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Wim Hof’s Cold Trickery

Dutchman Wim Hof earned his nickname ‘The Iceman’ for his world records involving the cold – standing for almost two hours in a crate full of ice cubes, that sort of things. But in recent years he is promoting the methods that he claims enabled him to achieve these records as a method for achieving better health as the ‘Wim Hof Method’. Already he has gained a lot of enthusiastic followers and he has been training many people to propagate his method.

On this website I have written about Hof before, not directly about his method, but about a promotional stunt a year ago which didn’t go as well as he wanted the world to believe: his group climbing of Kilimanjaro in the ‘record time’ of 31 hours didn’t reach upto the actual summit (read  Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top‘).

koudkunstje-wim-hofFor Skepter, the magazine of Dutch skeptics foundation Skepsis, I was asked to write an article about Hof and his method. In this article I focused more on the scientific evidence for the many claims surrounding the Wim Hof method. Luckily I could base my article on the book Hof published in spring last year which precisely claims to give the state of scientific evidence for his method from his point of view: ‘Koud Kunstje – Wat kun je leren van de Iceman?’ by Wim Hof & Koen de Jong (april 2015) [translates as: Cold trickery – What can we learn from the Iceman?].

The article I wrote for the August editon of Skepter can be read online on the Skepsis website (Dutch):  Bergop, bergaf met The Iceman – De Wim Hof methode. I will give a summary here, but if you have questions about the original article and you have trouble understanding the Dutch text, feel free to leave your questions in the comments.

Update 22-12-2016 The book is now available in an English translation titled ‘The Way of The Iceman: How The Wim Hof Method Creates Radiant Longterm Health‘ (e-book).

Update 11-1-2017 And also in German: Die Kraft der Kälte: Wie du mit der Iceman-Methode gesünder, stärker und leistungsfähiger wirst.

The science

The Wim Hof Method is a combination of three things: exposure to cold, breathing techniques and meditation. The cold exposure is the most visible part of the method, especially when people step into bathtubs filled with ice cubes. Hof’s ability to withstand long exposure to cold has been researched and is partially explained because he has larger than usual amounts of brown fat on his body. His twin brother André (with similar brown fat amounts) also showed the bigger capability to endure the cold, without being trained in the breathing techniques Hof uses (research bij prof. Van Marken Lichtenbelt, Maastricht University – published in PLOS ONE, 2014).

The breathing  and meditation are based on Tibetan Tummo techniques, which spiritual aspects were stripped off by Hof for his method. The breathing Hof promotes comes down to repeatedly taking 30 deep breaths in a row, followed by keeping your breath for as long as you can. In this way you cause hyperventilation. A good thing according to Hof in his book, because that would lead as much oxygen as possible deep into your cells, enabling your mitochondria to produce more energy, unwanted rest products from processes in your body being cleaned up, and also prevent the production of lactic acid. You will even feel better according to Hof, because his techniques get more oxygen to the pineal gland, which then starts to produce more melatonine.

At the Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen several researchers investigated the physical capabilities of Hof. They found out that Hof is able to show some control over his immune system, which was not thought possible. The most important scientific result for Hof came in 2014 with the publication of Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans, Kox, Pickkers et al. (PNAS, 2014). In this research twelve healthy volunteers were trained in the Wim Hof Method and twelve others were not. They all got an injection of an endotoxin from the Escherichia coli bacteria. Normally the body reacts quite vehemently to this, but the trained volunteers were able to keep the body’s reaction at a far lower level than their untrained counterparts. Kox and Pickkers think that this is mostly caused by the breathing technique:

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.

In lay terms: the hyperventilation reduces the normal response of the body to the endotoxin. This would not  be generally worthwhile, because the body is now acting less aggressive against the invasion of something it wants to get rid off. But there are cirumstances where this might be actual beneficial. However, whether this is anything more than an interesting scientific fact remains to be seen. Pickkers and Kox emphasize that this experiment was done with healthy volunteers and has only proven that a short term effect can be obtained. Suggesting that this might lead to an effective treatment for people who suffer from an overacting immune system is pure speculation.

The quackery

Strange thing about this book is that the authors give attention to other methods as well, which don’t really have a link with the Wim Hof Method and are clearly nonsense. Most likely this interest comes from Hof’s co-author De Jong (a former pro-cyclist turned running coach), who has connections with people who have written or practice these methods. One such method is the Buteyko Breathing Technique, which like the Wim Hof Method promotes a specific way of breathing, but is based on a totally different theory. And that theory is utterly flawed. There is a nice article on Science Based Medicine by Joseph Albietz on this: Buteyko Breathing Technique – Nothing to Hyperventilate About.

The other obvious bullocks is earthing. Wim Hof hasn’t said anything about this before this book came out. He walks barefooted a lot of the time, but never associated this with earthing as far as I know. Earthing is based on the bizarre idea that we need to give electrons from the earth easier access to our body, because these are needed to neutralize free radicals there. But you can better read what Steven Novella wrote about earthing. Also David Servan-Schreiber is mentioned in the book, who promoted all kind of dubious alternative treatments against cancer.

