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What is sauna therapy?
Sauna therapy has been a part of healing practices for centuries as part of many different traditions – the Greeks and Romans historically used bathhouses to both cleanse and detoxify, and many indigenous peoples use sweat lodges as a means of both spiritual and physical purification.
Most North Americans are quite familiar with the use of European saunas in which electricity or steam is used to produce indirect heat to warm the body. This first warms the air (about 75-95 degrees C) first and then the body, producing increased perspiration. The increase in air temperature and humidity increase cardiovascular and respiratory rates which can make these saunas uncomfortable when used for long periods of time. Unfortunately, this will often deter the elderly, asthmatic patients and other individuals who suffer from most respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, pregnant women and those with heat-sensitive conditions.
Infrared saunas use ceramic heaters that produce radiant heat that warms objects directly without having to heat the air between. Infrared saunas emit these infrared wavelengths that cause a slight vibration of molecules, enhancing metabolic changes between cells and increasing temperature (Kaur, 2006). In this way, infrared saunas are able to achieve two to three times more sweat at much lower temperatures (about 45-50C), thereby allowing more types of people to benefit from sauna therapy and for longer periods of time.
How does it work?
Both traditional and infrared saunas utilize the skin as the primary organ of detoxification. The dermal layer of the skin is composed of connective tissue containing many blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and nerves, and is connected to the underlying deep fascia or bones by the subcutaneous tissue (Snell, 2000). Due to this proximity to the circulatory, skeletal and lymphatic systems, increasing the metabolism of these tissues with heat therapy increases the eliminatory actions of the skin.
The sweat glands naturally excrete urea, sodium, chlorine, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, nickel, cadmium and manganese (Hoshi, 2001). In addition, perspiration can eliminate water – and fat-soluble toxins (Kuksis, 1979). Drugs (eg., amphetamines, morphine and methadone) and many environmental contaminants (eg., pesticides, PCBs and dioxin) can be excreted via sweat (Oesch et al., 2007; Rea, 1967). Mercury, aluminum, lead, nickel and cadmium have also been shown to be excreted through the skin (Kaur, 2006; Peltonen, 1979). These toxins being drawn out through the skin are originating from the subcutaneous layers of adipose tissues, but it has been hypothesized that with long-term use of infrared sauna therapy, toxins deposited deeper in the body, in bones and internal organs, are able to be eliminated as well (Cohn and Emmett, 1978; Rabinowitz, 1976). Far Infrared is thought to be 7 times more effective at detoxifying heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, and even cholesterol, nicotine, alcohol, ammonia, sulfuric acid and other environmental toxins, as opposed to conventional heat or steam saunas. Scientific analysis shows infrared heat induced sweat contains 5-6 times more toxins, fat and impurities than normal sweat. One U.S. study has indicated that people using a conventional sauna were eliminating 95-97% water in their sweat. Those using an infra-red sauna, however, were found to be eliminating only 80-85% water, while the remaining 15-20% was mostly composed of undesirable elements such as sodium, fat soluble toxins, sulfuric acid, uric acid, toxic heavy metals, ammonia, and cholesterol.
Why use sauna therapy?
Infrared sauna therapy has been studied extensively and shown to:
- increase oxygenation of the mitochondria, improve energy production and thereby help to minimize chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms (Masuda, 2007)
- improve muscle tone and increase rate of healing, which benefits sport injuries, arthritic conditions and fibromyalgia (Matsushita, 2008)
- to reduce swelling and pain and greatly improve clinical markers in those suffering from chronic pain (Masuda 2005), rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis (Oosterveld, 2008)
- stimulate the hypothalamus, which controls the production of neurochemicals involved in such biological processes as sleep, mood, pain sensations, and blood pressure.
- improves microcirculation – consequentially offers support and facilitation of cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.
- relax muscles, extend soft tissues, and improve flexibility
- naturally alleviate the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by promoting collagen and elastin production within basal cell layer
- Increase cellular metabolism and support for weight-loss and detoxification management.
- benefit depression, drug addiction and multiple chemical sensitivity.(Imamura, 2001; Masuda, 2005; Cecchini and LoPresti, 2007; Crinnion, 2006)
- enhance white blood cell function, increase immune response and the elimination of foreign pathogens and cellular waste products.
C. Dunson, a Lymphologist in Utah reported 15 minutes of infrared treatment cleared pneumonia. Infrared therapy in both Japan and China has proven to be outstanding for asthma, bronchitis, colds, flu, sinusitis and congestion as it clears inflammation, swelling and mucous clogged passages.
There are a few clinical conditions that should be monitored or make a person ill suited for infrared sauna use, including people with: lymphedema, pacemakers and metal implants, kidney, heart and/or liver disease, seizure disorders and hypoglycaemia or people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Infrared sauna therapy requires regular sessions. Ideally, a person would use a sauna daily to see the best results. The first few sessions should last no more than 30 minutes, working toward eventual 50-minute sessions. Of course if you are pressed for time a short session of even 20 minutes is beneficial. You should consult a doctor before undergoing therapy to make sure you don’t have any health conditions that prohibit sauna use.
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