April 15, 2024

Whether immersing themselves in ice baths or deliberately hyperventilating and then holding their breath, fans of “The Iceman” Wim Hof ​​are evangelical about the physical and mental benefits these practices bring. A new study suggests that they may indeed reduce levels of inflammation in the body. However, experts emphasize that practicing the Wim Hof ​​method is not without risk.

Hof is a Dutch athlete, best known for record achievements such as swimming under ice and running barefoot on ice and snow. More recently, he has built a business empire on the techniques he uses – which focus on a commitment to mastering conscious breathing and cold exposure – with courses available around the world.

While previous studies have attempted to determine the physiological and psychological impact of these techniques, they have generally been too small to draw firm conclusions. So, Dr. Omar Almahayni and Dr. Lucy Hammond of the University of Warwick systematically reviewed the data from eight published trials to try to identify consistent trends.

Their findings, published in PLOS ONE, suggested that the most prominent changes seen in people practicing the Wim Hof ​​method were an increase in the stress hormone adrenaline and anti-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, and a reduction in pro-inflammatory cytokines. The impact on exercise performance was less clear, with some studies showing improvements in eg breathing intensity, and others finding no significant difference.

Almahayni and Hammond said the study provides “valuable insights into [the method’s] potential as a complementary approach to well-being”. However, they added that further research into its effects on stress, inflammation and general health is needed.

Dr Matthijs Kox, an immunologist at the intensive care unit of Radboud University’s medical center in the Netherlands, said: “I think it is still early days to make a balanced scientific judgment about what the method can and cannot do. not, but as far as inflammation goes, I think we now have pretty convincing evidence that it has the ability to dampen inflammation in an acute, ie short-term, setting.

His research showed that Hof’s breathing techniques causing the release of large amounts of adrenaline – a key component of the fight-or-flight response – and since adrenaline is known to dampen inflammation, he believes this may be the mechanism at play. Cold immersion training and breathing exercises can also raise people’s pain thresholdsCox found.

“I think the next step should be to test the Wim Hof ​​method in a randomized controlled trial involving patients with a chronic inflammatory condition like rheumatoid arthritis to see if they benefit,” Kox added.

However, Prof Mike Tipton of the University of Portsmouth’s Extreme Environments Laboratory warned that the reviewed studies generally compared the impact of practicing the Wim Hof ​​method against doing nothing. “One would be surprised if there were no differences between a group that did nothing and one that did eight weeks of training, or two hours of training for four days,” he said.

“This methodological approach tells us nothing about the relative benefits against other interventions such as yoga, swimming in an indoor pool, 30 minutes of walking a day or football. This is important because the Wim Hof ​​method is not without risks. If the claimed benefits can be achieved through a lower-risk activity, this would be advisable.”

He added that the assumption that the Wim Hof ​​method is safe for everyone is also open to challenge: “For example, standing barefoot in the snow for 30 minutes introduces the risk of cold injury. Diving into cold water introduces the risks of drowning and cardiovascular problems.

Tipton stressed that anyone considering such behavior should first consult a family doctor, and take further measures to ensure their safety – including getting out of cold water before you experience numbness, pain or tremors.

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