Wim Hof (born 20 April 1959) is a Dutch daredevil, commonly nicknamed "The Iceman" for his ability to withstand extreme cold, which he attributes to exposure to cold, meditation and breathing techniques (similar to the Tibetan technique Tummo).
Wim Hof has set out to spread the potential health benefits of his breathing techniques, working closely with scientists around the world to prove that his techniques work.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America claims that by consciously hyperventilating, Wim can increase his heart rate, adrenaline levels and blood alkalinity. Wim is also believed to possess much higher levels of brown adipose tissue which aids in cold resistance.
Hof holds 26 world records, including a world record for longest ice bath. Wim describes his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures as being able to "turn his own thermostat up" through breathing exercises.
2007: He climbed to 6.7 kilometres (22,000 ft) altitude at Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, but failed to reach the summit due to a recurring foot injury.
2008: He broke his previous world record by staying immersed in ice for 1 hour, 13 minutes and 48 seconds at Guinness World Records 2008. The night before, he performed the feat on the Today Show.
2009: In February Hof reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in his shorts within two days. Hof completed a full marathon (42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi)), above the arctic circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F). Dressed in nothing but shorts, Hof finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes. The challenge was filmed by Firecrackerfilms, who make productions for BBC, Channel 4 and National Geographic.
2010: Hof again broke the ice endurance record by standing fully immersed in ice for 1 hour and 44 minutes in Tokyo, Japan.
2011: Hof broke the ice endurance record twice, in Inzell in February and in New York City in November, setting a new Guinness World Record of 1 hour, 52 minutes, and 42 seconds. In September, Hof ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water, under the supervision of Dr. Thijs Eijsvogels.
Courtesy of my son.
Courtesy of my son.
Kox M, van Eijk LT, Zwaag J, van den Wildenberg J, Sweep FC, van der Hoeven JG, Pickkers P. Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 May 20;111(20):7379-84.
Excessive or persistent proinflammatory cytokine production plays a central role in autoimmune diseases. Acute activation of the sympathetic nervous system attenuates the innate immune response. However, both the autonomic nervous system and innate immune system are regarded as systems that cannot be voluntarily influenced. Herein, we evaluated the effects of a training program on the autonomic nervous system and innate immune response. Healthy volunteers were randomized to either the intervention (n = 12) or control group (n = 12). Subjects in the intervention group were trained for 10 d in meditation (third eye meditation), breathing techniques (i.a., cyclic hyperventilation followed by breath retention), and exposure to cold (i.a., immersions in ice cold water). The control group was not trained. Subsequently, all subjects underwent experimental endotoxemia (i.v. administration of 2 ng/kg Escherichia coli endotoxin). In the intervention group, practicing the learned techniques resulted in intermittent respiratory alkalosis and hypoxia resulting in profoundly increased plasma epinephrine levels. In the intervention group, plasma levels of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 increased more rapidly after endotoxin administration, correlated strongly with preceding epinephrine levels, and were higher. Levels of proinflammatory mediators TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8 were lower in the intervention group and correlated negatively with IL-10 levels. Finally, flu-like symptoms were lower in the intervention group. In conclusion, we demonstrate that voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system results in epinephrine release and subsequent suppression of the innate immune response in humans in vivo. These results could have important implications for the treatment of conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, such as autoimmune diseases.
From the article:
Next to exogenous (i.e., pharmacological or electrical) modulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), endogenous stimulation of ANS activity may also limit the inflammatory response, but the ANS is generally regarded as a system that cannot be voluntarily influenced. However, results from a recently performed case study on a Dutch individual, who holds several world records with regard to withstanding extreme cold, suggest otherwise. It was shown that this individual was able to voluntarily activate the sympathetic nervous system through a self-developed method involving meditation, exposure to cold, and breathing techniques. This resulted in increased catecholamine and cortisol release and a remarkably mild innate immune response during experimental endotoxemia compared with more than 100 subjects who previously underwent experimental endotoxemia. In the present study, we investigated the effects of his training program on sympathetic nervous system parameters and the innate immune response in healthy male volunteers during experimental endotoxemia in a randomized controlled fashion.
Kox M, Stoffels M, Smeekens SP, van Alfen N, Gomes M, Eijsvogels TM, Hopman MT, van der Hoeven JG, Netea MG, Pickkers P. The influence of concentration/meditation on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response: a case study. Psychosom Med. 2012 Jun;74(5):489-94.
In this case study, we describe the effects of a particular individual's concentration/meditation technique on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response. The study participant holds several world records with regard to tolerating extreme cold and claims that he can influence his autonomic nervous system and thereby his innate immune response.
The individual's ex vivo cytokine response (stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) was determined before and after an 80-minute full-body ice immersion during which the individual practiced his concentration/meditation technique. Furthermore, the individual's in vivo innate immune response was studied while practicing his concentration/mediation technique during human endotoxemia (intravenous administration of 2 ng/kg LPS). The results from the endotoxemia experiment were compared with a historical cohort of 112 individuals who participated in endotoxemia experiments in our institution.
The ex vivo proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokine response was greatly attenuated by concentration/meditation during ice immersion, accompanied by high levels of cortisol. In the endotoxemia experiment, concentration/meditation resulted in increased circulating concentrations of catecholamines, and plasma cortisol concentrations were higher than in any of the previously studied participants. The individual's in vivo cytokine response and clinical symptoms after LPS administration were remarkably low compared with previously studied participants.
The concentration/meditation technique used by this particular individual seems to evoke a controlled stress response. This response is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation and subsequent catecholamine/cortisol release, which seems to attenuate the innate immune response.