If you have been hearing the buzz about infrared sauna benefits and wondering if there’s any science to back it up, the answer is yes! Since I am under a major deadline for my cookbook, I asked my husband to use his medical background to research infrared sauna benefits in the medical literature and write about it below. I think many of you will be as surprised as I first was when you read about it!
Also, I know many of you may be surprised that I am able to use a sauna with my MS (many people with MS are severely intolerant to elevations of body temperature). However, as Dr. Wahl, who also has MS, states in her book, she was not able to tolerate the heat of a sauna until she felt better. My advice for anyone with MS is to just be very careful with the sauna and to start gradually. If you notice any worsening of symptoms I would not use it.
By Andy Larson, M.D.
It’s been nearly two years since we took the plunge and installed an infrared sauna in our garage. As part of a comprehensive health evaluation Ivy’s doctor, Dr. Thomas Rofrano, DC (from the Natural Medicine Clinic) introduced Ivy to his office’ infrared sauna. When she came home telling me how refreshed she felt and how her muscle tension had improved she asked me to consider acquiring one. After all it would be far easier to enjoy the health benefits from an infrared sauna if we could walk into the next room than if we had to haul our sweaty bodies to and from a doctor’s office during business hours. After extensive reading we agreed this would be a great addition to our home.
Infrared Sauna Benefits (for Heart, Muscles & Joints)
Studies show health benefits to infrared sauna therapy in two major areas and suggest benefits in certain more specific medical conditions as well.
Improved Blood Flow
Infrared therapy increases circulation by stimulating blood vessel growth and function. This is likely a natural adaptation to bring fluid to your skin surface to allow for sweating as a response to the increased heat. This increased circulation improves blood flow throughout your body. Numerous studies show improvement in blood flow to the heart. This can be especially helpful for persons with heart artery disease or heart failure. Studies actually show an increase in the ejection fraction of the heart (a measure of how much blood is pumped with each heartbeat) in heart failure patients following infrared sauna therapy. This can provide a meaningful improvement in exercise tolerance, shortness of breath, and general well being and can be used as complementary therapy to traditional medicine. This increased circulation is also beneficial for persons with peripheral artery disease and diabetes and could make the difference between chronic leg pain and even tissue or limb loss. Even in a healthy person the neovascularization (creation of new blood vessels) and decreased arterial inflammation will decrease blood pressure and one study even showed a decrease in bad LDL cholesterol levels after 3 weeks of infrared sauna therapy.
Benefits to Muscles and Joints
The infrared sauna is also great for persons with muscle and joint pain. Studies show quicker recovery from athletic workouts and improvement in physical and mental well being in healthy persons. One study even showed improvement in symptoms in persons suffering from the severe joint conditions rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. While these conditions may require medication to fully treat the infrared sauna can provide additional safe help for symptoms with no side effects so long as you drink enough fluid to stay hydrated. Lymphedema (a condition in which fluid collects in the arms and legs) is also improved with the use of infrared therapy whether it was caused by a medical condition or as a complication from prior surgery
Possible Calorie Burn Boost
One more controversial benefit that has been discussed in the literature is increased calorie consumption. The heat promotes additional calorie consumption as your body works to create equilibrium by generating new blood vessels and producing sweat. Some of the same calorie burning effects you would normally obtain from moderate exercise can be obtained by using the infrared sauna regularly. Many practitioners believe the large amount of sweating can provide a detoxifying effect on your body and certainly the heat brings a psychological high that can help with stress and depression.
If you use an infrared sauna for any length of time you will definitely start to sweat. Along with the liver and kidneys, the sweat glands are one of the main organs that help us eliminate toxins. The sweat glands are particularly effective at helping your body remove heavy metals, solvents and plastics.
Our three person sauna is large enough for our whole family but also provides relaxing couples time where we can sit still and talk without being interrupted. Sometimes we use the sauna alone to recover from individual workouts or just to get some peace and quiet. All in all we truly enjoy both the mental and physical health benefits our infrared sauna provides and we remain extremely happy with this purchase.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind…
A few practical pointers before we close. We purchased our “Dynamic” brand infrared sauna from Costco but this company’s products are also available at Wayfair and Amazon. We were surprised that the price was not exorbitant either. For example, you can buy a 1 to 2 person Dynamic brand Infrared Sauna from Amazon for $1,160.
Obviously, there are other manufacturers to choose from. Extra features might include backrests, a speaker system to play your tunes, and ambient lighting. The larger saunas (3 person plus) may require an upgraded electrical circuit. We did have to convert a 15 amp outlet in our garage to a 20 amp receptacle and had an electrician perform this service. If you are buying one of the larger saunas talk to an electrician about the work required up front as the cost of labor and materials may vary depending on the location in your home you choose to position your sauna.
Also, keep in mind standard infrared saunas are designed to be placed in the home or garage and are typically not designed for use outdoors or on your deck. Unless your sauna is being delivered pre-assembled the installation is a two person job though no special handyman skills are required. Our sauna heats to 151 F but most of my sources indicate that 135 F is adequate to enjoy the benefits. Before purchasing do make sure your sauna will be adequately powered to attain that temperature and make sure there are no leakages of heat once it is assembled.
There is no limit to how often you choose to use your sauna so long as you stay hydrated. Most of the medical benefits we discussed in this article were obtained using sauna therapy for at least 30 minutes every other day or in some cases every day but the more personal stress relief benefits and exercise recovery benefits can be obtained happily on an as needed basis. Enjoy and feel free to comment if you have any questions…..