In my opinion the attention given to these silly theories undermines the serious scientific attitude Wim Hof claims to pursue for his own methods. There seem to be a lot of people surrounding Hof who are willing to jump the bandwagon to promote their own ideas, which do not really have anything in common with the Wim Hof Method. I’m not sure why Hof lets this happen, but I guess he is just happy with all attention which looks like it supports his own ideas.

One other person is making an appearance in this book as a Wim Hof supporter: former professor Pierre Capel. He is speculating a lot on the working mechanism underlying the effect Pickkers and Kox have shown. Something about transcription factors which can be influenced with mediation. And he makes quite bold claims of the possibilities of this for curing cancer. To me his ideas sound an afwul lot like the pseudoscientific ideas of Deepak Chopra. Capel left the professorship he held at Utrecht University in 2002, only 56 years of age, which is rather peculiar. After ‘retiring’ he hasn’t published any scientific article and only seems to promote yoga and meditation, so I would be very careful to take the ideas of this man too seriously.

False hope?

I guess that most people who are critical of Hof (or even call him a quack) are worried that he gives false hope to patients with serious diseases. Although Hof is aware of this and states in his book that he definitely doesn’t want to do this, it is hard not to get the impression that Hof has difficulties to keep his enthusiasm and optimism about the possible effects of his methods restrained. A good illustration of this is the following part of an interview he gave to regional television station Limburg 1 (L1) on May 20th 2014, shortly after the Pickkers and Kox study was published:

L1: ‘Are you convinced that someone with cancer can cure himself with these methods?’
Hof: ‘No, absolutely not, I would not go that far. What this is about … we have shown now, as the first group in the world, that the autonomic nervous system, of which science upto now was telling that you aren’t able to influence it, we can influence this in relation to the immune system. This means that every human from this moment on, can influence his autonomic nervous system in relation to his immune system and can learn to do this in really short time.
L1: ‘But Ockels thought …’ [PvE: Wubbo Ockels, the first Dutch astronaut, died of cancer just two days before the interview. He had shown much interest in the Wim Hof Method as one of the many alternative methods he tried out to beat the terminal cancer he was suffering from]
Hof: ‘This is what we have achieved at this moment. And science is above speculation, it is not philosophizing.’
L1: ‘I just asked you: can you cure cancer with these methods?’
Hof: ‘I believe that every disease, any disease whatsoever, is essentially a disbalance of the immune system and that this immune system …’
L1: ‘But do you claim that even cancer can be beaten with these methods?’
Hof: ‘Yeah, but proper research is necessary for this.’
L1: ‘OK that’s clear, it has not yet been proven, but you think it is possible?’
Hof: ‘I think absolutely that there, uh .. 95 percent of all diseases, amongst which are numerous types of cancers, can be cured.’

So far my impression of the Wim Hof Method is not too bad and I would really hesitate to call it quackery. The method doesn’t look that dangerous when performed in the presence of others (if you are alone, there might be some risks of falling when passing out performing the breathing exercises) and you can hardly find reports of bad experiences [see update]. Furthermore, it is quite cheap. Hof isn’t selling expensive stuff, just workshops which don’t seem overly expensive to me. Also he is not explicitely promoting his methods to sick people. Whether patients start using the Wim Hof Method, because of false hope he gives, is up for debate. I surely would like to see Hof more careful on this matter than he has been in the past.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)
Mt. Kilimanjaro, view from Moshi ,Tanzania (via Wikimedia Commons)

More on the Kilimanjaro expedition

The Kilimanjaro expedition of 2015 didn’t go as well as the company of Hof (Innerfire.nl) was trying to let the world believe in their press release as I had set out in January last year (‘Iceman’ Wim Hof over the top). In Koud Kunstje the expediton is also mentioned and in the book Hof corrects the claim that they reached the summit in almost the same words as he used on Twitter to answer my question. However on Kloptdatwel.nl (the website on which I had written the original Dutch version of that blog), we were contacted by one of the participants of this expedition who told us that the expedition had been even far less succesful than we had already reported. Not only had a lot of the participants who didn’t make it to the edge of the crater shown clear symptoms of altitude sickness, but a big part of the group had to be evacuated off the mountain by car because of their poor physical condition. Among those Wim Hof himself, who had been exhausted and had been suffering from injuries to his feet.

I checked this story carefully with a couple of other participants, who confirmed this version of the story, before contacting Hof’s company. Hof and his son Enahm were not willing to indicate specific flaws in the reconstruction, but offered to talk about ‘the context’ on a cup of coffee. I didn’t pick up this invitation, because I felt I had given them ample opportunity to tell their side of the story. I published the reconstruction on Kloptdatwel: Bergaf met Wim Hof (Going down with Wim Hof). These blogs of mine probably set some bad blood between the Hofs and me. This became more clear on Facebook later, on a totally unrelated issue, where I was called a lousy journalist and even accused of using hate speech by Enahm. But when my article from Skepter was published online and he had actually read it, he even shared it via the Facebook page of Innerfire. Not that they apologized in any way, but at least this shows that they are not totally allergic to sound criticism.

Update 4-7-2016
Recently a couple of reports have appeared in newspaper Het Parool (1,2) on deaths by drowning probably caused by using the Wim Hof Method in an inappropriate way. Four men had been practicising the breathing techniques just before a long swim under water. This is extremely dangerous, because of the risk of ‘shallow water blackout‘. Wim Hof tells he and his company Innerfire have always warned for this risk during their workshops and on the Internet, but questions remain whether they have actually always given it the attention it needs.

