An infrared sauna may not sound like the most inviting place to relax, but numerous studies show it provides off the charts health benefits without any known side effects.
While a traditional sauna uses heat to warm the air (which in turn warms your body), an infrared sauna uses far infrared lights to do the same thing without warming the air around you.
Used primarily as a detoxing tool, studies in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and a report from the Mayo Clinic suggest these unconventional saunas might also improve the health of patients with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“These … devices are proving to help many people suffering from pain feel better and more relaxed,” says Dr. Josh Axe, certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist.
According to Axe, infrared saunas have definite advantages over traditional saunas in that they’re comfortable and simple to use. The temperature inside an infrared sauna is around 30 degrees cooler than steam saunas so they are better tolerated, especially by people who can’t withstand the very high temperatures of dry saunas or steam rooms.
“They’re believed to have a parasympathetic healing effect, which means they help the body handle stress better,” says Axe. “This is an attribute that could mean one day they’ll be used for handling all types of diseases from insomnia and depression to hormonal imbalances and autoimmune disorders.”
It’s A Deep Heat
Infrared light is in the invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. For humans, this part of the light spectrum is experienced as heat the same way we feel the warmth of sunshine. Infrared saunas are designed for deep heat penetration since the body is being heated from the inside out and the heat is not being wasted on warming the air.
A 2015 study stated that full spectrum infrared radiation that these saunas use can penetrate three to four centimeters, about an inch and a half, into the subcutaneous layer of the skin.
The sweating normally begins later than with conventional saunas, but it is a vigorous sweat. Proponents of this technology, say users can sweat two to three times as much, which permits more toxins to be expelled from the body per session. It’s also referred to as “passive sweating.”
Sweating is good. That’s why cultures around the world for centuries have used variations of saunas to cure illnesses, revitalize the body, relieve sore muscles, and improve mental focus and attitude. And the science backs this up.
Sweating can flush the body of substances of alcohol, cholesterol, and salt. The body releases toxins by using sweat as the conduit.
“Sweat purges the body of toxins that can clog pores and plague the skin with pimples and blemishes,” says Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Dele-Michael said.
A 2011 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology found many toxic elements appeared to be excreted through sweat. Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for the elimination of many toxic elements from the human body – so much so that researchers now believe sweat analysis could be considered as an additional method for the monitoring of toxic elements in humans rather than just blood and/or urine testing.
Far infrared saunas are believed to be more effective in moving toxins through the skin than traditional saunas because in a far infrared sauna only 80 to 85 percent of the sweat is water with the non-water portion being cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia, and uric acid.
Shed Weight And Years
The heat generated by an infrared sauna will cause your core temperature to increase, which can also lead to an increased heart rate — the same increase in heart rate that you experience when exercising. When your body has to work harder to lower your core temperature or keep up with an increased heart rate, your body will burn more calories, resulting in weight loss.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that a 30-minute infrared sauna session could burn roughly 600 calories.
Sweating also helps slow aging. A study from Brigham Young University reveals you may be able to slow one type of aging — the kind that happens inside your cells– as long as you’re willing to sweat.
The study, published in the medical journal Preventive Medicine, finds that people who have consistently high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those who have sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who are moderately active.
Telomeres are the protein endcaps of our chromosomes. They’re like our biological clock and they’re extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres.
Certified integrative nutrition coach Connie Rogers is an advocate of infrared sauna therapy.
“I love it, it truly works,” says Rogers.
I use it for faster removal of toxins, skin rejuvenation, and stress management. In the past I used it for multiple chemical sensitivities that I suffered with when I owned a day spa. It improved immune function for ulcerative colitis.
Strength and conditioning coach Brandon Mentore has also used infrared sauna therapy and believes it’s “very beneficial.”
Infrared light, in general, contains the specific light frequencies that are regenerative and restorative. It helps boost mood by increasing dopamine. It helps build your melatonin and improve your metabolic processes including detoxification and protection against cellular oxidation. This light frequency also improves hormone signaling with insulin and many of the steroidal sex hormones.
