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Does Whole Body Cryotherapy Really Help With Weight Loss?

Whole Body Cryotherapy and Weight Loss

Can Whole Body Cryotherapy support weight loss and weight management? This is one of the most common questions around Cryotherapy.  That’s not surprising as it seems almost too good to be true.  Can a short 3-5 minute session in a Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) chamber really help to lose weight, together with all the other benefits that WBC brings?

The short answer is yes.  Cryotherapy sessions do help to burn calories to the extent a single session uses a similar amount of energy to a 45 minute jog.  Or to put it a different way, roughly the same number of calories as enjoying 2-3 glazed donuts.  That’s quite a claim but it’s supported by an increasing number of longitudinal studies.

The long answer is a bit more intriguing – as WBC helps with weight loss and overall health in a number of different ways – some immediate and others cumulatively over time helping to make the benefits more long lasting – and this article will look at each:

  1. Burning calories post session via thermogenesis.  Thermogenesis is the production of heat through metabolic processes in the body.
  2. Stimulating the production of Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT)
  3. Regulating hormones – especially insulin
  4. Mitochondrial Biogenesis

Let’s look at each in turn

Cryotherapy Burns 500-800 Calories Per Session – Really?

As staggering as that statistic appears – it gets a bit easier to believe when looked at in the following way.

Many people will remember being told at school that humans are mostly made up of water.  With the value varying between 60-75%

And water is a pretty amazing and unusual molecule. For example most substances become more dense when they get colder.  But if you’ve ever observed the ice floating around at the top of your drink, you’ll know water plays to a different set of rules.

Another key property of water is its relative thermal stability – measured for any material by its specific heat capacity.  This is basically how much energy it takes to heat up (and similarly cool down) a given substance.

Water has a specific heat capacity of 4,200 Joules per kilogram.  In contrast, lead is 129J/Kg, copper 385 J/kg and a house brick is 840J/Kg

This amazing capability of water is the reason behind why WBC burns so many calories.  It takes a significant amount of energy to cool a person down in the chamber – with the benefit of WBC meaning your entire surface area (including your head) is exposed to the cold.

It then stands to reason that a massive amount of energy needs to be expended to bring that temperature back up to normal levels.  And that energy, via thermogenesis, is provided by you – the subject who’s just been in the chamber.  There’s the calorie burn.

Another way to visualise this effect is to just observe how long it takes a powerful electric kettle to boil a litre of water.  

With our safe, electric Whole Body Cryo Chamber providing the energy to cool you down, you’ll burn 5-800 calories warming back up via thermogenesis.

And that’s just the effect of one session.  It gets better over time as you’ll find below.

Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT)

If you’ve come across the Dutch extreme athlete Wim ‘the Iceman’ Hof and are familiar with his record breaking feats – such as maintaining his body temperature whilst encased in ice – then you may be familiar with Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). It’s also commonly known as ‘brown fat.’

BAT is something we’re all born with.  It’s an evolutionary trick to help babies survive as we don’t have the muscle mass as infants to produce heat.  BAT works as a cellular furnace – effectively converting fatty acids and glucose into heat. 

In other words, BAT is very effective at burning up white adipose tissue (the white fat we’re all familiar with) as energy. More BAT means more white fat burning, making it ideal to help not just with weight loss, but also to target fat loss.

How Does Cryotherapy Influence BAT?

As we age, the body’s reserves of brown flat depletes.  We don’t need it for thermogenesis anymore and our bodies are rarely exposed to the stresses of the cold which would need the body to rapidly heat itself back up.  

This is especially true in the modern age.  If it’s cold outside we have central heating, coats, scarves and cappuccinos.  It’s rare to be exposed to cold stresses long enough for the body to need to adapt.

The essence of cold therapy, whether it’s open water swimming, ice baths or cryotherapy is to expose the body to cold stress, so it reacts accordingly.  A Cryochamber rapidly cooling your whole body down at -85℃ is exactly the sort of (safe and effective) stress to make your body react and adapt.

The rise in popularity of cold water therapies and the feats of Wim Hof have resulted in a series of credible longitudinal studies being published on how cold therapies can impact on obesity and weight loss, and the mechanisms by which they work.

“Cold exposure is an effective mechanism to stimulate BAT activity and increase glucose and lipid uptake through mitochondrial uncoupling, resulting in metabolic benefits including elevated energy expenditure and increased insulin sensitivity.”

Cold and Exercise: Therapeutic Tools to Activate Brown Adipose Tissue and Combat Obesity, Valgas Da Silva at al, 2019

In short, WBC used regularly will stimulate the production of BAT which will make your body more capable of effective thermogenesis and more efficient at burning white fat.

