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Infrared Sauna Treatment: Benefits, Safety And Potential Side Effects

Many of you would have come across the term infrared sauna. So, what exactly is it? Well, an infrared sauna is a type of sauna that makes use of light to create heat. It is different from a traditional sauna. Unlike a traditional sauna, which uses heat to warm the air and in turn warm your body, infrared sauna heats the body directly without creating warmth in the air around you [1] .

Sauna attained its fame from the belief that it can create the effects that occur as a result of moderate exercise (such as increased heart rate and vigorous sweating). The effects of a regular sauna can be achieved through an infrared sauna but at a much lesser temperature [2] . This makes it accessible to people who fear conventional saunas due to the fact of being unable to tolerate the heat.

Although several studies have looked at how infrared saunas can be used for the treatment of several chronic health problems, does it still live up to its expectations of being perfectly safe? So, if you are planning to try out infrared saunas, you might first want to know about its benefits, safety and side effects.

What Is An Infrared Sauna?

Infrared saunas make use of light and heat to help you relax and detoxify. They are also known as far-infrared or near-infrared saunas. The light waves are responsible for creating heat in the body causing you to sweat and hence release stored toxins [3] .

In spite of research still being underway, most practitioners claim infrared sauna treatments to be safe, powerful and inexpensive. Many people seem to have obtained beneficial health benefits after using infrared sauna treatment. Infrared sauna treatment is believed to be associated with a parasympathetic healing effect, which means that it allows the body to function in a way such that it handles stress better.

In infrared saunas, unlike the regular saunas, the light directly penetrates your skin without heating the air around you [4] . This is one reason why people can use infrared saunas within their own home (because the light has no effect on the surrounding environment).

How Infrared Saunas Work

People who have taken the infrared sauna therapy claim that this procedure can reduce inflammation, activate body cells, help with wound healing, act similar to antioxidant nutrients, boost the metabolism and help remove toxins from the body [5] . Using electromagnetic radiation, infrared lamps are able to warm the body directly. In simple terms, once the body's thermoreceptors located in the skin detect the heat, it causes positive radiation effects in the human body.

Infrared light wave radiation (FIR) can alter cells, cell membranes, DNA and cell fluids [6] . When at the cellular levels, alterations in cell membranes and mitochondrial activity take place, there is a positive impact on the metabolism. The meso-structure effect of the FIR makes the proteins within the body tissues to change in a way that is important for the overall biological activity [7] .

The bodily reactions that infrared sauna cause are as follows [8] :

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased sweating
  • Clarity of mind (as one would feel after a moderate exercise session)
  • Relaxation responses are triggered.

The following are the two kinds of infrared saunas:

1. Far light-omitting: These omit far light waves. They use metallic, ceramic or black carbon elements for heating [9] . Few medical experts claim that these saunas give off electromagnetic fields that can be harmful. In such cases, near-infrared emitting saunas have been found to be preferable.

2. Near light-omitting: These use incandescent reddish heat lamps for heating. These are inexpensive and can be found in most hardware stores. Such sauna arrangements give out both warming and colourful light waves [10] . They not only have a heating effect on the body but also shows effects on how energy moves throughout the body. Such saunas are known to penetrate the skin and heat the body from the inside-out. They are capable of reaching deep inside the body and producing a heat that can be concentrated in a small area.

Benefits Of Infrared Saunas

Improves heart health: Research reveals that infrared sauna therapy can be used for normalizing cholesterol levels and blood pressure. In general, infrared sauna treatment is one of the best ways to prevent high blood pressure and improve heart health [11] . Studies show that repeated treatments with a 60 degree Celsius sauna can improve the functioning of the heart.

Lowers side effects of diabetes: A study revealed that far-infrared sauna was found to be quite beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes [12] . Infrared sauna treatment can provide a natural treatment for diabetes-related complications such as heart problems, chronic fatigue, depression, pain, etc.

Lowers chronic pain: Researchers found that infrared sauna treatment can reverse chronic pain with almost no side effects. Patients who were observed during a study tolerated sauna therapy very well. Post the therapy, these patients were also found to have decreased symptoms of pain and stiffness.

Improves overall well-being: Experts say that repeated thermal therapies can lower chronic pain that can interfere with one's quality of life. It was also found that infrared sauna therapy can lift someone's mood and well-being when coupled with other holistic behavioural treatments.

Skin purification: This therapy can purify your skin by eliminating toxins from your pores. It increases circulation, thereby resulting in softer, clearer and healthier skin.

Weight loss: The body's core temperature increases due to the heat generated. This leads to an increased heart rate. So, when your body has to work harder to reduce your increased heart rate or to lower your body's core temperature, it would burn more calories, causing weight loss [13] .

