I Tried to Freeze Time

Is there anything we won’t do to look younger? I journeyed into the frozen tundra of a Newbury Street med spa to find out.
cryomed boston julie suratt

Photograph by Jason Grow

A reluctant Southern transplant, I’ve been known to wear my wool hat right up until the Fourth of July. So when I got a call from my editor asking if I’d be willing to try out the latest health craze sweeping Hollywood, cryotherapy—during which you expose the body to extremely low temperatures for up to three minutes—I couldn’t help but shiver. It was only when she listed some of the supposed anti-aging benefits—including boosting metabolism, reducing joint inflammation, and stimulating collagen production—that my interest was piqued.

Because at 44, with three children, I’ve started to feel my age. Body parts have begun to settle and my joints creak, despite my regular exercise routine. I was eager to sip from the Fountain of Youth—even if it was served on the rocks. So I made an appointment at the recently opened Cryomed Boston, owned by local doctor Daniela Winston and her husband, Alex, who explained that cryotherapy basically tricks the brain into thinking you’re freezing to death. “The body goes into survival mode,” Daniela said (think “fight or flight”), sending blood to your vital organs to keep them warm, and burning fat in the process. After the treatment, the nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood goes rushing back to your extremities, purportedly flushing out all of the evil toxins. Sounds like a good deal—if you can withstand temperatures colder than the South Pole, that is.

Before I could change my mind, Alex led me to a private room with a futuristic metal tank, called a cryosauna, and told me to put on a robe, a pair of tube socks, clogs, and gloves. “Make sure to wipe off any excess sweat,” he cautioned. Why? I asked anxiously. Frostbite. Naturally, that sent my sweat glands into overdrive. I was still dabbing my armpits furiously when Alex returned and opened the door to the tank, beckoning me inside. My head peeking out of the top, I handed him my robe and watched as the liquid nitrogen poured in, forming clouds of white vapor around my head and shoulders and sending the temperature plummeting. Eventually, the reading on the thermometer above the cryosauna reached negative 232 degrees.

For the record, that is unbelievably cold—the kind of cold that brings tears to your eyes. I danced around naked, trying to keep warm, chanting softly, “If Lindsay Lohan can do it, so can I.” When my two and a half minutes was up (the recommended dose for newbies), I stepped out of the machine on wobbly legs and gave a loud whoop. It was invigorating, like the high you get after downing an iced coffee on a hot summer day…or crossing a finish line.

I crashed an hour later. I felt deeply tired, as if I had just finished an intense workout. My joints and muscles felt loose; my skin looked rosy. I slept more soundly that night than I had in a long time. But was it all in my head?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has “found very little evidence about [cryotherapy’s] safety or effectiveness in treating the conditions for which it is being promoted,” according to Aron Yustein, of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Perhaps tellingly, the handful of doctors I reached out to at Mass General declined to comment on the procedure. Even Daniela admitted that physicians are not sure exactly how cryotherapy works—and “anyone who says they do is wrong,” she adds. She just knows that she’s seen results.

I suspect my friend Lauren, a youthful-looking 50-year-old, may have the answer: Instead of paying $65 for a few minutes inside a glorified freezer, she simply plunges into the frigid Boston Harbor on January 1 with the L Street Brownies. “Maybe there is some medical advantage to it all?” she mused when I told her about my cryotherapy experience. “It definitely cures my New Year’s hangover.”

$65 per session, 252 Newbury St., Boston, 617-247-2796, cryomedboston.com.

 

Julie Suratt is a regular contributor to Boston magazine, Boston Home, and Boston Weddings. She also wrote “The Terrifyingly Nasty, Backstabbing, and Altogether Miserable World of the Suburban Mom.”

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