With no cure for COVID-19, there’s ongoing debate in the wellness industry about interventions which can strengthen the immune systems of those who want to take steps to avoid it, and also solutions that can potentially help support people with the virus. Sauna use is one of the most widely discussed methods.
Dr. Marc Cohen, an integrative medicine expert; Risto Elomaa, president of the International Sauna Association (ISA); and Dr. Karl-Ludwig Resch, head of the German Institute for Health Research, have all recently shared their views on saunas and coronavirus.
Yes says the ISA, but only from a preventative standpoint where sauna remains an integral part of a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, smart eating and sleeping habits combined with social interaction. Elomaa adds a warning:
“If you’re sick with the coronavirus or any respiratory illness, you should refrain from using the sauna. It will not directly contribute to healing the disease and the body’s reaction to heat can put a strain on an already stressed body, which can lead to serious health issues.”
Cohen explains that there’s plenty of medical evidence to show that people who use saunas regularly get less viral infections. Treating the common cold and other respiratory viruses with heat also leads to lower-incidence rates, as shown by 2017 research by SK Kunutsor at the University of Bristol, UK.
Dr. Cohen also contends that:
1.) Humans have been using heat – such as saunas and sweat lodges – for prevention and cure, throughout history. This approach essentially uses the sauna to outsource the work of the immune system to simulate a fever, meaning less physical exhaustion for the body than a fever driven by infection.
2.) Humans can tolerate high temperatures in saunas in which the virus cannot survive. At the same time, heat-stress activates to help heighten and stimulate the immune system while inhibiting viral replication.
Resch says, "Coronavirus, like the flu, initially multiply in the nose, throat and upper respiratory tract. These are the areas which may be reached effectively with external heat.
Sauna is a real secret weapon,” he says. “You should take a sauna bath as often as possible (daily) and for as long as possible. The latter works best if the temperature is set relatively low: 60-70˚C is probably sufficient. By increasing temperature, the effect may work further into the upper respiratory tract, but possible and well-tolerated duration of exposure decreases.”
Experts emphasize that after the body goes through a physiological state of hyper-arousal in a sauna, it’s important to balance this with hyper-relaxation. Furthermore, sauna can help alleviate psychological symptoms when coping with coronavirus, helping people feel more in control of symptoms and allowing time for dedicated rest.