change caused by the food and Time over the Target during the food time window. The food score monitors the effect of food and beverages 2 hours after you have consumed them. It then produces a score ranging from 0-10. The lower these metrics are, the better your food score is.  Understanding this score will help you understand how your food impacts your metabolism. A food score of 9 or 10 suggests that the corresponding food or beverage is good for your metabolic health. If the score is somewhere on the scale of 6 to 8, then you need to experiment with the food or beverage a little more, possibly decreasing the portion or changing the timing of food or beverage intake will help. A food score lower than 5 elicits an unfavourable high glycemic response. Avoiding such food is best for your metabolic health.

the Ultrahuman Cyborg

Benefits of food logging with a CGM device

Regular logging of your food has multiple advantages such as:

1. Amp up your nutrition game

The CGM insights double up as a digital food journal. Your body needs a balanced mix of the macronutrients. Our food logging algorithm reveals your macronutrient split and total calorie intake so that you can make dietary changes accordingly. If you work out or have any deficiencies, this nutrient review assumes significance. It helps you make decisions like increasing your fibre intake or reducing your carb consumption. Logging your food intake can help you stay within the macro range you’ve set for yourself.
The CGM will give you insights into your glucose trends by unravelling data about the food that makes your blood glucose crash or surge. It is also helpful in busting myths about so-called healthy foods. While some foods are hailed as nutritious, they may not interact agreeably with your blood glucose. Real-time actionable insights can help you cut back on foods that are not aligned with your metabolic health. Here’s an example – you may think that using a sugar-free creamer with your coffee is a wise choice but you may be unaware that it’s spiking your blood sugar.

You may find your blood sugar dipping or soaring in response to some exercises allowing you to gauge if you were well-fuelled before your workouts. You can decide to include more chicken or full-fat yoghurt, for instance if you are consuming fewer proteins and consume a banana before your workout to fuel it aptly.

2. Mindful eating

Mindful eating or eating food in response to the physical cue of hunger (as opposed to eating beyond satiety levels) aids in building a healthy relationship with food. Research also suggests that it lowers blood sugar levels. (17) The CGM can help you become increasingly aware of how your body responds to food. This data can help you to build more discipline in your life. Visually being able to see the direct impact of food on your blood glucose can help to strengthen the correlation between the particular food and its metabolic impact. If you tend to eat more while sitting in front of the TV every night at a designated time, your food score may reveal its effects. You could accordingly decide to eliminate distractions and eat mindfully and see the results. If you are eating food that isn’t metabolising well, the cyborg will show you your food score and you can then decide to switch what you eat.

3. Weight control

Tracking your food and beverage intake will reveal all the unhealthy habits that are preventing you from either losing or gaining weight. A study including 142 people with obesity revealed that by keeping a log of their food consistently for 6 months, they were able to shed about 10 percent of their weight. You can also use the macronutrient split to strategise. For instance, if you are trying to gain weight and your macronutrients split shows that you are consuming fewer proteins and carbohydrates, you can start to include more lean meat and rice into your diet.

4. Pre-planning

If you ate a meal that has a food score of 9, you can use that macronutrient split to plan other meals. If the split shows that you consumed 100 gms of protein, you can plan your next few meals with different types of proteins in similar quantities such as fish and chicken. It is important to closely monitor your food score even when you change the source of protein because each food type yields a different quantity of protein. If you tend to feel famished at the end of a workout and end up making poor food choices, a food log will reveal this pattern and you accordingly stock your kitchen with healthier alternatives.

5. Building healthy habits

Food logging helps you become more aware of your eating habits. It especially helps to identify unhealthy eating choices and helps swap these habits for more desirable ones. For instance, you’ll notice the time of the day you tend to feel hungry and snack mindlessly. With the cyborg, you’ll be able to preempt your glucose dips. You could stock your pantry accordingly and decide to eat a fruit to prevent overeating at a later stage.

6. Identifying food sensitivities

Do you often feel lethargic or bloated? Food logging to the rescue. Although this isn’t a direct metric that the cyborg provides, logging your food in the app can help you identify food sensitivities. Writing down what you consume consistently on a daily basis can help you understand the food that doesn’t bode well for your body. A lot of elimination diets (diets that focus on removing allergens) are a byproduct of food journaling and help improve the functioning of your digestive system.

