By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) -It seems like every week, I get more than a few patients asking me about the effectiveness of “whole body cryotherapy,” and whether or not it might be an effective way to treat a medical problem, or simply, improve overall health.

From asthma to anxiety to arthritis, all the way down the medical alphabet to weight loss, whole body cryotherapy is often touted as the frigid recipe for fixing up whatever seems to be ailing you. You may have heard of this ever-booming therapy — it’s being touted by some health practitioners, wellness experts, and even personal trainers as the latest, greatest, and most ultra-hip pathway to health — effective at speeding up metabolism, improving circulation, boosting immunity, healing injured joints and muscles, speeding recovery from exercise soreness, and in some cases, treat or cure disease.

With whole body cryotherapy, you are placed in an enclosed chamber and then exposed to vapors that are chilled to temperatures ranging from -202°F all the way down  to -300°F. You stay that chamber for 2-4 minutes during which time this all cold does magical things to your body by forcing blood flow away from the skin to the deeper reaches of the body.

Although some spas and centers tout this treatment as being “approved” by the Food and Drug Administration as being safe and effective to treat medical conditions, the FDA says hold your freezing horses. The agency says that it has very little evidence about the safety or effectiveness in treating many of the conditions that are supposedly eased or even cured by this method of ultra-cold therapy.

In fact, the FDA says not only is whole-body cryotherapy not as effective as often claimed, it may not be the safest or smartest thing to do.

The agency warns that whole-body cryotherapy does carry some risks including frostbite, burns, and damage to your eyes from temperatures that low. Also, the FDA says that many of these units use liquid nitrogen for cooling which leads to an added danger of lowering the amount of oxygen in the chamber, leading to, essentially, suffocation (which unfortunately happened to one WBC user a little over a year ago).

As for some scientific research on the restorative wonders of the therapy, results are more than a little chilly. (That’s despite what some pro athletes may believe — and experts say is nothing more than placebo).

The bottom line: the effectiveness about this so-called wonder treatment aren’t as hot as it seems, and the FDA says caution is the word of the day when it comes to chilling out.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida


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