Relaxation: This therapy promotes relaxation by balancing the body's level of cortisol (primary stress hormone). The heat generated helps in relaxing the muscles and relieves tension throughout the body.

People with the following ailments can benefit from infrared saunas [14] :

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Poor digestion
  • Depression and extreme anger
  • Chronic joint pain
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Tips To Keep In Mind Before You Use An Infrared Sauna

  • Ensure that you are well-hydrated before going for infrared sauna therapy.
  • The average temperature for an infrared sauna ranges from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 150 degrees Fahrenheit [15] . Beginners should start out at the lower end.
  • First-time users should stick to a 10 to 15 minutes duration, gradually increasing the length of time with each session.
  • Once the session is over, give your body some time to cool down. Once cooled down, feel free to take a shower.
  • Experts recommend using the sauna three to four days per week. However, choose what you feel comfortable in.
  • Avoid using an infrared sauna if you have been drinking alcohol [16] .
  • Do not use the sauna if you feel feverish.
  • Since you sweat a lot during a sauna therapy, you might feel lightheaded when you stand up after the session. The best way to avoid this is to keep drinking water as much as you can.
  • Do not bring your pets into the sauna.

Potential Side Effects Of Infrared Sauna Treatment

The following are some of the side effects of infrared sauna [17] :

  • Dehydration
  • Overheating (heat stroke)
  • Depletion of electrolytes through sweating
  • Interference with the absorption of certain medications
  • Adverse effects on breast implants
  • Effects of mobilizing stored toxins out of the body
  • Release of residues of past medicines (minute remains of past antidepressants, sedatives, etc., can exit from storage during the sauna use)
  • For people who have used psychedelic drugs in the past, sauna therapy can cause a full-blown trip as remains of the drug are released from storage in the tissue into your bloodstream.
View Article References
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  2. [2] Tsai, S. R., & Hamblin, M. R. (2017). Biological effects and medical applications of infrared radiation.Journal of photochemistry and photobiology. B, Biology,170, 197–207.
  3. [3] Shui, S., Wang, X., Chiang, J. Y., & Zheng, L. (2015). Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems: A systematic review.Experimental biology and medicine (Maywood, N.J.),240(10), 1257–1265.
  4. [4] Hussain, J., & Cohen, M. (2018). Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review.Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM,2018, 1857413.
  5. [5] Beever R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence.Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien,55(7), 691–696.
  6. [6] Barolet, D., Christiaens, F., & Hamblin, M. R. (2015). Infrared and skin: Friend or foe.Journal of photochemistry and photobiology. B, Biology,155, 78–85.
  7. [7] Wang, W. Q., Wang, J. G., Sun, P. C., Ding, D. T., & Chen, T. H. (2009). Effect of alcohol on morphology and mesostructure control of anionic-surfactant-templated mesoporous silica (AMS).Journal of colloid and interface science,331(1), 156-162.
  8. [8] Vatansever, F., & Hamblin, M. R. (2012). Far infrared radiation (FIR): its biological effects and medical applications.Photonics & lasers in medicine,4, 255–266.
  9. [9] Loturco, I., Abad, C., Nakamura, F. Y., Ramos, S. P., Kobal, R., Gil, S., … Tricoli, V. (2016). Effects of far infrared rays emitting clothing on recovery after an intense plyometric exercise bout applied to elite soccer players: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial.Biology of sport,33(3), 277–283.
  10. [10] Henderson T. A. (2016). Multi-watt near-infrared light therapy as a neuroregenerative treatment for traumatic brain injury.Neural regeneration research,11(4), 563–565.
  11. [11] Beever R. (2009). Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence.Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien,55(7), 691–696.
  12. [12] Beever, R. (2010). The effects of repeated thermal therapy on quality of life in patients with type II diabetes mellitus.The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine,16(6), 677-681.
  13. [13] Podstawski, R., Boraczyński, T., Boraczyński, M., Choszcz, D., Mańkowski, S., & Markowski, P. (2014). Sauna-induced body mass loss in young sedentary women and men.TheScientificWorldJournal,2014, 307421.
  14. [14] Sears, M. E., Kerr, K. J., & Bray, R. I. (2012). Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review.Journal of environmental and public health,2012, 184745.
  15. [15] Podstawski, R., Borysławski, K., Clark, C., Choszcz, D., Finn, K. J., & Gronek, P. (2019). Correlations between Repeated Use of Dry Sauna for 4 x 10 Minutes, Physiological Parameters, Anthropometric Features, and Body Composition in Young Sedentary and Overweight Men: Health Implications.BioMed research international,2019, 7535140.
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Story first published: Wednesday, May 1, 2019, 9:00 [IST]