Sauna: A Valuable Clinical Tool
By Wendy Wells, NMD.
Sauna Heritage photo © Paul Mullins
In 2011, Dr. Walter Crinnion, from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, in Arizona, published a review of sauna therapy research, appearing in the Journal of Alternative Medicine, helping to identify a wide variety of sauna health benefits. His report compiles evidence for using sauna therapy as a "valuable clinical tool" for health improvements:
- Chemical Detoxing
- Heart Disease
- Skin Health
- Sauna Risks
- Immune System
- Endocrine System
- Digestion Benefits
- Sauna Psychology
- Health Effects
- FIR or Traditional Sauna?
Many cultures around the world, including the Scandinavians, have used sauna therapies for hundreds of years as a regular health activity. Clinical research studies have documented the effectiveness of sauna therapy for hypertension, congestive heart failure, and post heart attack recovery. Some individuals with chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and addictions have also found improvements with regular sauna use.
While far-infrared saunas (FIRS) have been used in many cardiovascular studies, most studies applying sauna for chemical detoxification have utilized saunas with radiant heating units like the ones used in health spas. Existing evidence supports the use of saunas as a component of purification or detox cleansing protocols for environmentally induced illness.
Regular sauna therapy, either radiant heat, or far-infrared units, are safe and offer multiple health benefits when used under the guidance of a licensed naturopathic doctor. One potential area of concern is sauna use in early pregnancy, with research suggesting evidence that elevated body heat could be capable of affecting fetus development. PMID:21951023
Russian Sauna Detox Research
Russian researchers have also investigated sauna therapies for disease prevention in the factory workers, exposed to chemical and physical occupational hazards. Their results describe sauna therapy as a hygienic procedure, improving the well being of employees exposed to deadly toxins, by stimulating the cardiovascular system and heat adaptation processes of the body.
Their results show how sauna therapy can increase sweat fluid, helping to excrete toxic chemicals such as lead, thiuram, captax, and sulphenamide C. Their conclusions recommend sauna use as an effective treatment for workers exposed to hazardous chemical, and physical factors. Source: Parpale IA, Prokof'eva LG, Obertas VG. Vrach Delo. 1991 May;(5):93-5. PMID:1866932
Japanese Far Infra-Red Sauna (FIRS) Therapy Research
In 2008, researchers at the University of Tokushima, School of Health Bio-sciences, sought to understand the anti-cancer effects of far infra-red saunas on human cancers cells. They developed an incubator that continuously irradiates cells with far-infrared radiation under controlled contiditions. Looking at genetic expressions they found how repeated far infra-red radiation exposure caused different inhibiting effects to five human cancer cell lines, vulva, tongue, gingiva, lung, and breast. They found the spread of some cancer cells being controlled by various levels of the heat shock protein 70A. Their work was reported in the journal of Medical Oncology suggesting the use of far infra-red saunas as an effective treatment for preventing the spread of some cancer cells. Additionally they prepose how low levels of heat shock protein 70A, could be used for the measurement, and forecasting of some human cancer treatments. PMCID:PMC2386844
In 2001 the Journal of American College of Cardiology reported on the work of researchers from Kagoshima University, Japan, showing how repeated sauna treatment improves impaired endothelial function for patients with coronary heart risk factors, as well as, suggesting a therapeutic role for sauna treatment for atherosclerosis. PMID:11583886
Researchers from the First Department of Surgery and Regeneration Research Center for Intractable Diseases, at the Kansai Medical University, Osaka, Japan, showed the positive effects of far-infrared ray on skin wound healing in mice. Their work was published in the 2003 June edition of the journal of Expermental Biological Medicine. PMID: 12773705
Efficacy of regular sauna bathing for chronic tension-type headache: a randomized controlled study. Regular sauna bathing is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity in chronic tension-type headache. 2015 Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine PMID: 25636135
Heart Disease Sauna Treatments
2015 International Heart Journal reports how sauna therapy improves cardiac and vascular endothelial function in patients with chronic heart failure, as well as, exercise capacity and quality of life. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25740582
Netherland Heart Journal reports Sauna bathing: a warm heart proves beneficial. "Men who enjoyed a sauna two or three times a week had a 23% lower risk of experiencing a fatal episode of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, compared with those who took just one sauna a week." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4409598/
Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events. Sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25705824
Over-expression of the rat inducible 70-KD heat stress protein in a transgenic mouse increases the resistance of the heart to ischemic injury, 1995, Journal of Clinical Investigation, 95:1446-56.
