For thousands of years, many cultures have used heat bathing, to cleanse and heal the body. Today, saunas are still a popular way to increase health and vitality. Saunas can help you relax, and research is proving other long-term potential benefits for your health, including relief from pain due to injury or arthritis, positive effects on blood pressure, and faster wound healing. Some research even shows a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular events.
How Do Saunas Work?
Saunas use heat to cause you to sweat while also increasing your heart rate – as if you were exercising. Originally, saunas consisted of just a small fire built underneath an enclosed space. Today, traditional saunas use heaters to heat rocks, which warm the air in the room and ultimately warm your body.
Newer infrared saunas are now becoming popular as well. Most infrared saunas use far-infrared (FIR) light. The term “far” refers to where the infrared waves fall on the light spectrum. Some saunas also use near infrared light (NIR) and mid infrared light (MIR). NIR light may promote skin renewal, improved cellular functioning, and wound healing. MIR light can penetrate deeper into the body’s soft tissue where inflammation occurs, and may speed up the healing process. FIR light reaches deepest into the body, where toxins are stored. Some infrared saunas contain the full spectrum of light.
Unlike traditional saunas which heat the air, an infrared sauna uses light to heat your body in much the same way the sun does. So, an infrared sauna can produce the same benefits as a traditional sauna, but at a lower temperature of between 120 and 140ºF compared to the temperature range of a traditional sauna, which is typically between 150 and 185º F.
Can You Really Sweat Out Toxins?
Many people believe that sweating is a great way to release toxins and other impurities from your body. One theory is that fever is the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins, and a sauna creates a self-induced fever.
The primary organs of detox in the body are your liver and kidneys. The reason your body sweats is to cool its internal temperature. When analyzed, sweat is comprised mostly of water and a tiny bit of salt. There is no exception when it comes to sweat caused by a traditional sauna — studies show sweat caused by a traditional sauna is 95-97% water and the rest is salt, with a tiny bit of protein and urea. In other words, it’s not made up of “toxins”.
The main reason you feel good after sweating — whether after exercise or a sauna — is that your body releases endorphins. It does not necessarily mean that you are releasing toxins. But, there may be an exception when it comes to infrared saunas.
As humans, we are all bio-accumulators. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we all have dangerous toxins stored in our bodies, including pesticides and mycotoxins. We retain these toxins in our bodies’ fatty tissues, including breast milk, the liver, and blood plasma. Most of these environmental toxins are known to contribute to a whole host of diseases, including cancer, arthritis, autoimmune disease, autism, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and more.
While most sweat is comprised of water and little salt, studies show that 15-20% of infrared sauna-induced sweat is composed of cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, heavy metals, sulfuric acid, and ammonia (as well as sodium and uric acid.) In other words, an infrared sauna may enable your body to eliminate environmental toxins through sweat.
10 Benefits of Infrared Sauna
Many doctors agree that the use of an infrared sauna is one of the most powerful healing therapies. There are many studies that document the effectiveness of sauna therapy for hypertension, congestive heart failure, and for post-myocardial infarction care. In addition, there are proven benefits of infrared sauna for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic fatigue, chronic pain, or addictions.
Here are some of the more common benefits of infrared sauna:
Provides temporary relief from pain
The dry heat from an infrared sauna can relieve soreness due to over exertion by helping to loosen tight muscles. This helps with recovery time for athletes and the rest of us after a hard workout. One reason is because, during a sauna, beta endorphins and norepinephrine are released. This temporarily raises your body’s pain threshold. However, one study reported in Clinical Rheumatology found that the dry heat of infrared saunas may reverse chronic pain and stiffness in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis whose conditions are typically aggravated by humidity. The study also showed that infrared saunas were well tolerated and had no adverse effects.
Helps with weight loss
A sauna increases your heart rate just like when you exercise. Used regularly, saunas can help increase your metabolism. Some infrared sauna manufacturers claim that users can burn anywhere from 300-600 calories in one sauna session. In addition, some studies have shown that sauna therapy can release toxins stored in fat tissues that can otherwise prevent weight loss. These toxins include heavy metals, and fat-soluble chemicals.