Additionally, if you already have pre-existing illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), certain food can trigger or exacerbate the condition. Logging your food can help prevent adverse reactions and improve your health.

7. Getting the real picture

You may sometimes be under the impression that you’re eating fewer calories in a day. However, once you track your consumption, the opposite may be true. Documenting your food will help you reach your goal by matching your reality with your perceptions and changing those for the better. It will also help you get an accurate macronutrient count. For instance, if you eat 100 gms of paneer, it doesn’t mean that the amount of protein you are deriving from it is 100gms. You may only get 14gms of protein from the 100 grams of paneer consumed. Food logging will help you get a real picture of your nutrient composition.

8. Portion control

Controlling your portion size, especially when you step out to eat, can be cumbersome. Food logging can remind you ‘how much’ you should be eating of a particular food. Again, this isn’t a direct metric provided by the CGM but your ideal food score can serve as a guide. It now means that you can step out and decide to order food that serves up the right macronutrient mix for you.

9. Identifying triggers of unhealthy eating

Looking at your glucose patterns can help you determine a correlation between eating and glucose changes. This will help you fuel your body at the right time and help you make better, more informed food choices in similar situations in the future. If, for instance, you eat more processed food on stressful work days, your food logs will reflect this tendency and its effects. This may compel you to deal with stress in healthier ways or identify the stressor.

10. Accountability

Tracking your food and drinks intake makes you stop and rethink your choices. Every time you have to enter an unhealthy food item or large food portions into your food logs, you’ll begin to hesitate to put it down. This will further prevent you from trying to eat unhealthy foods altogether. The food score helps you understand the food you’ve eaten and tracking the unhealthy meals will motivate you to achieve the ideal food score. Additionally, the food log acts as a motivation for people to stay on track with their nutrition plan.

The purpose of food logging is to encourage you to be more mindful about your diet. If it’s making you anxious, it’s time to step back and take stock. If you have any food disorders, consult a doctor before considering food logging.

Conclusion

Eating healthy is not a one-size-fits all approach. Personalised food choices can aid in meeting your health goals. CGM applications help you to document your food/drink consumption through food logging. Details about what you ate, how much you ate and when you ate need to be entered to understand the impact of different foods on your blood glucose. The CGM generates a food score based on your daily consumption inputs. A higher score suggests that the food is metabolised well and you are optimally fuelled. It helps you understand the impact of your eating patterns on your body in real time. It also helps you identify the macro split of your diet. The benefits of food logging include mindful eating, weight management, identifying triggers of unhealthy eating, eating mindfully and identifying food sensitivities. It’s important to be specific about the details of your consumption. It’s also imperative to understand that the intent of food journaling is to help you establish a  healthier relationship with food.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. https://familydoctor.org/nutrition-keeping-a-food-diary/#:~:text=A%20food%20diary%20is%20a,diet%20to%20improve%20your%20weight
  2. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/food-journaling-instructions-and-tips
  3. https://www.beebehealthcare.org/health-hub/nutrition/benefits-food-journaling
  4. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-food-diary-7685.html
  5. https://www.qardio.com/healthy-heart-blog/food-journal/

Neuropriming: Hacking the Brain for peak performance

Perhaps the most clichéd, and yet the most powerful, statement made by neuroscientists is that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” It also finds resonance in the field of athletics and brain stimulation.

Let’s consider this—did you ever imagine that in the near future you could wear headsets that could improve your sporting performance? Enter neuropriming—the technology that has been gaining traction in the world of athletics.

Professional sport is all about extraordinary performances and major financial stakes, and any small advantage or improvement can make a massive difference to an athlete.

The theory behind the approach is to harness neuroscience to accelerate learning in order to improve performance. Neuropriming essentially translates into cognitive training for athletes. 

Neuropriming essentially cognitive

Highlights

  • Neuropriming is a new approach that involves neurostimulation during athletic training in order to improve performance by strengthening the connection between body and brain,
  • Neuropriming mimics the way your brain functions when you’re ‘in the zone’ to recreate that moment by optimising your motor cortex. The idea is to quickly allow you to master precise movements more accurately,
  • Peer-reviewed studies support the claim that neuropriming helped users reach performance goals 45% faster than a control group, and increased gains from training.