43 thoughts on “Wim Hof’s Cold Trickery

  1. How about you get your details right before you write an article? And who the fuck are you anyways to judge whether such method is real or bs?

    The tests on his brother sayd the following: “He does not have the same or similar brown fat level as Wim, he cannot withstand cold similarly to Wim”

    , even if his brother can stay in the cold more than the average human, Wim’s body temperature stays constant, or he can consciously higher it, that’s the special part you pseudointelectual, I can freaking withstand cold longer than the average people sometimes, without doing any kind of special breathing technique, it’s a relative thing and it’s connected to sheer will, but I can’t stay in freezing water & etc without WH Technique.

    It’s one to be a sceptic, and one to be a sceptic who doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    1. You give this as a quote:

      “He does not have the same or similar brown fat level as Wim, he cannot withstand cold similarly to Wim”

      I don’t know where you found this. The scientific article by Van Marken Lichtenbelt et al. gives this under ‘Discussion’:

      The present study investigated the metabolic and insulative responses during mild cold in the so called ‘Iceman’, who has a lifestyle with frequent exposure to extreme cold, and in his monozygotic twin brother who is not frequently exposed to these extreme conditions. It was hypothesized that the Iceman would have a greater CIT and BAT activity. However, we found comparable CIT, BAT activity, and vasoconstriction in the extremities (hand and toe) during mild cold exposure and a slightly lower skeletal muscle mitochondrial proton leak in the Iceman compared to his twin brother.

      BTW if you want to keep commenting on my blog, I suggest that you use less offensive language, I will delete comments formulated like this one.

    2. Bogdan, sorry to say, but your language is inadequate … No judge, but it simply not the full You, that You can be 😉

      Take care!

  2. To preface: I do not practice this method, but know a few people who started a couple months ago and have completely changed their life around since being inspired by this method. (not a direct correlation to the method, but with a change in ideas, a change in lifestyle comes soon enough)

    In the interview quoted from L1, I have a real problem with the way the reporter persistently asked Wim if he thinks the method cures cancer. Wim’s first three words were “No, absolutely not…” then the reporter continues to circle back to that question until it seems like Wim is lost in his ideas. In that interview, it clearly seems like Wim believes that it COULD cure fatal diseases on a case by case basis, but he never claims that his method is a miracle cure, or that it works for every person.
    The Wim Hof Method is simply something that has benefited many other and because it has, spreading the method (with the proper precautions, of course) can only help, so long as a middle-man party doesn’t tout it as a miracle cure and misrepresent its effectiveness.

    1. Absolutely I had the same problem wit the interviewer, he asneered the question cright away and after he had moved on they tried to imply that he was avoiding it.
      Having worked in herbalism and the health industry in customer service I would frequently have customers (several a day) demanding concrete answers like this. We are not allowed by law (without becoming an ND) to make claims that herbs, food, suppliments or techniques will cure a disease. Even after explaining this, people will get very angry and I had a customer yell at me that I shouldn’t ‘live in fear’ and hung up only to keep calling back looking for someone who would make this claim.

    2. Yea absolutely; I noticed this too. Shows a lack of honesty on the part of the interview; he would rather have a “gotcha” soundbite of “Wim Hof says his breathing technique cures cancer – quack”, as opposed to the truth which is “Wim’s method shows definitively that the nervous and immune systems can be voluntarily modulated, but when asked if it could cure diseases such as cancer, Wim says that it’s plausible, but would certainly need to be validated by scientific research.” The author of this article also falls victim to ad hominem fallacies in this article; hardly becoming of a so-called skeptic.

      1. The interviewer just did his job properly: getting straight answers from a man who leaves a lot of wiggle room in his answers. Hof makes a lot of fuss around this ‘scientific breakthrough’ which in the end might be a rather useless phenomenon if you look at it from a health perspective.

        The author of this article also falls victim to ad hominem fallacies in this article; hardly becoming of a so-called skeptic.

        That’s easy to write down in a comment, but can you be more specific: give the quotes in the article which you consider unjustified ad hominem attacks.

    3. I have practised that method for a year now and had amazing results. Not been sick for a long time, much stronger an fitter and I’m even able to do the splits now at the age of 49 without much practise. Most of all, I’m much more tolerant to cold water and low temperatures than I ever was before. I also noticed that with some practise, most of my inflammations have all but disappeared.
      However, I agree with the author of this article that perhaps it’s counterproductive in the long run to interfere with the immune system in that way. I am a scientist by profession (not medical though), so it’s interesting to me to perform this experiment myself. So far it’s been amazing but I am still a bit sceptical. Even though Wim Hof shows quick results with people within days, I found from my own practise that it took me about 6month until I felt that “I’m getting it”.
      I don’t think it’s healthy that the author of the above article calls the method “quackery” because Wim Hof mentions ‘grounding’. As a scientist I prefer to focus on the things that work and make sense and ignore the rest if I feel that it does not add anything to the thesis rather than entirely focussing on the weakness. We all well know by now that even the peer-reviewed community has a reproducibility crisis. It would be nice if everything was more clear-cut than this but it isn’t.
      Wim Hof is not a scientist himself, so I think the occasional “slip” should be forgiven. I’m eager to see more research coming out on the subject.