According to Mentore, we get most of our infrared light from the sun if we’re outside and exposed to it at sunrise or sunset.
“The deep orange and red colors typically associated with sunrises and sunsets are a clue that infrared light is in high amounts and it builds dopamine which is the feel-good chemical,” says Mentore. “This is why people tend to love watching sunrises and sunsets and even campfires for that very reason.”
Brian Richards is also a believer. Ten years ago Richards suffered from insomnia, acne, and adrenal fatigue. He didn’t want to take interminable pills for his health issues so an alternative health practitioner recommended infrared sauna therapy. The only problem was that infrared saunas were difficult to find at the time.
Richards built his own, and within days his insomnia disappeared. With continued treatment, his acne and adrenal fatigue also disappeared. As a bonus, Richards’ brain fog – something he wasn’t even aware of before the therapy – also lifted. He began thinking clearer and quicker.
Richards was so impressed with infrared sauna therapy that he went on to research everything he could find on the topic, which led to the establishment of his own business, SaunaSpace.
“As our biochemical and bioluminescent state is degraded by toxins and stress, worsening health becomes a disease,” says Richards. “The key to our natural regeneration lay within our cells, and natural thermal light kindles it.“
Near Infrared And Light Eating Cells
Much of Richards’ research has focused on near infrared lamp saunas. Near-infrared uses incandescent bulbs that emit light in a lower electromagnetic range than far infrared saunas that use heating elements which mainly emit light in the far-infrared range of the electromagnetic light spectrum. According to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the light from near-infrared saunas can penetrate the body even deeper than far infrared light, which may provide even more health benefits.
But the big difference is photobiomodulation (PBM), a term from the field of photobiology, which studies the biological effects of light wavelengths on living organisms. PBM occurs when light photons are absorbed by living tissue.
But not just any light will do. PBM is only possible within a certain wavelength range on the electromagnetic light spectrum: specifically from 600-1000 nanometers, which includes near infrared light produced by incandescent bulbs, but not far infrared light produced by heating elements.
This range is known as the “mitochondrial stimulation band” (or “healing band”) because only these wavelengths of light stimulate the cellular mitochondrial light receptor enzyme, cytochrome-c oxidase.
When light from within this band of wavelengths is absorbed (eaten) by human cells, the cells responds by increasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, releasing Nitrous Oxide, and forming Reactive Oxygen Species – all of which work to produce large-scale systemic health benefits.
Some of the studied benefits of PBM are: promotion of anti-aging, enhancement of athletic performance, improvements in memory and cognition, accelerated muscle healing, and boosted cellular regeneration.
Natural health expert Dr. Joseph Mercola refers to photobiomodulation as “The medicine of the future, today.”
According to Mercola, photons can be absorbed by the blood flowing in the skin, and it’s known that light is very good at activating stem cells in bone marrow. He believes metabolic syndrome and diabetes are two other conditions that could benefit from near infrared light exposure.
“Photobiomodulation has been around for centuries but it’s only in the last 50 years that its mechanisms have become (at least partly) understood,” says Mercola. “Unfortunately, as the pharmacological paradigm grew, so did the emphasis on expensive and dangerous medications.”
Where To Find A Home Infrared Sauna
Incandescent near infrared light saunas are often of the portable nature or can be installed in your home as a conversion kit (like in a shower). SaunaSpace sells them with prices ranging from around $1,000 to $7,500.
The far infrared saunas are not portable and more closely resemble conventional saunas. They are usually available to the public through spas and gyms and health centers. When you first begin it’s recommended to go no more than 20 to 30 minutes after breaking a sweat. As you become acclimated to infrared heat, users average 25-45 minute sessions. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, or green tea before, during and after a sauna session.
You can expect to pay $30 or more per session.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest 11 years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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