What is neuropriming?

Neuropriming is a new approach that involves neurostimulation during athletic training in order to improve performance by strengthening the connection between body and brain.

The aim is to induce a state of hyperplasticity that facilitates the brain’s ability to adapt to training. It directly impacts the motor cortex, which is responsible for voluntary physical activity and movement.

The motor cortex develops pathways for neurons to travel. As you continue to perform the same activity repeatedly, these pathways are reinforced over time for better efficiency, known as neuroplasticity.

Neuropriming is designed to increase neuroplasticity and strengthen these pathways by sending electrical signals to your motor cortex.

Olympians and other sports professionals perform neuropriming using specially designed headsets that resemble and are worn like earphones.

The band contains electrodes that send light electrical pulses to the motor cortex through the scalp. Several double blind studies have determined that the process improves athletic performance by 13 to 45 percent.

How does it work?

At its core, neuropriming is a relatively simple concept consisting of manually activating neurons by using electricity. It relies on the neurons firing off more frequently. 

Neuropriming is based on something called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. tDCS is a form of neuromodulation that delivers direct current via electrodes in order to stimulate neurons, and has previously been used to treat people with brain injuries or similar conditions.

Neuropriming mimics the way your brain functions when you’re ‘in the zone’ to recreate that moment by optimising your motor cortex.

The idea is to quickly allow you to master precise movements more accurately, something that is extremely beneficial for professional athletes.   

This is done by increasing neuron activity through neurostimulation—the soft electrodes in the headbands used for neuropriming send electrical pulses through your scalp, which makes neurons fire manually.

While this sounds extreme, the process of sending electrical impulses through the brain has been around for many years and, with proper guidance, is considered perfectly safe.

Athletes who have used this technology perform neuropriming during a warm-up for about 20 minutes.

They report that the painless pulses create a slight tingling sensation. The device doesn’t need to be worn for the rest of the workout, and the state of hyperplasticity induced can last for up to an hour, allowing the athletes to perform training drills as usual with the added benefit of improved performance.

neuropriming for athletes

Benefits and applications

As mentioned, the primary benefit of neuropriming is to allow the brain to learn new movements or actions at a much faster pace.

This allows athletes, who usually repeat the same movement many times, to perform better, and can also help in the reduction of training time. After years of training, many athletes report reaching a kind of plateau, and neuropriming has the potential to help them overcome this and improve further.

Peer-reviewed studies support the claim that neuropriming helped users reach performance goals 45% faster than a control group and increased gains from training. Acquiring a new skill requires effort and time. Neuropriming accelerates the process of learning new skills.

Additionally, it allows athletes to understand what actions or movements they were doing wrong or become more aware of things that have become ‘second nature’ to them that might be hindering progress.

Hyperplasticity can help reduce training time significantly. There is also a link between cognitive fatigue and endurance—when you’re tired, the rate at which neurons send signals to the muscles reduces. With neuropriming, you can keep cognitive fatigue at bay for a longer period of time, thus improving longevity.

Although the current applications of neuropriming are primarily in professional sports or athletics, there is a world of possibilities for how and where it can be used.

It could be equally useful for people who simply want to improve their own workouts, increase endurance or get better at a sport as beginners. After all, running faster or throwing better is not just linked to the muscles but also to the brain and the nervous system.

Apart from athletic applications, neuropriming could also be useful in learning a new skill or motor activity such as playing the guitar or lifting more weight.  

Conclusion

Neuropriming is an exciting new technology based on neurostimulation, and the growing interest in it comes from a number of athletes who have found it useful to enhance their performance.

It strengthens the connection between the body and the brain and facilitates new learning by inducing hyperplasticity. While the technology is in its early stages, with proper guidance, it has been found to be safe and could soon become a part of even regular people’s workout routines.

In physical training, any small improvement or change to your programme can have exponential effects over time. Neuropriming can help you push your limits and take your performance to the next level. 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. Neuropriming 101: Benefits & Alternatives
  2. Neuropriming the last 5 days.
  3. Is Brain Stimulation the Key to Athletic Performance? – Scientific American
  4. Safety of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: Evidence Based Update 2016

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