Cold Plunging Isn't Backed By Science

The claims over the effectiveness of the Wim Hof Method that involves cold water therapy are backed by low-quality evidence, according to a systematic review, but the method may have anti-inflammatory properties.

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) is a lifestyle change that claims to strengthen a person's health and mentality by enhancing their autonomic nervous and immune systems.

The method consists of three pillars: Wim Hof breathing method (WHBM), which involves hyperventilation 30–40 times, then holding the breath voluntarily at low lung volume, taking daily cold showers, or sitting in an ice bath.

Wim Holf, also known as The IceMan, is a Dutch extreme athlete who owns 21 Guinness World Records for cold-related achievements, such as swimming 66 meters beneath the ice and running a half marathon over the Arctic Circle barefoot.

According to the WHM's website, the method provides relief for autoimmune disease and fibromyalgia and can even help overcome multiple sclerosis, among other benefits.

However, a systematic review of nine trials published in the journal PLOS One concluded that the quality of evidence supporting the effectiveness of WHM is poor.

"Despite the statistical significance observed in some studies, it must be noted that the quality of the studies is very low, meaning that all the results must be interpreted with caution," the authors write.

Moreover, the findings are non-generalizable to the public due to the low sample size, as studies included 15–48 individuals each, the majority of whom (86.4%) are males.

The review authors note that participants might experience placebo effects due to the therapeutic benefits of rituals, believing in a "guru," and an optimistic view of the practice.

The study concluded that WHM appears to benefit in the stress and anti-inflammatory response categories, but more research of higher quality is needed to substantiate this finding.

Chronic inflammation plays a role in developing heart disorders, cancer, asthma, and diabetes.

Inflammation is often caused by lifestyle choices such as excessive alcohol use and smoking, chronic stress, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and inadequate sleep.

Lifestyle changes may not be sufficient to manage inflammation if it occurs due to autoimmune disorders like Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis when the immune system is overactive and attacks and damages the body's own tissues. In this case, medication may be needed.

Although the Wim Hof Method may have anti-inflammatory properties, discuss practicing it with your healthcare provider, as cold water is associated with health risks like cold shock.


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