How do you know if you’re producing BAT without a medical scan?  The simplest way is you’ll find you can tolerate the cold more easily.  Much like Wim Hof, you’ll be able to maintain a higher body temperature even in icy conditions.  Although it takes time and dedication to do what the Iceman is capable of, it’s surprising how quick the body adapts to regular sessions.

This is why at the Cryo Hub you’ll start with a baseline session length of 3 minutes in the Cryo-chamber.  As you have regular sessions, you may find you can tolerate longer in the chamber and so can gradually expose yourself to more cold stress.  That’s the body’s adaptation, including BAT, at work.

A further benefit of WBC and BAT production, related to weight management, is helping to maintain the body’s hormonal balance.

WBC & Hormonal Balance

Whole Body Cryotherapy stimulates the production of a number of beneficial hormones and neurotransmitters which result in the mood boosting and anti-inflammatory effects most commonly felt after a Cryo Session.

Increased BAT production and the overall anti-inflammatory impact on the body also has specific effects in relation to weight management and weight-related conditions like diabetes.

In a 2021 study on BAT and its impact on insulin levels, it was found that “BAT burns fat and increases the metabolic rate… moreover, BAT alleviates metabolic complications like dyslipidemia, impaired insulin secretion and insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes”

A further study exploring the impact of single WBC sessions and then 10 WBC sessions highlighted the impact of the technique to effectively reduce the risk of metabolic syndromes associated with hyperinsulinemia – with regular WBC sessions turbo-charging the impact.

In summary – WBC operates in a number of ways to optimise your hormonal balance.  

For weight loss, the increase in metabolic rate and ability to moderate insulin resistance from regular WBC sessions can support long term weight management as well as contributing to other related benefits such as reducing the risk of diabetes.

Mitochondrial Biogenesis

Mitochondria are the power plants of the body – generating the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions.

The more efficient our mitochondria, and the more there are of them, the more efficient we are at producing energy.  

Together with the burning of calories through thermogenesis, and the stimulation of BAT, regular WBC sessions also result in mitochondrial biogenesis – the production of more mitochondria in our cells.

Why is this good for fat loss?  It means your body becomes more efficient at producing energy and specifically at burning fat even without heavy exercise:

“The increase in mitochondrial biogenesis (increased volume and functional capacity) is fundamentally important as it leads to greater rates of oxidative phosphorylation and an improved capacity to utilize fatty acids during sub-maximal exercise”

Frontiers, Craig et al, Utilizing small nutrient compounds as enhancers of exercise-induced mitochondrial biogenesis, 2015

As an extra tip, if you’re combining WBC with an exercise regime, an added benefit of WBC post-exercise is a boost in mitochondrial biogenesis over exercise and WBC alone.

WBC for Weight Loss Summary

There is now a significant body of credible research showing how regular Whole Body Cryotherapy Sessions can support effective weight management and loss, not just in the short term, but over time.

A single Cryo session will burn calories through thermogenesis – as well as providing all of the other benefits related to elevated mood and reduced inflammation.  If that means it helps with your weight loss goals, or means you can have an extra donut guilt-free, that’s great.

Regular WBC sessions will start to yield longer lasting benefits, such an increase in brown adipose tissue.  BAT production doesn’t just result in an improved ability to stay warm and burn energy, it helps to regulate hormonal balance – including insulin, which in turn helps to regulate how much fat you store and burn. 

Finally, Stimulating mitochondrial biogenesis will help you be more energetic and efficient in how you use energy – even while resting and sleeping.

In these ways, WBC is a proven support for a weight management goal as well as a benefit for other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

How Often Should I Have a Cryo Session to See These Benefits?

The first rule of Cryotherapy is everyone is different.  Everyone has a different physiology and different goals, so working out what’s best for you may take a little experimentation.

This is why at the Cryo Hub we offer your first session free, by using the code ‘FIRST-FREE’ when booking online

That means you can see if WBC is for you (it’s not nearly as scary as you think) and get a sense of what you’d need to accomplish your goals.

As a guideline, a kilogram of fat equates to 7,700 calories (one pound of fat being 3,500 calories).  So in order to drop a kilogram the body needs a calorie deficit of 7,700 calories.

WBC sessions will help to burn 500-800 calories each time and regular sessions will compound that effect through increased BAT production and mitochondrial biogenesis.  Combined with a healthy diet and exercise plan, WBC can be the difference between hitting a calorie deficit goal and standing still – with our experience showing that 2-3 sessions/week can have a rapid impact. 

As yet another added bonus, the energy boost associated with cryotherapy is also a useful antidote to the sluggishness that often accompanies being in a calorie deficit, making it that bit easier to power through to hit weight loss goals.

Our membership tiers and special packages make this accessible and more affordable – and if you have any questions or just need some friendly advice, The Wellness Hub (where the Cryo Hub is located) is full of experts happy to listen to your goals and needs.

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