Elite Athletes Swear by These Extreme Treatments. Scientists Think They Could Boost Your Health


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Elite Athletes Swear by These Extreme Treatments. Scientists Think They Could Boost Your Health, Too.

Cutting-edge sports-performance therapies using infrared light, electromagnetic pulses, and could potentially have longer-term benefits, researchers say.

Thor Photomedicine’s NovoThor red-light therapy bed is often used as a tool to boost sports performance. PHOTO: THOR PHOTOMEDICINE INC

 Infrared light waves. Electromagnetic fields. Extreme cold therapy. Treatments popular among elite athletes are now influencing the science of extending life and health.

In June, Mass General Brigham healthcare system opened a 20,000-square-foot laboratory and training facility in Foxborough, Mass., devoted to sports-performance research. It includes a cryostimulation chamber with temperatures as low as -220 degrees Fahrenheit and a device known as a photobiomodulation bed for light therapy.

“Medical experts are looking to training strategies of high-performance athletes to source ideas to improve healthspan,” says Dr. Sawalla Guseh, a sports cardiologist at Mass General Brigham in Boston, referring to the number of years someone is healthy, without chronic and debilitating disease.

In athletes, these treatments are often directed at performance enhancement and recovery. Some researchers believe that using them more frequently and in a prescribed, targeted way could have longer-lasting effects on the general population. While diet and exercise remain the most scientifically proven ways to achieve longevity, new therapies, and devices are coming to wellness clinics and performance-focused membership clubs. Here’s a look at some of the emerging treatments that promise to help turn back the clock, and what medical experts think about them.

Light Therapy

Some liken it to photosynthesis in plants: Photobiomodulation uses specific wavelengths of red or near-infrared light in treatments for humans, aimed at promoting speedier healing and other benefits. Red light occupies the long end of the visible light spectrum with wavelengths between 630 and 700 nanometers. Near-infrared light lies on the invisible spectrum with wavelengths ranging from 800 to 2,500 nanometers.

The idea has been used in efforts to stimulate hair growth since the early 1960s. NASA started experimenting with it in the 1980s to prevent muscle atrophy in astronauts. Now longevity researchers are taking a look.

Studies suggest photobiomodulation could stimulate collagen growth, decrease inflammation, and even improve cognitive function. Olympic athletes lie in Thor Photomedicine’s NovoThor red-light therapy bed—which looks like a tanning bed and retails for $130,000—for 15-minute sessions, hoping to boost performance and recovery. Also used by sports pros, Vielight’s headband-and-nose-clip combination, at $1,800-$2,400, emits pulsed near-infrared light waves into the nostril toward the brain.

A near-infrared image capture shows Vielight’s Neuro device delivering light at the skull. A rendering illustrates how light is emitted in the company’s nasal applicator.

Photobiomodulation is believed to work through cell components known as mitochondria—our body’s battery packs that give us energy, says Margaret Naeser, a research professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine who also works at the Boston VA Medical Center. When red or near-infrared light within a wavelength range of 600 to 1,2000 nanometers is applied to tissue, it is absorbed by mitochondria, especially in damaged or compromised cells, where it triggers repair signals, she says. This appears to increase blood flow to the brain and help repair damaged cells.

Naeser was an author of a 2023 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports that found photobiomodulation could be a management therapy for people suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Alzheimer’s, and strokes. In the study, ex-football players who had suffered head trauma and met criteria for possible CTE wore helmets lined with LED clusters emitting different frequencies of red and near-infrared light waves three times a week for six weeks. MRI scans showed improved functional connectivity and oxygenation in specific networks in the brain.

Praveen Arany, an associate professor of oral biology at the University at Buffalo and an expert on therapeutic uses of lasers and light, says photobiomodulation clearly has benefits. But he questions speedy adoption in clinical and wellness realms. “How can you use the same light for anything and everything from antiaging to improved brain function?” he says. In the future, he predicts, doctors will prescribe “photoceuticals”—that is, light as a drug—in very specific doses, or wavelengths, and for very specific times of day to maximize benefits.