Effect of repeated sauna therapy on survival of TO-2 cardiomyopathic hampsters with heart failure, American Journal of Cardiology, 90(Aug 1):343-345.
Repeated sauna treatment improves vascular endothelial and cardiac function in patients with chronic heart failure, Journal of American College of Cardiology, 39(March 6):754-759.
Sauna therapy decreases cardiac arrhymias in patients with chronic heart failure, American Heart Assn Scientific Sessions, Nov. 17-20, Chicago.
The behavior of central and peripheral hemodynamics in isometric and dynamic stress in hypertensive patients: treatment with regular sauna therapy, Z Kardiol., 83(9)(Sept):652-7.
Potential use of the sauna in the long-term treatment of hypertensive cardiovascular circulation disorders - a comparison with kinesiotherapy, Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax., 81(35)(Aug 25):1016-20.
On the effects of radiant heat on different regions of the human body. Behavior of cardiocirculatory and respiratory activity, oxygen consumption, oral and skin temperature during infrared radiation of different areas in acclimatized and non-acclimatized subjects, Med Lav., 57(4)(April):262-85.
Sauna Chemical Detoxing Evidence
Therapeutic photo-biomodulation for methanol-induced retinal toxicity, ProcNatl Acad of Sci., doi:10.1073/pnas.05347461000, March 7.
The fluoride controversy continues, parts 1,2 & 3, Townsend Letter for Doctors, #233, 234, 235(Dec., Jan., Feb.).
History of sauna/hyperthermia; Past and present efficacy in detoxification, Townsend Letter for Doctors, June 1992:470-478, July 1992:650-660, Oct. 1992:846-854, Aug-Sept 1999:76-86.
Neurobehavioral dysfunction in firemen exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs):possible improvement after detoxification, Archive Environmental Health, 44(6)(Nov-Dec):345-50.
Excretion of nitrogen compounds in sweat during sauna, Pol Tyg Lek., 46(8-10)(Feb. 18-Mar 4):186-187.
Mercury exposure evaluations and their correlation with urine mercury excretion: 4. Elimination of mercury by sweating, Journal of Occup Med.,15:590-591.
Chemical sensitivity after intoxication at work with solvents: response to sauna therapy, Journal of Alternative Complementary Med., 4(1)(Spring):77-86.
The use of the sauna for disease prevention in the workers of enterprises with chemical and physical occupational hazards, Vrach Delo., 5(May):93-5.
Chemical sensitivity in physicians, Biolological Association Medicine P R, 83(9)(Sept):383-8.
Thermal chamber depuration and physical therapy, Chemical Sensitivity, CRC Presss, Boca Raton, Fl, Vol. 4, Chap. 35, pp. 2433-2479.
Clearing of toxic volatile hydrocarbons from humans, Bol Asoc Med P R, 83(7)(July):321-4.
Effects of a program of sauna baths and meta-vitamins on adipose DDE and PCBs and on clearing of symptoms of agent orange (Dioxin) toxicity, Clinical Research, 31(2):243.
Excretion of a lipophilic toxicant through the sebaceous glands: A case report, Journal of Toxicology., 6(1):13-17.
Body burden reductions of PCBs, PBBs and chlorinated pesticides in human subjects, Ambio 13(5-6):378-380.
Evaluation of a detoxification regimen for fat stored xenobiotics, Medical Hypothesis., 9:265-82.
Reduction of hexachlorobenzene and ploychlorinated biphenyl human body burdens, International. Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO, Scientific Publication Series, Vol. 77, Oxford University Press. Sealre, A.J., 1982, Effects of the sauna, JAMA, 247(1)(Jan 1):28.