      1. I don’t call the method ‘quackery’, I prefer to use that term for more clear-cut cases like ‘grounding’. That’s why I wrote:

        So far my impression of the Wim Hof Method is not too bad and I would really hesitate to call it quackery.

        1. I’m going to add a thought here on the “quackery” of grounding. Just because something isn’t able to be shown in a laboratory setting that it works better than a placebo, by no means should it get the quackery stamp. I think health and wellness is very much rooted in nature and that modern medical science hasn’t even scratched the surface of understanding the functions and relationships intertwined in living things and our environment. Does it not seem right, that as a species who evolved walking barefoot on this earth, that there could be a benefit to doing that? A benefit that we just can’t pin down exactly, or measure in a lab? (this is not to say grounding shouldn’t be scrutinized, because i understand there are harms from doing it around existing electrical currents, but the general point still stands).

          Another related case is “forest bathing” aka walking around in the woods which was recently discovered to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing. If you think about it, a lot of things have probably been called quackery before all-mighty science proved it was indeed helpful.

          I think this is a huge problem these days, we have forgotten our own sense of what is right for ourselves, our intuition and innate compasses, and instead just trust everything to “science” to show us the way.

          https://qz.com/804022/health-benefits-japanese-forest-bathing/

        2. In my opinion you have to make a clear distinction between claims on health and claims that ‘just’ refer to wellness. As long as you say that walking barefoot could make you feel better, I won’t have a problem with that. But when people start claiming that the stuff Clint Ober made up is real, that’s just madness. But I you want to discuss earthing I suggest you do that on the blog of Steven Novella I link to in the text, because it doesn’t really seem to matter that much to Wim Hof himself and isn’t part of his method.

      2. I agree, very well balanced comment. Wim is not scientist and he can deviate, he can be optimistic and so on. Not everything he says should be quoted as granted. Even he in a modest way says, he is just a man, or at least I have the feeling out of his appearance.
        One strong comment though. More detailed and updated scientific reseach is much of a need. I think Innerfire should realise that and I shall mention that on the Advanced course which I will participate in July 2017.

    4. I have been doing the method for 6 months now and have noticed immense changes in my physiology and health, both measurable and by feel. Granted, it does not mean it works for everybody. BUT, as far as cancer and many incurable diseases, this method holds a lot of promise because most diseases are caused by inflammation or the underlying causes of inflammation. And this method directly reduces inflammation (documented in the PNAS study and ask anybody that uses the method), so it really does help or cure many of these diseases.

      There are alternative treatments and studies that back this up. Most types of cancer prefers sugar as its fuel source. So by switching the body to a keto diet, one can deprive cancer of its fuel source while still providing fuel for the body (body fat). A few days before chemotherapy, intermittent fasting further starves the cancer cells and puts the body further into ketosis. On the day of chemotherapy, placing the patient in a pressurized chamber to force oxygen into the blood creates hyperoxia (or do breathing exercises), which will make it harder for cancer cells to divide and spread. Combining all this together, it can reduce the side effects of chemotherapy and reduce the chances of remission. You can break these steps up to find published studies for each of these theories/experiments.

      Just because these methods are not mainstream enough for proper statistics and its success rate is not 100% does not mean that it does not work, it may very well already work better than conventional treatments. And if so, needs more studies and scrutiny, not dismissal. I understand that this review is mostly based on his book and from an earlier time, a time when the method is still finding its voice. The Wim Hof group is expanding everyday and new studies on Wim is still ongoing to show new benefits and potential of the method. I think things are serious enough to drop any bickering and foul language. This method needs an updated review in the coming years (after the hype dies down, if it ever does) for fairness’ sake as many people are continuing to benefit from it for a wide range of situations. At the very least, this method deserves a high recommendation as there are no real downsides. There are other methods that work too, but this one seems the most accessible and well understood/studied.

      Seriously, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. You’re missing out on some major health benefits that probably does prevent/delay many aging and autoimmune diseases. Which makes sense, there’s no way the birds and critters in your backyard can withstand sleeping out in the cold of winter all their lives and we can’t even survive a 10 minute cold shower. And precisely because most of us would not, our immune system shows it.

      1. I think you have to read up a bit on what inflammation is and what its use is in your body. What the PNAS study showed is that a specific process of the immune system can be influenced, but that doesn’t mean that this is good to in all circumstances. It might be interesting in cases where the immune system is overreacting.

        Your comments on treating cancer with a ketogenic diet are quite off topic here, it has nothing to do with the WHM. I suggest you read this article on that matter: Ketogenic diet does not “beat chemo for almost all cancers”, which puts the claims around this ketogenic diets into perspective.

        1. I was also wondering about inflammation and the WHM as it pertains to free radicals in the body. I’m probably looking at this too simplistically, but wouldn’t prolonged hyperventilation draw more oxygen into the body, producing more cell oxidation, and therefore more free radicals? Aren’t free radicals suppose to be a contributor to ageing and cancer?

