Benefits & Risks of Infrared Sauna Therapy
DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. This post, and anything else you find here is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any condition. If you'd like to view my full disclosure & disclaimer, you can click here.
Last week, I asked members of The GROWradio Listener’s Lounge to choose between 2 health topics that they’d like an in-depth blog post on, and the resounding winner was to speak on SAUNA THERAPY
I can’t say I was upset about this. As a matter of fact, I even purchased a sauna for my home just over a month ago after paying per-session to use the sauna at my local fitness centre for a year and a half! Enough was enough - Having it in my home meant I would be able to use it more often, I could stay in for longer than the allotted 30-minutes that my gym would allow, and I could play whatever music I wanted.
Also, I would no longer need to awkwardly run across the fitness centre in a towel between the gym bathroom and the actual sauna. :)
To begin this conversation, I’ll say that sauna’s are, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated healing modalities of our time. As a matter of fact, in Finland (where the sauna is believed by many to have been first developed as early as 7,000 B.C.), it is not uncommon for families to have one or more saunas somewhere on their property, even to this day!
Before we dive in, let’s start with the basics. There are a number of types of sauna, and today, I’d like to focus specifically on infrared saunas.
WHAT IS AN INFRARED SAUNA?
In 1896, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg from Battle Creek, Michigan, created and patented what would be considered the first infrared sauna; Thousands of years after the first sauna structure was invented with stone and Earth. Dr. Kellogg patented it as a “Radiant Heat-Bath.”
The difference between other traditional saunas and an infrared sauna is that an infrared sauna runs using light bulbs which emit infrared light.
So the story goes, this first invention of the infrared sauna was displayed at the World Fair in Chicago, and from there saunas rose in popularity and could soon be found all over the world. Today, this delicious form of light therapy is known as photobiomodulation.
The light bulbs used were discovered to penetrate deep into the membrane of the skin - Over an inch beneath the surface - inducing profuse sweating, and thus supporting this pathway of detoxification in the body.
In other words, people were using them, and feeling better. :)
what is the difference between near and far infrared?
The difference is in the wavelengths of the infrared energy emitted. And depending on which “expert’s” content you’re consuming, some will say that one is better or worse than the other.
Admittedly, I’m no expert - But here’s what I do know:
Near infrared saunas tend to allow the surrounding air to stay cooler while still increasing the temperature of the body. Generally speaking, they also emit lower levels of electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). Both near infrared and far infrared have potentially therapeutic benefits of their own, but for my own personal use, I went with a sauna that emits near infrared wavelengths and gives off ZERO EMF.
Why might someone want to use a sauna?
Note that the studies presented here are speaking upon various types of sauna. Some studies speak in general about hyperthermia (increasing body temperature), and others are on sauna specifically. All are relevant in their own right to the potential that sauna use can provide. I intended for this blog post to be heavy with data so you can be as informed as possible on all aspects of this topic.
You ready? Let’s do it.
DETOXIFICATION OF HEAVY METALS
Ever heard of emunctories? These are the various part of the body which excrete waste materials. For example: We excrete urine from our kidneys and bladder, we excrete carbon dioxide from our lungs, and we excrete poop from our intestines.
Our skin is not only our largest organ, but it’s also an emunctory.
When we sweat, it is possible to release a multitude of toxic material, including heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.
Don’t think you’ve been exposed to heavy metals? Think again:
Arsenic can be contracted from conventionally raised chicken, eggs, and rice.
Cadmium can be contracted from cigarettes, vehicle exhaust, tap water, seafood, batteries, and food grown in contaminated soil.
Lead can be contracted from tap water, root canals, vehicle exhaust, and household paint.
Mercury can be contracted from seafood, metal fillings, contact lens solution, tattoo ink, and vaccines.
According to one study, increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a decreased risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality, likely in part due to it’s ability to boost circulation. It has also been shown to show provide benefit for those with atherosclerosis by improving vascular endothelial function.