Discuss the research and science behind Photobiomodulation for athletes

Photobiomodulation (PBM), also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT) or cold laser therapy, is a therapeutic technique that involves the use of low-intensity laser or light-emitting diode (LED) devices to stimulate biological tissues. It has gained popularity in recent years as a potential tool for enhancing athletic performance and aiding in sports-related recovery. The research and science behind photobiomodulation for athletes are still evolving, but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest its potential benefits. Here’s an overview of the key aspects:

  1. Cellular Mechanisms:

    • Photobiomodulation primarily works at the cellular level. When specific wavelengths of light are applied to tissues, they are absorbed by mitochondria, the cell’s powerhouse. This absorption triggers a series of biochemical reactions that can lead to various physiological effects, including increased ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, reduced oxidative stress, and enhanced cellular repair.
    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrion
  2. Enhanced Recovery:

    • Athletes often use PBM for recovery purposes. Research has shown that PBM can reduce muscle soreness, inflammation, and oxidative stress, which are common after intense physical activity. This can lead to quicker recovery times and potentially allow athletes to train more frequently and with greater intensity.
  3. Improved Performance:

    • Some studies have suggested that PBM may have performance-enhancing effects. By improving cellular energy production and reducing muscle fatigue, athletes may experience increased endurance and strength. However, the evidence on performance enhancement is still emerging and not as robust as that for recovery benefits.
  4. Wavelength and Dosage:

    • The choice of the wavelength and dosage of light is critical in PBM. Different wavelengths penetrate tissues to varying depths and have distinct effects on cellular processes. Researchers are working to optimize these parameters for specific athletic applications.
  5. Muscle and Joint Injuries:

    • PBM has been explored as a treatment for sports-related injuries such as muscle strains, ligament sprains, and joint pain. It is believed to accelerate the healing process by promoting tissue repair and reducing inflammation.
  6. Neuromuscular Effects:

    • Some studies have investigated the potential neuromuscular effects of PBM. It may influence nerve function and muscle activation patterns, which could have implications for coordination and movement efficiency in athletes.
  7. Dosing and Timing:

    • The timing and frequency of PBM sessions can vary depending on the intended outcomes. Researchers are still determining optimal dosing regimens, including the duration and frequency of sessions.
  8. Safety and Side Effects:

    • PBM is generally considered safe when used appropriately, with few reported side effects. However, further research is needed to establish safety guidelines, especially for long-term or high-dose applications.
  9. Placebo Effects and Blinding:

    • Some challenges in PBM research include potential placebo effects and difficulties in blinding participants due to the visible light or warmth produced by devices. Researchers must use appropriate controls to minimize these biases.

In conclusion, while there is promising research regarding the potential benefits of photobiomodulation for athletes, the field is still evolving, and more high-quality studies are needed to establish clear guidelines for its use. Athletes and sports professionals should work with qualified healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about PBM to ensure safe and effective application based on the latest scientific evidence.

Thermal Regulation

Athletes have helped popularize frigid baths and cryotherapy chambers, touting benefits ranging from better athletic performance to heightened focus.

Arteria Technology’s CoolMitt works to reduce muscle temperature. PHOTO: COOLMITT

More studies need to be done on the potential cognitive benefits of cold exposure, such as improved mood and attention, says Guseh of Mass General Brigham, but science backs physiological benefits. Cold is a stressor, he says. When the body is exposed to cold, blood pressure and heart rate rise, kicking into fight-or-flight mode. Exposing the body to frigid temperatures for short periods of time is like microdosing on stress, he says. “If you can adapt the way you handle stress you may be able to develop resiliency to defend against daily stressors that lead to disease.”


Discuss the research and science behind Thermal Regulation for pro athletes

Thermal regulation is a crucial aspect of athletic performance, especially for professional athletes who push their bodies to the limits during training and competition. Maintaining an optimal body temperature is essential for maximizing physical performance and preventing heat-related illnesses. Here, we’ll discuss the research and science behind thermal regulation for pro athletes.

