November 15, 2006
New Freeze Treatment to Cure All Ailments
By SARA WALLIS
IAM freezing cold. So bitterly cold, in fact, that I can't think straight. It's -120C - that's one hundred and twenty degrees below freezing - and I am wearing almost nothing.
But I am not at the South Pole, where temperatures have only ever sunk to a positively balmy -89.2C. I am in a building in South-West London, a stone's throw from where Victoria Beckham does her shopping.
This is the London Kriotherapy Centre, at the heart of the latest health fad to hit Britain, a fad that's already popular with sportsmen willing to pay pounds 30 for a few minutes in the freezer.
Devotees apparently include players from Bolton Wanderers, Irish rugby captain Brian O'Driscoll, rugby international Will Green and golf champion Padraig Harrington.
And now it's certain to attract the rich and famous with its promises to help a list of ailments, from cellulite to fatigue and depression, at pounds 300 for a 10-visit package.
The treatment involves spending three minutes in a sealed room at temperatures as low as -135C but as a beginner I will get the "gentle" first-time treatment. That's two minutes at -120C, a temperature so cold I cannot even comprehend it.
Some enthusiasts claim Wholebody Kriotherapy can relieve symptoms of everything from rheumatism, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, sleep problems, back pain, depression and asthma.
The science is a bit tricky but I understand it has to do with what happens to the body when it warms up afterwards. What the hell, I'll give it a go.
After I sign a disclaimer saying I am healthy, specialist cryotherapy nurse Renata Sinicka does a biological age reading. She checks my blood pressure and then my pulse.
She then announces that on account of my stress levels, hydration levels and heart rate, I have a biological age of 44. I am actually 27...
"Have you had a stressful day?" she asks. I am now - it's the fear of being shut in a freezing chamber at sub-zero temperatures.
I am ushered into a changing room where I am confronted with a not-very-fetching two-piece towelling outfit, complete with long white socks, white clogs, white headband and a mask. I look like an extra in Dr Who.
Every item must be made of natural fibres so as not to freeze solid in the chamber. The gloves and socks are to keep my extremities from freezing off, the face mask is to protect my lips and nasal lining. I am beginning to get nervous.
Director of the centre, Charlie Brooks, is the man who brought cryotherapy to the UK. A 43-year-old former racehorse trainer, he became interested in cryotherapy - which is a recognised treatment in Poland - as a means of helping injuries from training.
"Don't worry," he says, escorting me into the coldest place on Earth. "It's only two minutes and I'll show you how to open the door so you don't feel nervous that you can't get out."
We walk into a pre-chamber which Charlie says is "only minus 60C".
So, half as cold as the main chamber then. "It's really not that cold, is it?" he says. I don't answer, although it's not actually that bad. Charlie regularly has sessions of three minutes at -135C, which he says is the optimum temperature for your body to respond.
It's my turn now. We move further in and the heavy door shuts on the six-foot square room. It is very, very, very cold.
Charlie leads me round, keeping me walking and talking, telling me what I should be feeling.
"No pain, no gain," he says. "Think of how great you'll feel afterwards."
He tells me that pins and needles in my legs is good, it means it's working. Fortunately I don't have much time to think about it. Just as I start wondering if I can stand the bitter cold, the door opens and Renata ushers me outside.
My first thought was "Oh, is that it?" It wasn't that scary at all.
But the big chill was just the beginning. Charlie tells me that my face will now go bright red as my blood vessels expand to four times their normal size. This is where it begins to work.
"You've got quarter of a million temperature receptors in your skin," he says. "This treatment challenges those receptors. They tell the brain that the body is being challenged and the brain sends messages to the body systems."
He tells me blood will pump around my body more efficiently and I will have increased levels of cortisol which combats depression. Now specialist Irvind Sihota takes me through a 20-minute session in the Vibro-gym. This helps warm you up. I burn off 500 calories - although if I'd tried harder it could have been 1,000.
I am certainly feeling warmer, although still a little shaky in the legs, and am overjoyed when Renata steers me away from the gym and towards what looks like a foot spa. This is more like it.
The "pure ionic spa" involves soaking up a lot of sodium chloride through the soles of your feet. This helps remove lactic acid from the muscles and lowers toxins.
Cryotherapy is not for the faint-hearted. People with poor circulation, heart problems, epilepsy or claustrophobia should avoid it. But some people swear by it.
Maria Kowalska, 29, from Poland, claims the treatment has vastly improved her depression.
"When I lost my job I didn't want to see or talk to anyone about what had happened," she says. "I felt very sad and disappointed.
"I didn't want to get up in the mornings and spent a lot of time in bed. I wasn't feeling very well and felt quite depressed, so my doctor sent me to cryotherapy. "I had 20 sessions in July in Poland and felt better after four treatments. I felt much better and motivated, far happier."
I have to say I am not yet feeling quite so energetic but I've been assured that by tomorrow I will feel the benefits. But was I biologically any younger?
Renata smiles when she studies my afterfreeze results.
I am officially less stressed and - as a result - I am now only 31 years old. Still older than my real years, but not bad for two minutes in the fridge...
FOR more information or to book sessions call The London Kriotherapy Centre on 020 7627 1402, email [email protected] or visit www.
COLDEST PLACES ON EARTH
-20C home freezer
-25C British Antarctic Survey Laboratory, Cambridge
-30C Supermarket freezer
-35C North Pole -70C Verkhoyansk in Siberia
-78C South Pole
-120C THE LONDON KRIOTHERAPY CENTRE
FOR AND AGAINST
DOCTORS have mixed views about the cryotherapy treatment. Dr George Rae of the British Medical Association is sceptical.
He says: "We need evidence if this is something to be used on many patients for conditions like rheumatism and arthritis.
"The side effects are something of concern. We need to know what the outcome would be. I don't think you would find the average doctor to be at all keen to advance patients to this treatment.
"It is not inconceivable that reduced temperatures might have quite substantial side effects."
Dr Richard Freeman is a specialist in sports medicine who works at the Accrington Victoria Hospital and acts as an adviser for the London Kriotherapy Centre.
He says: "I work with Bolton Wanderers and the whole team love it.
"I've used it. Once you get past the feeling of claustrophobia and the fear that you won't come out alive, it's actually great."