The science behind the Wim Hof Method

The science behind the Wim Hof Method

THE [RADBOUD] STUDY DEMONSTRATES THAT, THROUGH PRACTICING TECHNIQUES LEARNED IN A SHORT-TERM TRAINING PROGRAM, THE SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM AND IMMUNE SYSTEM CAN INDEED BE VOLUNTARILY INFLUENCED. (2014 KOX, PIKKERS ET AL.)

THE START OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

What "The Iceman" Wim Hof is capable of was long viewed as scientifically impossible. It wasn't until the first Radboud University study in 2011 that things really kicked off.

The study showed that by using his method, Wim was able to voluntarily influence his autonomic nervous system - something which until then was thought impossible. This groundbreaking finding, published in PNAS and Nature, established credibility, quite literally rewrote biology textbooks and piqued scientists’ curiosity.

Since then, many researchers have taken an interest in the potential benefits of the Wim Hof Method. Today, Wim and his team continue to work with research institutions and various promising studies are currently underway.

Radboud University, The Netherlands (2014)

  • Aimed to test if the results from the first study on Wim could be reproduced with a larger group
  • Injected 12 Wim Hof Method practitioners with an endotoxin
  • Results showed that, like Wim, they were able to control their sympathetic nervous system and immune response
  • Anti-inflammatory mediators were ~200% higher, while pro-inflammatory mediators were ~50% lower
  • Potentially important implications for “conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases.” (2014, Knox et. al.)

Wayne State University, Michigan, USA (2018)

  • Also known as the ‘Brain Over Body’ study
  • Aimed to understand the brain function that allows Wim to withstand extreme cold exposure
  • Wim was put in a special temperature controlled suit and placed in both an fMRI and a PET scanner
  • Results showed activation of areas in the brain associated with pain suppression, self-reflection and well-being, in particular the periaqueductal gray area (PAG)
  • This may have implications for “lifestyle interventions that might ameliorate multiple clinical syndromes.” (2018, Muzik et. al.)

ONGOING WORLDWIDE SCIENTIFIC INTEREST

We are continuously working with research institutions worldwide to explore new and exciting potential applications of the Wim Hof Method. A timeline of the scientific research to-date, along with links to the scientific papers can be found below.

Present - Ongoing Research

  • Inflammation & Pain In the Netherlands, Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen is completing a new study about the effects of the various components of the WHM on inflammation and pain.
  • Brain Activity Wayne State University in Michigan, USA, is measuring the effect of the WHM on brain activity. This research consists of 2 parts: 1. Effects of isolated cold exposure 2.Effects of cold exposure combined with WHM breathing exercises and mind-set.
  • WHM on Mental Health and Stress Resilience University California San Fransisco is measuring the WHM on mental health and stress resilience.

2019

  • Article: "Battling Arthritis" — An add-on training program involving breathing exercises, cold exposure, and meditation attenuates inflammation and disease activity in axial spondyloarthritis - A proof of concept trial Authors: G. Buijze, M. de Jong, M. Kox, M. van de Sande, D. van Schaardenburg, R. van Vugt, C. Popa, P. Pickkers, D. Baeten - Amsterdam Medical Centre Summary: The main goal of this paper is to assess whether the WHM could modulate innate immune responses in patients with axial spondyloarthritis, which is a chronic rheumatic inflammation of the spine. This proof of concept study was based on previous research, showing how healthy individuals were able to voluntarily influence the physiological stress response to induce inflammation, after WHM training. The study primarily investigates the safety of practicing the method for this group of patients, yet also looked at changes in inflammatory markers and patient-reported disease activity and quality of life. The results showed that the WHM can safely be applied in patients with axial spondyloarthritis, which is a prototypical chronic inflammatory condition. Furthermore, a significant decline in the inflammatory markers of ESR and CRP levels was found, which are validated disease activity biomarkers. Lastly, various measures of disease activity and quality of life were found to improve following the intervention. Thus, the results suggest that the WHM does not only enable healthy individuals to voluntarily initiate the immune response in acute inflammation but also in chronic inflammation related to immune-mediated inflammatory conditions.

2015

2012

  • Article: The Influence of Concentration/meditation on Autonomic Nervous System Activity and the Innate Immune Response: A Case Study Authors: M. Kox, M. Hopman, P. Pickkers. et al. - Radboud University Medical Center Summary: This case-study research was conducted after Wim Hof claimed he could influence his autonomic nervous system and thereby his innate immune response. His inflammatory response was measured during an 80-minute full body ice immersion and practicing the Wim Hof Method concentration technique. In addition, an endotoxemia experiment was conducted to study Wim’s in vivo innate immune response. The results showed how the techniques of the Wim Hof Method seemed to evoke a controlled stress response. This response is characterized by sympathetic nervous system activation, which seems to attenuate the innate immune system. Here, Wim Hof proved he was able to influence his autonomic nervous system.

2007

  • Study: Blood tests during meditation and breathing exercises Feinstein Institute led by Dr. K. Tracey