The term “sauna” can refer to any type of small or large room or device designed to help the user experience dry heat. Now there are also infrared (far and near) saunas that emit infrared light and claim to heat the body more effectively. Saunas or “sweat lodges” have been used for centuries by different cultures.
A sauna’s dry heat (which can get as high as 185° F) has profound effects on the body. Skin temperature soars to about 104° F within minutes. The average person will pour out a pint of sweat during a short stint in a sauna. The pulse rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute. Most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin; in fact, this circulation actually shunts blood away from the internal organs.
A lot has been made of the health benefits of sauna bathing and with good reason. Physically, nothing is more reinvigorating than a deep, healthy sweat every day. Tension fades, muscles unwind. Mentally, we emerge relaxed, revived and ready for whatever the day may bring. A few minutes a day is all it takes to look and feel better. The body’s response to gentle, persistent heat is well-documented and proven by people all over the world.
There is high-quality support of sauna for treatments for:
- NYHA class II and III congestive heart failure (1)
- Coronary artery disease, angina (2)
- Systolic and diastolic hypertension (3)
- Chronic pain (4)
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (5)
- Obesity and fasting blood glucose levels (3)
- Impaired lactation in breastfeeding mothers (6)
The latest study involving more than 2,000 middle-aged men living in Eastern Finland showed that frequent sauna bathing can reduce the risk of dementia. In a 20-year follow-up, men taking a sauna 4–7 times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those taking a sauna once a week. (7)
There is some data that it can prolong longevity. (8)
And if we feel more relaxed and happy after sitting in a sauna, that’s because the levels of BDNF (brain derived nerve growth factor) and beta-endorphins go up, since they stimulate the growth of new brain cells as well as the survival of existing neurons, enhancing learning and long-term memory. Increased levels of BDNF and beta-endorphins have also been shown to ameliorate anxiety and depression. (9)
And of course deep sweating in a sauna helps to remove multiple toxins, like lead, mercury, copper, nickel, and other poisonous chemicals that we ingest and inhale from the environment.
Sauna is not a cure for all ailments: there is no evidence to support the claim for cholesterol reduction. Published data have consistently found that sauna therapy does not lower cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
One important caution: novices to sauna therapy should take it easy at first. Start with a lower temperature and drink plenty of fluids to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Leave the sauna immediately if you start to feel dizzy, lightheaded or tired!!!
Contact your physician prior to starting sauna therapy, if you suffer from heart, kidney or liver failure.
For more information on healthy lifestyles, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Koganski at 215-750-7000 or at www.newtowninternalmedicine.com.
1) Kihara T, et al. Repeated sauna treatment improves vascular endothelial and cardiac function in patients with chronic heart failure. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2002;39(5):754–9.
2) Imamura M, et al. Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2001;38(4):1083–8.
3) Biro S, et al. Clinical implications of thermal therapy in lifestyle-related disease. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2003;228(10):1245–9.
4) Masuda A, Koga Y, Hattanmura M, Minagoe S, Tei C. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for patients with chronic pain. Psychother Psychosom. 2005;74(5):288–94.
5) Masuda A, et al. The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. J Psychosom Res. 2005;58(4):383–7.
6) Ogita S, et al. Effects of far-infrared radiation on lactation. Ann Physiol Anthropol. 1990;9(2).
7) Laukkanen, T, et al. Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men. Age and Ageing , December 8, 2016; 0: 1–5.
8) Singh, R. et al. Anti-inflammatory heat shock protein 70 genes are positively associated with human survival. Current pharmaceutical design 16, 796-801 (2010).
9) Goekint, M., et al. Influence of citalopram and environmental temperature on exercise-induced changes in BDNF. Neuroscience letters 494, 150-154, doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2011.03.001.