Written By: Dr. Natalie Ledbetter
The Benefits of Infrared Sauna Therapy
Infrared therapy consists of short-term exposure to waves of light in the nonvisible spectrum to increase core body temperature. Infrared light has longer wavelengths than that of visible red light and can penetrate deeper into the tissues.
Infrared warms by depositing energy directly into the tissues, heating at a cellular level, from the inside out. Mitochondria use this infrared radiation and convert it into energy the body can use.
Approximately 80% of the energy from sunlight is in the form od infrared radiation, but much of the remaining 20% is higher energy, shorter wavelength ultraviolet light absorbed by the surface of the body instead of moving deeper. This ultraviolet light is what can cause sunburn and sun damage.
Heat has been used for thousands of years to treat illness and injury. Finnish saunas date back to around 7000 BC and native Americans have used sweat lodges for millennia.
Some practitioners of Chinese medicine use the technique of healing called Qi Gong where far infrared heat is generated and sent to the hands which is then sent to the area of concern to facilitate healing.
The benefits of infrared sauna use (and non-infrared sauna use as well) are many and the science supports this claim. A study of 2300 middle aged men in Finland (Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease- KIHD) risk factor study found strong association between sauna use and decrease in death and disease from all causes. With sauna use of 2 to 3 times a week, the men were 24% less likely to die from cardiovascular related causes than men who did not use sauna. A 66% decrease risk of developing dementia and a 65% decrease risk of Alzheimer’s was also noted in this group.
In the men who used the sauna 4 to 7 times a week, they were found to be 46% less likely to die from cardiovascular related causes and 40% less likely to die from all causes.
The literature reports that the cardiovascular benefits from a 25 minute sauna session are comparable to moderate levels of physical exercise because the heat causes the heart rate to increase by 60 to 70%.
Infrared sauna use can be helpful for sufferers of fibromyalgia. In a 2005 study in Japan, far infrared sauna was used once a day for 35 days and then twice a week for a year. Patients reported a significant decrease in fatigue, pain, and sleep disturbance after 15 to 25 sessions with the benefits continuing throughout the first year after the study.
Sauna use enhances neurogenesis which is the production of new nerves and BDNF production. BDNF is brain derived neurotrophic factor and it promotes the growth of new neurons and synapses and can improve cognitive function and memory and is a natural antidepressant.
In a study with 28 patients suffering from depression, one sauna treatment led to a measurable decrease in depression within a week and this lasted for up to six weeks.
Infrared saunas have benefits above and beyond that of traditional steam saunas and non-infrared saunas. In a study by the University of Missouri -Kansas City they found that sweat from a typical conventional sauna session contained 97% water and 3% waste and toxins. Sweat from an IR sauna session contained 80% water and 20% waste and toxins. This shows an increased benefit of better detoxification with infrared sauna use.
Toxins eliminated via sweat include
Bisphenol A (BPA) an endocrine disruptor found in plastics
- Benefits of sauna therapy, especially infrared sauna therapy, may include:
- Decreased stress and decreased stress hormone (cortisol) release
- Increased production of collagen
- Decreased musculoskeletal pain
- Increased circulation of blood and lymphatic fluid
- Toxin release
- Deeper sleep
- Increased endorphin release
- Increased cardiovascular health
- Boosts the immune system
- Increased insulin sensitivity
- Faster wound healing
- Decreased incidence of migraines
- Helps to heal acne, eczema, and psoriasis
- Decreased L DL and total cholesterol
- Increased calories burned
- There are a few cautions with sauna use. Persons with the following should not participate in sauna therapy:
- Severe cardiovascular disease unless cleared by a physician
- Severe hypertension or hypo tension
It is important to drink at least 16 ounces of water before each sauna session. An average session lasts about 15 to 30 minutes. When first beginning to use sauna therapy one should start with 10 to 15 minutes at 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit gradually increasing the time and intensity of the heat with each use as tolerated.
We recommend keeping the temperature below 160 degrees Fahrenheit with infrared because the heat is so effective at heating the body tissue that higher temperatures are not needed. It is important to drink another 16 ounces of water while in the sauna or immediately after leaving the sauna to prevent dehydration.
Sauna therapy has been used for thousands of years to promote health and wellness. With the advent of Infrared, sauna use has become even more beneficial and most people can safely enjoy these benefits. Many health spas and wellness clinics now have Infrared saunas to make this therapy available for people who do not want to or cannot afford to purchase a sauna for home use.