Heat therapy is a significantly underutilized treatment in medicine. However, with the growing movement to find more self-directed, more natural, less invasive ways to overcome health problems and lose weight, it's becoming more popular among the American public. And that's a good thing! As we will see in a moment, the science bears out the use of heat as a treatment modality for a wide variety of health conditions.
Infrared saunas, in particular present an interesting and powerful opportunity for people to take advantage of the latest advances in heat therapy. These saunas, which can be installed in your home, use infrared light instead of conventional heat to bring up your body temperature. The difference is important because infrared saunas can increase your core body temperature by 2-3 degrees-enough to improve the health results you achieve as compared to conventional saunas. Most infrared saunas on the market produce only far infrared. However, a new development in the field is full-spectrum infrared. These are saunas that provide all the health benefits associated with far- mid- and near infrared rays.
Over the last decade science has finally caught up with what ancient societies have realized for millennia regarding the use of heat therapy, and the evidence that's surfacing about the benefits of regular use of saunas is impressive.
Infrared saunas help you lose weight. In a two-week study of twenty-five obese adults, body weight and body fat were reduced after daily infrared sauna treatments of 15 minutes. Interestingly, the researchers who conducted the study reported on one obese patient who couldn't exercise due to arthritis in the knee yet lost 17.5 kg, and decreased body fat from 46 to 35 percent after 10 weeks of sauna therapy.(i)
Infrared saunas enhance detoxification. We live in a sea of toxins as you know. Luckily there are steps we can take to more effectively remove these toxins, and the use of saunas is one powerful method for doing so. The Environmental Protection Agency has shown that sauna therapy increases excretion of heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium) and fat-soluble chemicals like PCBs, PBBs, and HCBs. In fact, toxins stored in fat can prevent you from effectively losing weight. I've seen this time and again in my practice: People try everything to lose weight and get healthy, but it isn't until they detoxify their bodies that they can truly heal.
Infrared saunas reduce blood pressure. Several studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy lowers blood pressure significantly. In one study done by the University of Missouri, Kansas City subjects were randomly assigned to either a Solocarbon infrared sauna or a conventional sauna. Systolic blood pressure decreased from an average of 130.5 to 124 in those that underwent infrared sauna treatment. Those who were treated in a conventional sauna showed no statistical improvement in blood pressure.(ii)
Infrared saunas reduce complications and improve cardiac performance in heart disease patients. In addition to lowering blood pressure, infrared saunas also improve heart rate variability(HRV)-one of the key indicators of heart health. Normally, there is a subtle variability between heartbeats. When there is more variability in the beat-to-beat rhythm, your heart and nervous system are healthier. The least healthy heart rhythm has the least variability-a flat line. However, when the autonomic nervous system is in chronic stress mode, the heartbeat becomes less variable. Infrared saunas relax the body and mind, reduce autonomic nervous stimulation, and thus improve HRV. There is an infrared sauna on the market, the mPulse Series from Sunlighten, with built in biofeedback capabilities for monitoring heart rate during a sauna session. This series has intelligent technology delivering customized programs to personalize your sauna therapy.
Infrared saunas improve brain function. As I point out in The UltraMind Solution, the health and resilience of your brain function are directly related to the complexity and variability of your heart rate. What is good for your heart is good for your brain. And since infrared saunas increase the variability and health of your nervous system, that means they are a great way to improve brain function. Interestingly, one study has also shown that infrared saunas can actually improve the function of neurons that have been damaged by toxins.(iii) This is to say nothing of the relaxing effects noted above, the improvement sauna has on autonomic nervous function, and the overall increased sense of peace and well-being you experience when regularly taking saunas.
In addition to the benefits above, infrared saunas have also been shown to help blood sugar, reduce joint pain, improve your skin, and more. It's a treatment I highly recommend and one I prescribe to patients often. I suggest you consider regular sauna therapy as well.
To take an infrared sauna, use the following guidelines:
- Find a local sauna to use.
- Start slowly, with 5 to 10 minutes per session.
- Build up to 40 minutes with cool-down periods in between.
- Keep well hydrated during the sessions-bring a glass bottle of water into the sauna with you.
- Be sure to take a good multi-mineral while doing the sauna treatments (if you are not doing so already) to replace the minerals lost through sweating.
- Wash thoroughly with soap to remove the toxins from your skin.
- Consider purchasing an infrared sauna for home use. I highly recommend Sunlighten Saunas. They are high-quality, full spectrum infrared saunas and their customer service team specializes in helping you locate the best sauna for your needs.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
(i) Biro, S., Masuda, A., Kihara, T., Tei, C. 2003. Clinical implications of thermal therapy in lifestyle-related diseases. Exp Biol Med. 228(10): 1245-1249. Review
(ii) Edwards, B., Kort, H., and John Foxworthy. A study of the healthy benefits of far-infared sauna therapy. University of Missouri, Kansas City.
(iii) Wong-Riley, M.T., Liang H.L., Eells J.T. et al. 2005. Photobiomodulation directly benefits primary neurons functionally inactivated by toxins: Role of cytochrome c oxidase. J Biol Chem. 280(6):4761-71.