  3. To the oncologists and other highly critical people: Mr. Hof has always been reluctant to make claims that are not true. He is also a person who has discovered something important. You skeptics want a cure for cancer? Do you? Well then don’t serve habits that create cancer in the body and practise up to date prevention methods that are virtually COMPULSORY today. Reversing cancer once it takes hold is a nightmare for any doctor. It’s exactly like putting tooth paste back in the tube. Sure Wim has the imagination to see that strengthening the immune system could cure cancer but what I believe we are seeing in the Hof Method is a great tool to aid us in what we REALLY NEED TO BE DOING and that is PRACTISING PREVENTION! So while you guys are hating and throwing poo at Wim and at each other why not participate in the science here that actually helps people in the prevention of these diseases!

    I have been practising the Wim Hof method for ten weeks. I’m finding remarkable changes in my body, emotions and intellect. All Mr. Hof is saying is that we have been able to penetrate the second and third level of the immune system by going into the brain where we have never been before. Normally we can’t get into the second and third layer. Hof says: “We now have the key to the second and third layer of the non specific and specific adaptive immune system.” This allows us to look at disease in a different way. Tapping into the innate immune system up until now was not possible until Hof had nine people do so within 15 minutes. They talk about resetting the immune system. Not about curing cancer. So you guys who criticise Mr. Hof so brutally and pedantically may soon be eating your own words. While you sould smart and love the sound of your own voice, let me tell you this method has helped me dramatically.

    The Wim Hof method is like a shield for prevention and healing but it may be a superstar for prevention while it may be only moderately helpful in healing. Invaders like cancers are wildly different. They mutate and change wildly both in form and type. To restore the balance within then becomes a great challenge. Honest oncologists will tell you the statistics about how “effective” chemo and radiation are. Nobody has a cure for cancer that works. But we do have tools for prevention that are stellar. Nobody has to get sick as often as they might have if they did not start down the path of compulsory prevention methods.

    I have great respect for all healers. But when judgemental people enter the discussion with fog-horn like “doctoral” disdain it brings the tone of the quality of the discussion into the limitations of their own training and paradigm of their culture of medicine. This is understandable and not unexpected from main-stream medical practitioners who may believe they have received top notch medical training. Many of the have but this by no means suggests that they medical school trained physicians have think they have the game under control cancer continues to increase attacking one out of three people in 2015 when the numbers were one in twenty in 1971. I suppose what I’m saying is those in glass houses should not throw stones.

    Any prevention method that works to amp up our defenses is most welcome and will find it’s way into my permanent tool box. Wim Hof has developed a wonderful discipline and daily practice for people interested in maintaining their health and increasing their athletic performance. Lets leave the heavy criticism to the men and women at the universities where his work is being studied. Thank you.

    1. Lack of agreement does not make people your enemy: and this is how you are addressing skeptics; as enemies. This also makes you sound like an uncritical acolyte of Mr Hof.

  4. My mom has stage four cancer. We have her on a strong protocol but would love to implement a breathing technique that can help her immune system and increase oxygen on a cellular level (cancer is anaerobic).

    I messaged a breathing coach about Wim Hof vs. Buteyko to hear his advice. This is what he wrote back. Would love to hear anyone’s advice and if there’s evidence backing up one technique vs the other for cancer.

    “I think you should do a little reading about hyperventilation, which is what Wim Hof’s method is. From the Buteyko perspective it is absolutely not what your mother should be doing. Hyperventilating ‘blows off’ carbon dioxide. This will hamper aerobic metabolism. See the haemoglobin dissociation curve https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygen%E2%80%93hemoglobin_dissociation_curve
    and the Bohr Effect.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohr_effect

    Simply, low carbon dioxide means less oxygen delivered to the cells of the body. Hyperventilating does not ‘load-up’ the blood with oxygen. Respiratory physiology doesn’t work that way. People who attempt to hold their breath for a very long time underwater will hyperventilate before. This blows off carbon dioxide and then the brain loses it signal to breathe. Carbon dioxide guides breathing in low activity. So by blowing off carbon dioxide they can stay underwater for a very long time because nothing is signalling the brain to breathe. This is very dangerous. Those going for world records are having their heart rate monitored. If they pass out they pull them out of the water. People trying this at their local swimming pool have drowned which is why this practiced is banned from public pools in Canada and the US.

    Wim Hof may be ok for very healthy people. But in the long run I doubt it. If your mother hyperventilates she will start to feel bad very quickly. See Forced Hyperventilation Provocation http://www.normalbreathing.com/learn-1A-HVPT-test.php

    You would be supporting anaerobic metabolism with hyperventilation, not lessening it.

    I hope this is helpful”

    1. hmm, interesting point of view, but too broad to be precise in case of your mother and all using this breathing technique.
      It is all true about ratio of CO2 and O2 during breathing and that it is a type of hyperventilation.
      It is all true that in a long term time, this disballance would be bad for the body.

      The point, which many of us are missing, I think, is what this method is about. It is about exposing our bodies to some extreme factors (for short time) :
      1. Exposing to temporary lack of oxygen, creating stress
      2. Exposing to extreme cold, again stress
      3. doing some exercise, again you do micro damage to your musscle tissue ( then it repairs and so strengthens you 🙂 )
      If you go through Wim Hof World carefully, use your own feeling plus some knowledge, you sense that we need to put ourselves under those stresses from time to time.
      The system in use works good, the one not used deteriorates.
      So simple 🙂

  5. Just like Hatha Yoga’s pranyama deep breathing, the Wim breathing exercise can have almost instant effect. Iron clad imperical science? Perhaps not, but the gentleman has many impressive feats under his belt.

