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A study has discovered potential advantages to using Wim Hof's breathing techniques and cold exposure method.
Science

A study has discovered potential advantages to using Wim Hof’s breathing techniques and cold exposure method.

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

Hof is a well-known athlete from the Netherlands, famous for his incredible accomplishments such as swimming under frozen water and running without shoes on ice and snow. In recent years, he has established a successful business empire based on his unique techniques, which center around the principles of conscious breathing and exposure to extreme cold. These courses are now offered in various locations worldwide.

Prior studies have attempted to evaluate the physiological and psychological effects of these methods, but they have typically been too limited in size to reach definitive results. Therefore, Dr. Omar Almahayni and Dr. Lucy Hammond from the University of Warwick conducted a systematic review of data from eight published trials in order to identify recurring patterns.

According to a study published in PLOS ONE, individuals who practiced the Wim Hof method experienced a rise in adrenaline levels and anti-inflammatory cytokines, as well as a decrease in pro-inflammatory cytokines. However, the effect on exercise performance varied, as some studies showed enhancements in areas like breathing intensity while others did not show a significant difference.

According to Almahayni and Hammond, the research offers valuable insights on how the method could serve as a complementary approach to promoting wellness. Despite this, they suggest additional studies be conducted to determine its impact on stress, inflammation, and overall health.

According to Dr. Matthijs Kox, an immunologist from the intensive care department at Radboud University medical centre in the Netherlands, it is too soon to make a fully informed scientific assessment of the method’s capabilities. However, based on evidence, it appears to effectively reduce inflammation in the short term.

Hof’s research has demonstrated that his unique breathing techniques stimulate the release of high levels of adrenaline, a crucial element in the body’s fight or flight response. As adrenaline has been linked to reducing inflammation, he proposes that this may be the underlying process. Additionally, according to Kox, cold immersion training and breathing exercises may elevate individuals’ pain tolerance levels.

Kox suggests conducting a randomized controlled study to test the effectiveness of the Wim Hof method on patients with a chronic inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Prof Mike Tipton from the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth cautioned that the studies that were reviewed mainly compared the effectiveness of the Wim Hof method to doing nothing. He pointed out that it is expected to see differences between a group that does not train and a group that undergoes two hours of training for four days or eight weeks of training.

Unfortunately, this specific method does not provide any information on how it compares to other forms of intervention, such as practicing yoga, swimming in a heated pool, taking a daily 30-minute walk, or playing soccer. This is significant because there are potential dangers associated with the Wim Hof method. If similar benefits can be obtained through a safer alternative, it would be wise to choose that instead.

He stated that the belief that the Wim Hof method was universally safe was questionable, as certain actions within the method carry potential risks. For instance, standing in the snow without shoes for half an hour could result in cold-related injuries, while abruptly entering cold water poses the danger of drowning or harm to one’s heart.

Tipton emphasized the importance of consulting a general practitioner before engaging in such behaviors. Additionally, it is recommended to take additional precautions to ensure one’s safety, such as exiting cold water if experiencing numbness, pain, or shivering.

Source: theguardian.com