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You'll Soon Be Able to Purposely Freeze Yourself in a Cryotherapy Bath in Cow Hollow

That is, if a user's recent death doesn't scare you.


One month after a young woman died in a cryotherapy chamber in Nevada, a San Francisco company called Cryo SF is preparing to open its first retail center in Cow Hollow. For the uninitiated (i.e., pretty much all of us) cryotherapy takes place in a nitrogen-cooled chamber the size of a refrigerator, where patients submerge themselves for about three minutes in hopes of kicking their anti-inflammatory defenses into gear. Practitioners claim that the treatment not only strenghtens the immune system but also burns calories. To put it another way, it's pretty much like putting your body into one of those Smitten ice-cream machines, and then magically coming out healthier, happier, and thinner.

Unfortunately for Cryo SF, the planned January opening of its location on Union Street has been preempted by tragedy: the October death of 24-year-old Chelsea Ake-Salvacion, who was discovered in a Las Vegas cryo center after apparently having given herself a session after hours the night before. “When I read the news, I was sad,” says Afag Shukurova, the owner of Cryo SF, who is currently finishing up a degree in project management at the UC Santa Cruz extension in Santa Clara. “I am sad for her, and at the beginning of my business, I didn’t want to come in with this kind of uncomfortable news.” 

Shukurova maintains that cryotherapy is safe, and cautions that the first and second rules of the treatment are never to do a session solo, and never to leave a patient alone “for even one second.” Inside the machines, the temperature drops below 200 degrees Fahrenheight—a short blast of frosty air meant to achieve everything from pain alleviation and reduced inflammation to weight loss. “It’s like cold shock therapy,” Shukurova explains. The concept is not new: As far back as 2500 BC, she says, ancient Greeks and Egyptians used localized cold therapy to alleviate pain and inflammation. More recently, doctors have practiced localized cryotherapy, in which small amounts of liquid nitrogen are applied to the body to destroy abnormal tissue.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recognize any medical benefits from cryotherapy, and it doesn’t regulate the chambers, as the New York Times notes. Shukurova counters that the FDA doesn’t need to regulate cryotherapy because “there are no side effects.” The Times cites several cases of injury, however, brought on by contact with wet garments inside the chamber. The same month Shukurova is hoping to open, a trial in Texas will begin in the case of one woman who says a cryotherapy center froze her arm, leaving her with third-degree burns and disfigurement, because of wet gloves she was given to wear.

Shukurova acknowledges that wet clothing is a hazard. “We will keep an eye on it,” she says. She doesn’t see Ake-Salvacion’s death as a measure of cryotherapy’s safety, however. “Some people honestly die from using the toaster just because they don’t use it dry," she says. "If people haven’t used cryotherapy the right way—for example, they try to take it alone—it doesn’t mean that the cryotherapy is bad therapy or the machine is bad.”

The therapy gets much of its buzz from athletes who use it, from LeBron James to boxer Floyd Mayweather. One cryotherapy company even promoted itself with a photo of Aldon Smith, before his release from the 49ers, in one of the chambers—though it's impossible to make anyone out behind all the nitrogen vapor. We got curious about the Aldon photo, by the way, after Shukurova told us that the 49ers have a cryotherapy chamber in their training facility. But team spokesperson Dan Beckler says that's inaccurate: "We have traditional cold tub whirl pools like most professional teams, but no, we do not have a cryotherapy machine." 


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