Mercury levels in sweat. Its use in the diagnosis and treatment of poisoning, Ugeskr Laeger., 148(27)(June 30):1682-4.
Cancer Treatments Using Sauna
“Heat Shock Proteins: New Avenue to Cancer Vaccines”, Cancer Research Institute, New York, 2002.
Biologically active interleukin in human eccrine sweat: site dependent variations in alpha/beta ratios and stress induced increased excretion, Cytokine.,2(6)(Nov):438-46.
A far-infrared ray emitting stone (SGES) to treat cancer and degenerative diseases, Townsend Letter for Doctors, 203(June):123-134.
Coley's toxins for sarcoma and intractable cancer, Townsend Letter for Doctors, #235-236, (Feb/March):140-144.
Combined radiation and hyperthermia in superficial human tumors, Cancer, 46(9)(Nov 1):1986-91.
Immunotherapy of tumors with autologous tumor-derived heat shock protein preparations, Science, 278:117-120.
Effects of hot water bath or sauna on patients with congestive heart failure: acute hemodynamic improvement by thermal vasodilation, Journal of Cardiology., 24(3)(May-June):175-83.
The sauna and pregnancy, Ann Clinical Research, 20(4).
Renal excretion of tetracycline is transiently decreased during short-term heat exposure, International Journal of Clinical Parmacol Therapy, 35(5)(May):204-7.
On the use of infrared techniques in medicine, Voen Med Zh., 12:36-9. Vescovi, P.P., and V.Coiro, 1993, Hyperthermia and endorphins, Biomed Pharmacother, 47(8):301-4.
Sauna Immune System Effects
Regular sauna bathing and the incidence of common colds, Ann Medicine., 22(4):225-7.
Use of low-intensity infrared radiation for the prevention of catarrhal diseases, Gig Tr Prof Zabol., 9(Sept):42-43.
Electro-magnetic wave emitting products and ‘Kikoh' potentiate human leukocyte functions, International Journal of Biometeorology, 37(5)(Sept):133 8.
Immuno-biological reactivity of the organism under the effect of the interrupted infrared irradiation, Varach Delo., 12(Dec):88-91.
The effects of intermittent infrared radiation on the status of natural immunological reactivity of workers Gig Tr Prof Zabol. 14(1)(Jan):22-6.
Thyroid, Endocrine, Hormone Effects
How the sauna affects the endocrine system, Ann Clinical Research, 20(4):262-6.
Reproductive differences in endocrine response to hyperthermia in sauna, Acta Physiology Scandinavia, 150(3)(March):293-298.
Effects of sauna and glucose intake on TSH and thyroid hormone levels in plasma of euthyroid subjects, Metabolism, 36(5)(May):426-31.
Children in sauna: hormonal adjustments to intensive short thermal stress, Acta Physiology Scandinavia, 142(3)(July):437 442.
Brain-gut peptides in sauna-induced hyperthermia, Acta Physiology Scand., 132(4)(April):519-523.
Patient with severe intractable asthma, urticaria and irritable bowel syndrome: Response to sauna therapy, Clinical Ecology, 5:136-139.
Pregnancy and Sauna Dangers
Healthy and unhealthy sauna bathing, Ann Clinical Research, 20(4).
The sauna and alcohol, Ann Clinical Research, (20)4.
Heat as a remedy, Landarzt, 44(32)(Nov 20):1586-90.
The ions in sauna air, Sauna Studies, Papers read at the VI International Sauna Congress in Helsinki, August 15-17, 1974.The Finnish Sauna Society, Helsinki.
Fluid balance and the sauna, Duodecin., 104(8):609-14.
Effects of far infrared radiation on lactation, Ann Physiology Anthropology, 9(2)(April):83-91.
Embriological aspects and the etiology of carcinoma, The Lancet, 1:1758.
Skin Health and Saunas
Thermoregulatory changes during application of infrared radiation, Fysiatr Revmatol Vestn., 43(5)(Sept):301-9.
Treatment of cutaneous leishmaniasis with infrared heat, International Journal of Dermatology., 25(7)(Sept):470-2.