  6. I am an actual cancer doctor and scientist and must commend the author on his cautious skepticism of wim hof. He does not claim that breathing/meditation doesn’t help people (centuries of people have engaged in meditation which has been shown to lower stress), but that curing disease is an entirely different issue. Wim is no different than Buddhist monks who are able to be lit on fire or balance on spears without getting skewered. However, wim said he started meditation at the age of 16, which means he has spent decades training his mind. Yes everyone can do it, but are you willing to quit your job and do nothing but breathe for 40-50 years? Training for 10 weeks will reduce your stress levels, but it won’t cure disease.

    What’s more, if you carefully read the PNAS article that claims he can control the ANS consciously, you’ll notice they replaced 3 healthy participants because their cytokine levels were lower than expected after endotoxin injection and was. assumed to be an issue with the ampuole. This is called cherry picking and means they were not impartial, but rather had an agenda. They never proved this anomaly was a dosing issue although they could have easily checked the lot number and asked the manufacturer. Maybe those 3 healthy ppl had something that actually explained the reduced cytokine production, but we will never know bc they were biased. Moreover, it was not double blinded, which means the doctors DID know who was getting toxin and probably influenced the results. Finally, it was not an intention to treat analysis which does NOT make it a real RCT.

    Now before you go complaining that his marketing is harmless and helps people, I’d like to posit that his unwillingness to say his method does NOT cure cancer (the question on the website is a video of him handwaving explanations instead of “i don’t know”) IS harmful because it gives people false hope. I see cancer patients who come to me after trying meditation, marijuana, insulin potentiation therapy, Reiki, veganism, photo dynamic therapy, bicarbonate water drinking and a whole host of other expensive alternative therapies that dont work. These vague claims are harmful because its preying on a vulnerable population desperate for cure. I dont mind if you say his method helps de-stress after a long day of work, but even claiming it MIGHT cure disease without any real evidence is lying.

    Before you say its some kind of conspiracy to keep me employed, i’d like to emphasize that I want to cure cancer because I’m tired of watching people die horrible deaths–that’s why i went into medical research and I’m willing to admit there is a tremendous amount we don’t know. However, rather than giving up on rigorous studies that hold us all to a higher standard, we need it more than ever. Win says his his methods increases your resilience so you can handle the hard things in life. Well, searching for the truth is one of them and we cannot turn away from this hard task in favor of an “easy” solution.

    1. Hello Mary,
      “These vague claims are harmful because it’s preying on a vulnerable population desperate for a cure”
      Mentions of false hope?
      Where does this harm occur in learning how to breathe deeper and connect with yourself. If anything, for myself, doing this practise has made me more accepting of death. I’ve been doing this breathing method for a few years now and how a session makes you feel is quite the opposite of harmful. The dopamine release is wonderful. The clarity to thought happens every time. I just feel like this scolding of Wim, and concluding by calling it false hopes is irrationally scepticism, considering what he has discovered and published for physiological science. The guy has proven something quite remarkable, yet you throw the wet blanket over it all? I think encouraging the possibilities of what this method could achieve is a most important point to make. Keep optimism in the air.
      Cheers
      Jesse

  7. Thanks to Pepijn for the balanced article about the book.

    I just skimmed the german translation of the Wim Hof/Koen de Jong book. I am very disappointed. I have experience with breathing techniques, certain meditation techniques, swimming in cold water and diet. If this sounds like something special it shouldn’t. These things are common to many people. Think of the Kneip bathing techniques for example. I bought the book because I thought it could be a source to learn more about what I would call, for lack of a better term, auto manipulation of the psycho-physical system. The book does not help at all in this regard. Instead Koen de Jong buries what might be useful in the WHM-system under a lot of terrible esoteric tripe. Instead of asking good questions which could help to explain further some very interesting features a human can achieve Koen de Jong gives false answers in speculating about stuff like, for example, earthing. At last it is suggested everything from piles to cancer could be bettered or even healed by WHM and de Jong’s esotericism.

    The real good question would be how the interaction (if at all) of breathing techniques, certain meditation techniques (that is techniques of pure a cognitive kind), dietary techniques (e.g. intermittent fasting) plus techniques to expose the body to certain extremes would give positive results in regard of better resilience, higher stress tolerance, better over all health etc.

    The book goes to the opposite end: More esoteric lore, less material evidence (although it tries to look differently). Sadly Wim Hof and his supporters seem to fall prey to the temptation to become the one and only who found the one cure for every decease.

  8. It seems you misrepresented the facts from the PNAS study, you cited:

    ” ‘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.’
    In lay terms: the hyperventilation reduces the normal response of the body to the endotoxin. This would not be generally worthwhile, because the body is now acting less aggressive against the invasion of something it wants to get rid off. But there are cirumstances where this might be actual beneficial. However, whether this is anything more than a interesting scientific fact remains to be seen. Pickkers and Kox emphasize that this experiment was done with healthy volunteers and has only proven that a short term effect can be obtained. Suggesting that this might lead to an effective treatment for people who suffer from an overacting immune system is pure speculation.”

