Reviewing the Claims of Traditional and Infrared Sauna Health Benefits
Time Spent in the Sauna is Time Well Spent, A Sauna Health Series
Part 1: Traditional and Infrared Saunas
There is a lot of noise out there regarding the health benefits of both traditional and infrared saunas. For example, infrared saunas are touted to be weight loss agents and powerful detoxification treatments. Health claims can lead to confusion and misinformation. The first part of the health series will aim to break down and explore the existing research comparing traditional and infrared saunas.
What are the differences in health benefits between traditional saunas and infrared saunas?
Most sauna research has focused on traditional saunas, which heat the air around you. The actual health research on infrared saunas is unfortunately pretty limited but so far, at this point there doesn’t seem to be any additional health benefits with infrared saunas. Both forms of sauna bathing can involve rituals of cooling-off periods with rehydration with water prior to, between, and proceeding sauna bathing. Both types of sauna experiences increase one’s cardiac workload about as much as a brisk walk.
Infrared saunas warm your body directly which penetrates the skin more deeply and can cause someone to sweat more vigorously at lower temperatures. Some people might find this more comfortable than traditional saunas but there are no known additional health benefits due to this.
There were two studies with low subject sizes that found improvement in chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. The study assessing chronic pain studied 46 subjects with chronic pain. All underwent four weeks of standard multidisciplinary inpatient treatment, but half of the subjects were randomly assigned to participate in daily 15-minute infrared sauna sessions. After two years, the sauna-bathing subjects were significantly more likely to have returned to work (77% versus 50%), had improved sleep scores, and scored lower in pain behavior and anger scores. Scientists Masuda et al. wrote a case report about two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who had 25 daily infrared sauna sessions. The two subjects experienced objective improvement in fatigue, pain, and sleep.
Researchers are very careful to state that sweating in general may be associated with detoxification of the body and its not very clear how well saunas rid the body of toxins or if there is any difference between infrared or traditional saunas. There is inconsistent evidence that infrared sauna bathing of any kind leads to sustained weight loss, decreased blood pressure, or changes in blood sugar levels. Conversely, existing research suggests that traditional saunas bathing can lower of blood pressure and decrease risk of fatal heart disease. However, traditional saunas have been researched more and that might be why there is variation in the health benefits between the two types.
Infrared sauna bathers are less likely to experience the rare side effect of sauna-induced burns due to the lower temperatures needed. For now, there don’t seem to be any significant health risks associated with either infrared or traditional saunas.
Disclaimer: If you have pacemakers, implants, diabetes or are taking medications, it is best to ask your doctor for medical advice regarding sauna use.
Part 2 (Coming Soon): Impacts of sauna bathing on mental health
References and Conclusions
Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors
Beever, R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: Summary of published evidence. Can Fam Physician, 55(7), 691-696. PMC2718593. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Because infrared heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air, users of far-infrared saunas (FIRSs) develop a more vigorous sweat at a lower temperature than users of traditional saunas. The cardiovascular demand imparted by thermoregulatory homeostasis is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace. As such, FIRSs might be of particular benefit to those who are sedentary due to various medical conditions like osteoarthritis or cardiovascular or respiratory problems.
Although the evidence is limited, it does suggest a number of benefits of FIRS use, including effects on systolic hypertension, New York Heart Association class and clinical symptoms of congestive heart failure, premature ventricular contractions, brain natriuretic peptide levels, vascular endothelial function, exercise tolerance, oxidative stress, chronic pain, and possibly weight loss and chronic fatigue. No adverse events were reported in any of the studies.
Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review
Sears, M.E., Kerr, K.J., Bray, R.I. (2012). Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: A systematic review. J Envir and Public Hlth, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/
- Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration, to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.
- As toxic elements are implicated in many serious chronic conditions, research is needed in patients with select conditions to evaluate the body burden and to test the efficacy of source removal, dietary choices and supplements, interventions that induce sweating, and treatments with drugs, all to enhance excretion of toxic elements with the goal of clinical improvement.
- Both biochemical and clinical outcomes should be examined in order to develop and monitor clinical interventions that are both safe and effective.
Hussain, J. & Cohen, M. (2018). Clinical effects of regular dry sauna bathing: A systematic review. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2018, Article ID 1857413, 30 pages, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/
- Regular infrared and/or Finnish sauna bathing has the potential to provide many beneficial health effects, especially for those with cardiovascular-related and rheumatological disease, as well as athletes seeking improved exercise performance.
- The mechanisms for these effects may include increased bioavailability of NO (nitric oxide) to vascular endothelium, heat shock protein-mediated metabolic activation, immune and hormonal pathway alterations, enhanced excretions of toxicants through increased sweating, and other hormetic stress responses.
- Currently there is insufficient evidence to recommend specific types of sauna bathing for specific clinical conditions. While regular sauna bathing appears to be well-tolerated in the clinical setting with only minor and infrequent adverse effects reported, further data on the frequency and extent of adverse effects is required.
The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Masuda, A., Kihara, T., Shinsato, T., Minagoe, S., Tei, C. (2005). The effects of repeated thermal therapy for two patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. J Psychosom Res, 58(4), 383-7. https://www.sciencedirect.
- Repeated thermal therapy might be a promising method for the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Health Benefit Claims By Infrared Sauna Companies
Thanks to Glenn from Sauna Times for this list of how infrared saunas cure everything, according to infrared sauna companies (NOTE: Apparently infrared saunas don’t cure insanity, most of this is nuts):
- Strained Muscles
- Varicose Veins
- Nervous Tension
- Bursitis and Neuritis
- Should Stiffness
- Ear Diseases
- Gastroenteric Problems
- Digestive Disorders
- High Cholesterol
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Infections
- Anxiety and Insomnia
- Joint Pain and Backaches
- Cold and Flu
- Soft-Tissue Injury
- Acne and Allergies
- Heart Health
- Pain Relief
- Arthritis and Rheumatism
- Weight Control and Obesity
- Eczema and Psoriasis
- Chronic Fatigue
- Heavy Metal Toxicity
- Lyme Disease
- Improve Skin Tone and Flexibility
- Provide a Cardiovascular Workout
- Help Wounds Heal Quicker
- Strenthens the Immune System
- Increase Blood Circulation
- Rebalance the Body
- Melt Away Tension
- Help With Weight Loss
- Decrease Joint Stiffness
- Relieve Pain
- Burn up to 400 Calories in 45 minutes
- Purge Toxins, Mineral Wastes and Cellulite