NERVOUS SYSTEM HEALTH
Nothing beats the feeling of being cozy warm on a chilly day! Warm fuzzy socks, a hot cup of tea in hand… Doesn’t the thought itself provide instant relaxation?
It’s no wonder sauna use can be so helpful in bringing the nervous system into a parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” state. This is one of my favourite effects that I personally feel when in the sauna. Both the heat and the quiet really relaxes me on both a physical and an emotional level. I find stillness in my sauna unlike anywhere else, and consider it to be an excellent space to get quiet, tune in, and focus on my breath.
One study even assessed mood states of cancer patients, with a significant decrease in depressive states lasting upwards of 72 hours following sauna use.
Promising results are being seen in using sauna as an adjunct to chemotherapy, likely because it helps to activate the immune system. The thermal stress causes cells to produce heat shock proteins, which are a repair mechanism for the body that naturally declines as we age.
I also love this particular video explanation of heat shock proteins and sauna use.
In some cases, hyperthermia in itself is used as a treatment for cancer, and may be of particular benefit to those with metastasis of the liver .
The research on sauna use for both the herpes virus and lyme disease is also promising. I have a friend who currently uses it for Lyme and says it has been an absolute game changer for her chronic symptoms!
I personally used it to detoxify my body after a severe mold mycotoxin exposure. You can tune into episode 009 of the GROWradio where I share the story on this. I followed the “Kill, Bind, Sweat” protocol by Dr. Jess, M.D. for this particular part of my healing journey.
PERFORMANCE & RECOVERY
Interestingly enough, external heating from something like sauna usage may also boost our natural production of human growth hormone (HGH), which is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that naturally decreases as we age. It tends to have a beneficial effect on insulin levels, and can be helpful in maintaining a healthy body mass and muscle tissue. It may also help to speed up recovery.
Whole body hyperthermia even improves obesity-induced insulin resistance in diabetic mice. (BUT with that being said, it’s important to know that sauna use doesn’t compensate for the power of living healthfully across the board. Eating well and moving the body is still essential!)
Sauna use is not for everyone. It is best to check with your healthcare provider before implementing a new protocol - Especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. I personally would not recommend using the sauna while breastfeeding simply due to the level of toxins it can stir in the body.
Avoid using alcohol or medications near your sauna time unless recommended by your doctor as the heat induced can increase circulation. I personally use BioTox, a biotoxin binder from Microbe Formulas just before I go in the sauna as part of my own “Kill, bind, sweat” protocol for mold as mentioned above, but know that what works for one person might not work for everyone. Always work with a practitioner before implementing something you see on the internet.
If you’ve never used a sauna before, I also recommend starting off very slowly - Perhaps just a 5-10 minute session. Take a break any time you need, or get out if you aren’t feeling well. I personally began 2 years ago at about 8 minutes, which is where I felt most comfortable at the time. Today, my sessions last anywhere from 50-60 minutes. You may find that you only ever make your way up to 15 or 20 minute sessions, and that is absolutely fine. Living well is much more a marathon, and much less a sprint. :)
It’s also important to hydrate well before and after sauna use, and to enjoy a mineral-rich electrolyte drink such as coconut water, or regular water with a few mineral drops added in. I use 10 drops of BioActive Carbon Minerals from Microbe Formulas in 1 litre of water after each sauna session (and usually once per day whether I use the sauna or not!) to restore mineral balance in my body.
Formerly known as “The Pocket Sauna,” this beauty contains the benefit of near infrared technology, AND red light therapy all on one beautifully crafted piece.
It’s trapezoidal design allows it to fit in small my bedroom quite well, and I actually set the whole thing up by myself within just about 2 hours.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. :)
I also chose SaunaSpace because their product boasts ZERO EMF radiation, and it provides a bamboo grounding mat for added therapeutic benefit. You know that feeling you get when you place your toes in the grass? I enjoy that experience every time I hop in for a little sweat session!
I’d love to know about your experience with sauna use! Has it helped you in your own health journey? Let me know in the comments!
I hope you guys enjoyed this blog post as much as I enjoyed piecing it all together for you!