    Here, the article indicates an increased amount of anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10. Meaning there was an increased response from the immune system. The proinflammatory levels were lower, and negatively correlated with the anti-inflammatory. That is an effective immune system. – So I’m confused why you described it, “in lay terms” as the opposite.

    After all you’ve written about this guy and you didn’t even oblige for coffee.

      1. With all due respect, no. Inflammation means inflammation, there is no “case-by-case” use of the word. I must agree with Alex above, and Hannes below.

        IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory cytokine, considered a master regulator with multiple effects on various cells of the immune system. In this case, the experimental subjects had an increased robust anti-inflammatory response to the endotoxin, with a relatively decreased pro-inflammatory response. In lay terms, this means the immune system of the subjects trained by Wim had a more measured, “intelligent” response to the endotoxin if you will–it decreased the cytokines that cause people to feel sick with aches, fever, chills and the like; it up-regulated at least one master cytokine to prevent the immune system from unnecessary over-reaction to a foreign toxin. Response by a normal untrained subject to endotoxin would result in fever, low blood pressure, and even shock and death. So to say that this is not generally useful is inaccurate.

        http://www.jimmunol.org/content/180/9/5771.full
        http://textbookofbacteriology.net/endotoxin.html

        I have no affiliations with you or Wim Hof, but am a medical scientist interested to learn more about how his techniques may benefit patients in general. I just learned of him recently.

        I appreciate you taking the time to contact and interview those who participated on the trip, to reveal that he has more brown fat, and to make other such helpful inquiries. It’s important to know the validity of his claims.

        Similarly, it is equally important that you take the time to fact check and make sure you understand the words you use in your articles, to prevent careless misrepresentation which would falsely damage a person’s reputation.

        The title of your article “cold trickery” implies that Wim Hof did this to trick others. From the little I know of him from research, I do not believe that to be true. I find it disingenous that you say in your aticle that you have a relatively good impression of him and that the “quackery” is mostly from claims made by his co-authors, yet you still choose to label him as a trickster. This reveals your bias, unfortunately.

        I agree with Hanne below–I also came here to participate in objective discourse about Wim Hof and possible mechanisms, and found your judgments to be unfounded and unfair.

        Mr. Hof has figured out a way to consciously alter some aspects of the autonomic nervous system. This deserves a more thorough scientific analysis as to mechanisms by way this is achieved, how soon do these changes take place in average people (not motivated athletes of all ages) and whether practice of his methods can alter the course of disease.

        My (very long) 0.02 cents.

        1. 1. I didn’t mean that inflammation means different things in different case, maybe I could have formulated that (quick) comment more precisely. The point is that I got the impression that Alex thinks that an increase of just any substance that plays a role in the immune response is beneficial and helps to ‘fight’ off an inflammation more easily, while these substances play different roles. For this article I didn’t plan to go really deep into this, because I’m not an expert and anybody who would be really interested in the details can read the Pickkers-Kox article themselves.

          2. The reponse of the trained subjects was only more “intelligent” when you take into account that this was not a living endotoxin producing bacteria. I’m not quite sure what would happen if you would exercise the breathing techniques while being injected with the real nasty stuff. When I talked to Pickkers about this study I have asked him about this and he agreed that it might be counterproductive in that case, or also not a very good idea to try when your immune system is not functioning very well. So where I wrote “This would not be generally worthwhile” I mean you can’t extrapolate this find to all sort of health issues where the immune system plays a role (as Hof and many of his followers do regularly).

          3. On ‘trickery’: I am aware that in most(?) uses it has a negative connotation in English, but the same is with the Dutch word ‘kunstje’. Considering Hof’s behaviour and reporting of his Kilimanjaro trip and the other issues, I don’t think it is too unfair to use it the way I did. I’m not a native English speaker, so there is a possibility that I made a misjudgment here, but you are the first to express having issues with it. I certainly do not state that he is a trickster and deceives people on purpose.

    1. “After all you’ve written about this guy and you didn’t even oblige for coffee.”
      It’s always easier to criticize from afar.
      That said, as a Wim Hof ‘believer’, I don’t find the tone of this article to be harsh or emotional. It’s always nice to see that people are trying to get to the very bottom of the facts. In my understanding though, Wim Hof’s methods works because of factors which still remain just outside of our simple material understanding of life. Science is always advancing though and I feel like we’re on the verge of some great breakthroughs that might help us understand why exactly it is that this stuff really works.

  9. ” I didn’t pick up this invitation, because I felt I had given them ample opportunity to tell their side of the story.” quite an egoistic and almost narcisstic perspective you show there. since you put yourself above hof bad blood is a very logical outcome of your decisions. not picking up the invitation is a very bad excuse for publishing a one-sided article. being a scientist i favor objective perspectives. your subtle pessimism bothered me throughout most parts of the article.

    1. You haven’t seen the e-mail correspondence between me and the company of Hof in which I gave them repeatedly ample room to indicate any factual error in the story. They never came with anything concrete, only mentioned that it had a wrong idea on the context (which they didn’t explain either). So why should I go to Amsterdam to hear that same vague story which would probably not give anything that would lead to a change in the reconstruction? That’s what I asked them, but they didn’t give an answer. And dont’ forget that this story on the Kilimanajro trip is based on contact with several of the participants.

