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More research needed on effects of Wim Hof Method, scientists say

The Wim Hof Method of breathing exercises and ice baths may help the body’s immune system but more research is needed to understand whether it can boost exercise performance and overall health, according to scientists.

A review of nine papers involving eight trials has shown the method’s two main “pillars” – controlled breathing and cold therapy – may reduce chronic inflammation.

Inflammation, which occurs when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, is associated with many health problems including heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and chronic kidney disease.

But there are currently mixed findings on the effect of the Wim Hof Method on a person’s athletic abilities, the researchers from the University of Warwick said.

The team also warned that the results, published in the journal Plos One, indicate further research is needed to understand whether the method provides all the benefits that its founder – the Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof – claims.

Dr Omar Almahayni, from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said: “Our systematic review underscores the need for further investigation into the Wim Hof Method’s effects on stress, inflammation, and overall health, offering valuable insights into its potential as a complementary approach to wellness.”

He added that the trials reviews had small sample sizes with “high risks of bias found in most of them”.

This means that evidence from them claiming the Wim Hof Method works totally should be treated with caution, Dr Almahayni added.

Also known as The Iceman, Mr Hof holds multiple world records for his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures.

He gained recognition for advocating the benefits of cold exposure and controlled breathing for physical and mental health.

Mr Hof claims practising his method can help improve wellbeing, boost the immune system, increase energy levels, reduce stress, enhance mental clarity and focus, and increase sports performance, among many things.

Celebrities reported to follow the regime include fitness coach Joe Wicks, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, technology guru Jack Dorsey and actors Liam Hemsworth and Orlando Bloom, among many more.

In the review, just over 150 people – 13% of whom were women – were assessed.

The findings indicated that the Wim Hof Method may reduce inflammation in both healthy and non-healthy people, including those with chronic arthritis, the researchers said.

Two studies showed those practising his method had “significantly” lower levels of proteins known as TNF-ɑ, IL-6, and IL-8, which are associated with inflammation, and higher levels of an anti-inflammatory protein, called IL-10.

The researchers said the impact of the Wim Hof Method on exercise performance – measured by respiratory parameters such as breathing frequency – was less clear, with some studies showing a benefit and others finding no significant difference.

The authors wrote: “More evidence needs to be synthesised about the Wim Hof Method before being recommended to the public.”