  1. Body Temperature Regulation:

    • Core Temperature: The human body aims to maintain a core temperature of approximately 37°C (98.6°F). Deviations from this range can impact performance and health.
    • Peripheral Temperature: Skin and extremities regulate heat exchange with the environment, ensuring efficient cooling when necessary.
  2. Physiological Responses:

    • Sweating: Sweating is the primary mechanism for cooling the body. As sweat evaporates from the skin, it dissipates heat, helping to lower body temperature.
    • Vasodilation and Vasoconstriction: Blood vessels in the skin can dilate to increase heat loss through radiation or convection or constrict to conserve heat when needed.
  3. Heat Production and Dissipation:

    • Muscle Activity: Physical activity generates heat, and athletes often produce significant amounts during training and competition.
    • Radiation, Conduction, and Convection: Heat is exchanged with the environment through these mechanisms. For example, athletes can lose heat to the environment through radiation when they are in a colder environment.
  4. Hydration:

    • Maintaining proper hydration is critical for thermal regulation. Dehydration reduces the body’s ability to sweat effectively, leading to increased core temperature and heat-related issues.
  5. Acclimatization:

    • Athletes often undergo acclimatization training to adapt to specific environmental conditions. This process can improve thermal regulation by increasing sweat rate and reducing the risk of heat-related illnesses.
  6. Clothing and Gear:

    • The choice of clothing and gear can impact thermal regulation. For example, athletes in cold environments may wear layers to trap heat, while those in hot conditions may wear lightweight, breathable clothing.
  7. Technology and Monitoring:

    • Pro athletes often use wearable technology to monitor their body temperature, heart rate, and hydration levels in real time. This data helps them make informed decisions during training and competition.
  8. Research and Advancements:

    • Ongoing research in sports science focuses on improving thermal regulation. This includes developing advanced cooling techniques, innovative clothing materials, and personalized strategies for athletes.
  9. Heat-Related Illnesses:

    • Athletes are at risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke if their thermal regulation mechanisms are overwhelmed. Research in this area aims to identify early warning signs and effective prevention strategies.
  10. Environmental Factors:

    • Environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and altitude, play a significant role in thermal regulation. Researchers study how different environments affect athletes’ ability to regulate their body temperature.

In conclusion, the science of thermal regulation for pro athletes is a multifaceted field that encompasses various physiological responses, environmental factors, and technological advancements. It’s essential for athletes and their support teams to understand and manage thermal regulation effectively to optimize performance, ensure athlete safety, and achieve peak athletic outcomes. Ongoing research and advancements in this area continue to refine our understanding and strategies for thermal regulation in sports.

Magnetic Energy

Much like the Earth, our bodies are electromagnetic, and our brains use electromagnetic signals to communicate with the body. Electromagnetic fields from sources like electronics hit our bodies all day and, at high frequencies, can be damaging, says Arany of the University at Buffalo. In contrast, bursts of low-level electromagnetic radiation in a therapy known as the pulsed electromagnetic field, or PEMF, trigger a biological response that recharges cells when they start to lose energy from stress or fatigue, he says.


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The idea is that low-frequency pulses pass through the skin and penetrate cell membranes to induce genetic changes and even protein synthesis, Arany says. At around 5 to 30 Hertz, the PEMF frequency mimics the body’s natural bio-field. “Essentially it’s forwarding our brain a message to kick-start the body’s healing process,” he says.

Most PEMF gadgets sold for home use, like mats and chairs, start at around $1,000 and are marketed as ways to reduce inflammation or relieve pain, in conditions like arthritis. These devices have also become a staple at Upgrade Labs and Restore Hyper Wellness, two chains of centers in the U.S. that offer treatments aimed at enhancing performance. Magneceutical Health says its Magnesphere Halo, a $13,000 chair surrounded by large copper coils that create a uniform magnetic field around the body, can help reduce stress by resetting the nervous system.

