The Health Benefits of Heat
By Amy Schade, PA-C
Sauna use has been commonplace in Scandinavian countries for hundreds of years. In other parts of the world sauna use is gaining popularity due to the reported health benefits. Not only can sauna use improve and protect the health of your heart, but it has also been linked to the excretion of heavy metals, protection of healthy cells, and an increase in immune function. Given all these benefits it’s not surprising that more people are finding themselves sweating in either a traditional dry sauna or an infrared sauna.
Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are all carcinogenetic compounds that can be toxic to bodily function and likely contribute to many chronic diseases. These compounds can make their way into our bodies through contaminated food and drinking water. A study published in 2011 demonstrated that all four of these toxic compounds can be eliminated from the body via sweat and that sauna use may be an avenue to help eliminate these compounds from the body.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015 demonstrated a correlation between increased sauna bathing and reduced risk of all-cause mortality along with the reduced risk of sudden cardiac death. In Japan, far infrared sauna (FIR) therapy is used to help treat heart failure. Studies have shown that FIR sauna use 5 days a week for 4 weeks resulted in a statistically significant improvement in heart function through increased left ventricular ejection fraction and exercise tolerance, along with the reduced risk of hospitalization.
Sauna use can supplement an exercise routine because it causes vasodilation, an increase in heart rate, and increased respiration rate. This can help to maintain fitness levels in people who are unable to exercise short term due to an injury. Given the physiologic changes it brings, sauna use alone is comparable to a moderately vigorous workout.
In 1990, research published in the Annals of Medicine showed an interesting decline in the incidence of common colds among people who used a sauna regularly. Although the exact mechanism of this has not been studied, it has been previously shown that hyperthermia induces an increase in the number of immunoglobulins and leukocytes circulating in the bloodstream.
Although sauna use is considered safe and is not linked to an increase of acute coronary events, sauna use is not recommended for people with aortic stenosis, unstable angina, severe orthostatic hypotension, or recent heart attack. Sauna use is also not recommended during pregnancy. Outside of these contraindications, sauna use up to 45 minutes per day with a max temperature of 77°C (170°F) is thought to increase the detoxification and cardiac benefits of the sauna. Using a sauna for a longer duration or at a higher temperature could have negative consequences.
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