Improves heart rate variability
One of the key indicators of a healthy heart is heart rate variability (HRV). The more variability you have between heart beats, the better. If you are under chronic stress or have a condition where you cannot exercise, your heart rate can become less variable. Infrared saunas not only give your heart a workout, they help to relax your body and mind, reduce autonomic nervous stimulation and improve your HRV.
Heat causes your blood vessels to dilate. As blood is drawn closer to the skin’s surface, your blood vessels expand to accommodate increased blood flow. This allows your blood vessels to become more elastic over time. This can improve circulation and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Maintains healthy looking skin
Many people swear the infrared sauna is their secret to glowing skin. This could actually be true. Studies show that infrared sauna can improve psoriasis and other skin conditions. Far infrared saunas stimulate blood circulation in your skin, which in turn may help boost your skin’s ability to produce collagen. And, sweating may accelerate your skin’s ability to detox traces of dirt, makeup, pollution, heavy metals, and alcohol. Finally, the heat relaxes tense facial muscles.
Supports kidney function
Releasing toxins through sweating can help support kidney function by reducing the load put on your kidneys. Some doctors recommend infrared sauna use for their patients on dialysis.
Reduces blood pressure
Abnormal blood pressure can be a coronary risk factor. Several studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy lowers blood pressure significantly with regular use. However, these same studies show that this benefit is true only when using infrared saunas. People who used conventional saunas showed no improvement in blood pressure.
Lowers your risk of dementia
According to a 2016 Finnish study, regular sauna bathing is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. And, the more frequently you take a sauna the better. In the study, those who took a sauna between 4-7 times per week for 15 minutes had a 66 percent lower risk of dementia (all forms) and a 65 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those taking a sauna just once a week. One of the ways saunas may help protect your brain is by stimulating the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in much the same way aerobic exercise does, helping to bulk up grey matter through neurogenesis.
Improves your immunity
Some studies show that regular saunas can reduce your chance of getting a cold by 30 percent. In addition, infrared saunas have even been shown to help prevent a cold from getting worse. One of the reasons is that a sauna-induced fever may stimulate the immune system to increase production of white blood cells and antibodies.
Promotes a sense of well-being
Saunas have been traditionally used to produce a feeling of relaxation. The heat helps to relieve physical and emotional tension in your muscles, including your face and neck muscles, by triggering the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This relaxation effect is one of the biggest benefits to using a sauna. When you are relaxed, your energy levels increase, and you sleep better at night — thus, increasing your sense of well-being.
How To Use An Infrared Sauna
If you are healthy, infrared sauna can be a great way to enhance your health and well-being.
In addition, sauna use can benefit many health conditions. However, be sure to check with your GP before using a sauna, especially if you have asthma or other breathing problems, heart disease, epilepsy, or blood pressure that is too high or too low,
Here’s what you should know before getting started:
- Start slowly. Give your body time to adjust to the heat. Start with short sessions of no more than 15 minutes and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes per session several times a week.
- Remove accessories. Be sure to take off anything metallic, including jewelry, before using a sauna. You will also want to remove glasses and contacts.
- Listen to your body. If you begin to feel uncomfortable symptoms, such as dizziness, headache, nausea, or fatigue, get out of the sauna, cool off and hydrate. If you continue to feel ill whenever you use a sauna, discontinue use all together.
- Take time to cool down. It’s best to towel the sweat off your body and wait for a few minutes while your body naturally cools down. Do not immediately get into a cool or cold shower.
- Rinse off. Once you have cooled down, rinse off or shower. Keep the temperature of the shower comfortable – the water should not be too hot or too cold.
- Drink water. Water is the best way to hydrate. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your sauna.
Do not use a sauna if you are pregnant, take stimulants, tranquilizers or other mind-altering drugs, or if you are under the influence of alcohol.