Magneceutical Health’s Magnesphere Halo for PEMF therapy PHOTO: MAGNECEUTICAL HEALTH

PEMF is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for conditions including bone healing, wound care, migraine headaches with aura, and clinical depression, though it often isn’t covered by health insurance. PEMF, combined with medication, can help alleviate the effects of chronic arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions, says Joseph Toy, clinical director of Cliniques Neuro-Vie Santé, a neurostimulation center in Montreal, Canada, where doctors can also prescribe the treatment.

He warns, however, that everyone reacts differently to PEMF. For the best results, it needs to be prescribed at a specific frequency and wavelength over a certain timeline. And the magnetic fields of most home products, he cautions, aren’t intense enough to penetrate the body to yield major benefits.

Dave Asprey, founder of Upgrade Labs, believes people will one day use PEMF as part of their daily routine to reduce stress, predicting the technology could be built into bedroom walls or even wireless routers.


Discuss the research and science behind Magnetic Energy for pro athletes

Magnetic energy, specifically in the context of magnetic therapy or the use of magnets in athletic performance and recovery, has been a topic of interest and research in the sports science and medical fields. However, it’s important to note that the scientific consensus on the efficacy of magnetic therapy for pro athletes is still somewhat inconclusive. Here, we’ll discuss the research and science behind magnetic energy for pro athletes:

  1. Magnetic Therapy:

    • Magnetic therapy involves the use of magnets or magnetic fields for various health purposes, including pain relief, inflammation reduction, and improved recovery. These therapies often come in the form of magnetic bracelets, insoles, wraps, or devices.
  2. Pain Relief:

    • Some studies have explored the potential of magnetic therapy for pain relief. It’s theorized that magnets might influence the body’s electrical impulses and blood flow, leading to reduced pain perception. This could be beneficial for athletes dealing with sports-related injuries or chronic pain conditions.
  3. Inflammation Reduction:

    • Inflammation is a common response to injury or intense physical activity. Some research has investigated whether magnetic therapy can help reduce inflammation by affecting the release of inflammatory molecules. Inflammation reduction could potentially aid in the recovery process for athletes.
  4. Blood Flow and Oxygen Delivery:

    • Magnetic fields are thought to influence blood flow and oxygen delivery to tissues. Improved circulation can help athletes recover more quickly and potentially enhance their performance.
  5. Research Findings:

    • While there is some anecdotal evidence and small-scale studies suggesting the potential benefits of magnetic therapy, large-scale, well-designed clinical trials have often yielded mixed or inconclusive results. Many studies have reported a placebo effect, where individuals experience relief or improvements simply because they believe in the therapy.
  6. Biological Mechanisms:

    • The exact biological mechanisms underlying magnetic therapy are not well understood. Some proponents suggest that magnets affect ion channels, nerve pathways, and the alignment of red blood cells, but these mechanisms are still being explored.
  7. Regulatory Considerations:

    • In many countries, magnetic therapy products are not regulated as rigorously as pharmaceuticals or medical devices. This lack of regulation can lead to inconsistencies in product quality and efficacy.
  8. Individual Variability:

    • Responses to magnetic therapy can vary greatly among individuals. What works for one athlete may not work for another, making it challenging to establish consistent benefits.
  9. Placebo Effect:

    • The placebo effect, where individuals experience perceived benefits due to their belief in a treatment, can significantly influence the reported effectiveness of magnetic therapy. This makes it difficult to separate the actual effects of the therapy from the placebo response.

In summary, while there is ongoing research and interest in magnetic energy and its potential benefits for pro athletes, the scientific evidence remains inconclusive and often controversial. Some athletes report positive experiences with magnetic therapy, while others do not. It’s essential for pro athletes to approach magnetic therapy with a degree of skepticism and consult with medical professionals when considering its use as a part of their training or recovery regimen. Additionally, further research is needed to better understand the mechanisms and potential benefits of magnetic energy in the context of sports performance and recovery.



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