While cold therapy has been an accepted treatment for acute injuries and post-exercise recovery for over 30 years, new research is showing that cold therapy is safe and effective for chronic diseases and general well-being.
Cold therapy provides systemic anti-inflammatory relief, increases positive immune response, and parasympathetic nervous system stimulation. Cold therapy is being applied to provide non-pharmaceutical support for patients with depression and mood disorders, reduction of daily stress and general well-being, chronic disease support including rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia among others, and disease intervention.
Cold therapy has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress as well as improve mood and general brain function(Galliera et al., 2013; Hayashi et al., 1997; Jungmann et al., 2018; Kinoshita et al., 2006; Lange et al., 2008; Metzger et al., 2000; Misiak & Kiejna, 2012; Polizzi, 2019; Rymaszewska et al., 2020). The brain releases norepinephrine during cold stress, which is shown to reduce depression and anxiety. Heart rate and heart rate variability are linked to reductions in stress as well, with reductions in heart rate and heart rate variability occurring with cold therapy. Mood and brain function improve through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Physiological effects are likely mediated by stimulation of the Vagus nerve and modulation of hormones(Jungmann et al., 2018; Lange et al., 2008; Metzger et al., 2000; Polizzi, 2019). This includes weight loss by stimulating the growth of brown fat and lowering white fat. Brown fat often referred to as “good” fat, increases energy burning and is responsible for body thermoregulation. In part through stimulation of the Vagus nerve complex, cold therapy reduces inflammatory responses throughout the body and thus stimulates the body to heal as well as increasing positive immune response for fighting disease and infection. This beneficial response may be what reduces symptoms and inflammatory markers present in blood from autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.