      1. many sceptical people are trying to pin hof down to vulnerable statements he gave, i find it irrational and conservative. i was looking at some of his studies and the results are scientifically remarkable and a very clear indicator that we should go deeper with more studies to understand better what is happening exactly. i see one of the most promising alternative approaches. I understand that wim himself did not study science, he tries to tell people what he understood of the scientists telling him. i dont care if his formulations are flawed, it does not matter. does he believe to heal cancer with this or not, it does not matter. As there is no study on that matter no one can answers such question now. this one interview was horrible when hof was penetrated to give that answer that no one could give.
        there is enough evidence one safely say that the method HAS significant effects, which can be a rare statement in alternative medicine. since there was only a small number of studies so far the security of results needs to be improved by further studies. there need to be falsification studies (Popper). while all this will be happening we can watch the process and wonder how deep it actually is. But it is irrational to judge it. it is unfair to generalize parts of the evidence and facts. Wim opened up lots of possibilities and perspectives to a vast amount of people on this planet with very different matters they deal with. at the end we will surely find out that the Wim Hof Method does not cure everything or everyone, but we will understand the benefits and hopefully use that knowledge to improve lives.
        I am very much looking forward to more studies and I am very interested what the actual difference was between the expedition group on kilimanjaro that made it to the top and the group that did not make it as there are endless possibilities to explain this. Since it was not yet clearly communicated publicly i assume that it was complicated for some reason.
        I want to the sceptical negativity around this whole thing to become a bit more neutral and realize that judgements are not yet to be made. What I was wishing for when reading the article was getting the facts, I dont care about the judgement. If facts were not possible to be gathered objectively it’s a pity, but replacing those interesting facts with judgements and implications of personal arguments I believe is what made some people call it lousy journalism.

        1. I think if you read my article again, you’ll notice that I’m not that negative about his method at all. Whether it will eventually be found to contain elements which will benefit patients has yet to be seen, but I have no problem with that kind of research.
          The Kilimanjaro trip doesn’t really have anything to do with seriousely testing his methods, it’s more a self-exploring-mental-strength-guru thingy. Just business. Only the first group trip (2014) involved some medical expertise, because an MD went along.

          If facts were not possible to be gathered objectively it’s a pity, but replacing those interesting facts with judgements and implications of personal arguments I believe is what made some people call it lousy journalism.

          I challenge you to give examples where I replaced facts with judgements in this post. Inserting well argumented assumptions where no factual information is available is quite normal as long it is not presented as a fact.

        2. Checking back in again just now. I do not feel being in debt here. I got stressed times now business-wise and cannot afford to give such analyses for free anymore. If you are interested in a full analysis of your article I’ll do that for proper compensation.

          regards

      2. Beste Pepijn, met dwazen zoals Wim Hof die de mensheid opzettelijk bedriegen valt niet tot op de bodem te onderzoeken, laat staan over bevonden tegen feiten te communiceren, Wim Hof is onvolwassen kan niet tegen kritiek, he’s a joke, time will tell!

        1. Sharon, dit slaat echt nergens op, time will tell you. Hij kan heel goed tegen kritiek, hij is 35 jaar lang uitgelachen als hij weer eens in z’n broekie in ijskoud water ging staan. Hij claimt veel minder dan ieder ander in z’n positie zou doen. Zijn kop is helder gebleven.

  10. Wim Hof is one of the people who gave me some life changing insights so I made a video about his Wim Hof Method and his latest book. And after your post I believe there are more who share the same experience like me.

    Because I could only find a book in the Dutch language, I made an easy to follow animated video about it in English to share his theory and his technique for a broader public.

    https://youtu.be/C9rPGq6KBK0

    I believe everyone can become like the iceman or have health benefit of his method.

    1. Thank you for making such an excellent video! I hope at some point there is an English translation but I’m sure much more will be written in due course.

      Good work Noel 🙂

  11. Pickkers and Kox start their reflection on the ‘significance’ of the PNAS study:
    “Hitherto, both the autonomic nervous system and innate immune system were regarded as systems that cannot be voluntarily influenced.”
    This basic characteristic of the autonomous nervous system remains valid, even if I can increase my heartbeat through some exercises like deep knee bends, or enlarge my pupils by switching off the light. Or, as it appears in this case, by increasing the level of epinephrine through forceful hyperventilation. A more careful formulation would have been that one cannot directly and voluntarily influence functions that are typically considered being under the control of the autonomous nervous system.
    Likewise, in their ‘in conclusion’ I would have preferred to see the addition ‘-be it indirectly-‘ after ‘voluntarily’:
    “In conclusion, the present proof-of-principle study demonstrates that the sympathetic nervous system and immune system can be voluntarily influenced through practicing techniques that are relatively easy to learn within a short time frame.”
    In the meantime, Wim Hof (the Iceman) frames these findings in his own way, and in interviews I would say his ‘enthusiasm’ is rather bordering megalomania and far from neutral in the sense of claims!

    1. You offer an interesting and clever insight. I seem to remember that changes in Wim Hofs body were observed while he was not doing that breathing technique. I believe it was happening during the minutes prior to one of his cold immersion experiments.

      Then again, that doesn’t necessarily prove he is influencing it directly with his mind. It may just be that his body is trained to create change based on the knowledge that he is about to enter cold water akin to a pavlovian response.

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