Effect of far-infrared radiation on forearm skin Heat Shock Proteins, Ann Physiology Anthropology, 6(1)(Jan):31-32.
Effects of near-infrared radiation on the epidermal proliferation and cutaneous immune function in mice, Photodermal Photoimmuniol Photomed, 12(6)(Dec):233 6.
The effect of far infrared rays on the survival of randomized skin flap in the rat: an experimental study, Chung Kuo Hsiu Fu Chung Chien Wai Ko Tsa Chih., 11(2)(March):69-71.
The influence of infrared radiation on short-term ultraviolet radiation-induced injuries, Archive Dermatology., 118(5)(May):315-18.
The Finnish Sauna Society, Helsinki. Baibekov, I.M., et al., 1994, The effects of low intensity infrared laser radiation on healing of dermatological wounds, Bull Eksp Biological Med., 119(2)(Feb):218-24.
Investigation of the permeability of human skin to infrared radiation, Gig Sanit., 30(12)(Dec):20-24.
Sweating patterns in humans: II. Heat-induced forehand sweating and cutaneous temperature in healthy individuals, Funct Neurology, 3(2)(Apr-Jun):2217-24.
Sensitivity of human skin to infrared heat fluxes, Doki Akad Nauk SSSR., 289(3):718-20.
The sauna experience, American Home, February.
Aesthetic and physiological sensory perceptions in the original Finnish sauna, Sauna Studies, Papers read at the VI International Sauna Congress in Helsinki, August 15 17, 1974.
The sauna and sauna bathing habits: A psychoanalytic point of view, Ann Clinical Research, 20(4).
Sauna Health Effects
Therapeutic implication of heat as related to radiation therapy, Semin Oncology., 8(1)(March):83-91.
A beginning course on energy and minerals, Healthview Newsletter, (27-29):1-44. Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd.
Healthmate infrared saunas, Townsend Letter for Doctors, 202(May):66-70.
The secret nuclear war, The Ecologist, 31(3)April:28-33.
The individual measuring of the health-promoting impact of the sauna on preschoolers, Vopr Kurortol Fizioter Lech Fix Kult, (5)(Sept-Oct):32-5.
The secret of good 'loyly', Ann Clinical Research, 20(4):224-9.
Sleep-enhancing effects of far infrared radiation in rats, International Journal of Biometeorology, 32(2)(June):92-4.
The effect of infrared irradiation on the human body, Arh Hig Rada Toksikolo, 36(2)(June):201-18.
Biological activities caused by far infrared radiation, International Journal of Biometeorol, 33(3)(Oct):145-50.
Man in the sauna, Ann Clinical Research, 18(4):173-185.Khish, I.P., 1973, Effect of low doses of infrared radiation on the sympathetic-adrenal system of children, Pediatric Akush Ginekogy, 6:23-24.
Modifications of sweating responses to thermal transients following heat acclimation, European Journal of Applied Physiology., 50(2):235-46.
Thermoregulation under the effect of infrared radiation, Gig Sanit., 30(7)(July):115-17.
The effects of low intensity infrared radiation on the organism, Gig Tr Prof Zabol., 12(11)(Nov):46-48.
Clinical effects of infrared whole-body hyperthermia in patients with rheumatic diseases, Departments of Rheumatologyand Physiotherapy, Metisch Spectrum Twente and Univeristy Twente Enschede, PO Box 50000, 7500 KA Eschede, The Netherlands.
Absorption and heat transport during application of infrared radiation, Fysiatr Revmatol Vestn., 51(1)(Feb):14-20.
Chlamydial Heat Shock Proteins in Severe Disease, Dec. 2002, MEW, www.chalmydiae.com/chlamydiae/docs/biology/hsp Cohn, J.R. and E.A. Emmett, 1978, The excretion of trace metals in human sweat, Ann Clinical and Lab Sci., 8(4):270-274.
Far Infra Red or Traditional Sauna
In Sept 2015 University of Jyväskylä researchers published the, "Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men," and found that far infrared sauna bathing can provide less stress for the body compared to traditional sauna bathing. PMC 4493260
Author Wendy Wells is a licensed naturopathic physician in the state of Arizona.
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