From Mayan Temples to Roman Baths
Recently there’s been a renewed interest in infrared saunas. Health claims include detoxification, relaxation, and cardiovascular support.
This is certainly not a new concept- ‘heat treatments’ like saunas and hot steam baths have been used in medical systems for hundreds of years on nearly every continent on earth. Even the Mayans were known to have used their own version of a sauna over 3000 years ago. On a recent trip to Pompeii, I saw firsthand the ingenious method used by the Romans to create steam rooms as method to help bathers transition from hot bathing temperatures to the ambient temperature outside.
Fast forward to present day- significant advances in heat therapies are being delivered via the infrared sauna. This invention has made the operation of the sauna cheaper, more accessible, and arguably more effective.
So, what are the benefits of these high-tech devices? More importantly, are they really as good as they’re made out to be?
Read on to learn everything you wanted to know about infrared saunas
What Is An Infrared Sauna?
Traditional saunas work by heating the air around you, which in turn heats your body. Infrared saunas on the other hand use infrared light emitters to heat the body directly and do not heat the air around you. This makes them a far more efficient form of heating and allows for a greater control of body temperature.
The infrared wavelength is in the non-visible light spectrum.
The lower cost and size of an infrared sauna has made them a popular addition to homes all over the world. They’re used for relaxation and for their many therapeutic benefits.
Only in the past decade has there been a focus on researching hyperthermic medical treatments like infrared saunas. A number of studies in recent years have shown that infrared saunas have a positive impact on conditions like coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure , rheumatoid arthritis , and weight loss .
What Happens To The Body In A Sauna?
The body always tries to maintain a stable temperature. As the infrared rays begin to heat up the body, several changes begin to occur in order to reduce the core temperature. These changes may:
- Stimulate the release of stress hormones (adrenocorticotropic hormone, cortisol and catecholamines) .
- Increase heart rate
- Promote sweating
- Dilate blood vessels
- Stimulate the production of immune cells
- Inhibit pain perception
- Speed muscle, ligament, and joint recovery
The Direct Benefits Of Infrared Saunas
Sweating induced by saunas is the main reason they’re considered to be so useful for detoxification, the idea being that toxins are pushed out of the body through the sweat glands.
But what are “toxins”? Toxins could be considered any component in the blood that doesn’t serve a useful purpose. The body normally gets rid of these molecules by filtering them through the kidneys or liver.
Sweating offers a unique advantage to this by allowing many of the water-soluble elements to become eliminated in the sweat, helping to reduce the load on the other elimination organs like the kidneys and liver.
2. Improved Circulation
One of the ways the body regulates temperature is by regulating the amount of blood that enters the peripheral circulatory system. This system involves millions of tiny blood vessels located throughout the skin. This gives these vessels a large surface area, which the body uses to vent heat from inside the body. In effect, it brings warm blood to the surface where the ambient air can cool it off. This is why many of us develop flushed skin when the weather is very hot.
Infrared saunas do a great job triggering this response because they work by raising the body’s core temperature. The heart rate increases in order to push blood into the small but extensive network of capillaries and blood vessels that make up the peripheral circulation.
This exercises the entire cardiovascular system, and nourishes these smaller capillaries. This brings nutrients to the area, promotes healing of damaged blood vessels, and clears out metabolic buildup that has developed within this system.
3. Immune Support
Infrared saunas have been shown to reduce susceptibility to colds/flus and prevent infections  in healthy individuals. Building off this older research, scientists out of Poland investigating the levels of white blood cells in athletes following sessions in a sauna, found a significant improvement in white blood cell counts . This directly improves our immune function.
4. Muscle Recovery
Muscle damage can occur as a result of vigorous exercise, chronic inflammation (from arthritis), or traumatic injuries. Infrared saunas offer unique support for the recovery of muscle damage. Improved blood flow, lowered pain and inflammation, and more effective immune responses all contribute to this effect.
The past decade has brought us a lot of insight into the benefits of the infrared sauna. Conditions involving the cardiovascular system, immune system, arthritis, athletic muscle recovery, detox, and weight loss can all benefit from regular sauna use. Thanks to the invention of the infrared sauna, this technology can be easily incorporated into any home.
Interested in getting your own Infrared Sauna? Here’s a brand I love:
- Philips (1998) Bodycare and Infrared. Philips, Eindhoven
- Oosterveld, F. G. J., Westhuis, B., Koel, G. J., & Rasker, J. J. (2002). Infrared sauna and Healthy subjects; the physiological effects of hyperthermia. Herbals and complementary medicine, 3(2), 40-52.
- Beever, R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. Canadian family physician, 55(7), 691-696.
- Gutierrez, A., Mesa, J. L. M., Ruiz, J. R., Chirosa, L. J., & Castillo, M. J. (2003). Sauna-induced rapid weight loss decreases explosive power in women but not in men. International journal of sports medicine, 24(07), 518-522.
- Ježova D, Kvetnansky R, Vigas M. Sex differences in endocrine response to hyperthermia in sauna. Acta Physiol Scand, 1994; 150: 293-298
- Ernst E, Pecho E, Wirz P, Saradeth T. Regular sauna bathing and the incidence of common colds. Ann Med, 1990; 22: 225-227
- Pilch, W., Pokora, I., Szyguła, Z., Pałka, T., Pilch, P., Cisoń, T., … & Wiecha, S. (2013). Effect of a single Finnish sauna session on white blood cell profile and cortisol levels in athletes and non-athletes. Journal of human kinetics, 39(1), 127-135.