Science-Based Health Benefits of Sauna Use
Saunas have been used for thousands of years and are still popular today. A sauna can help people to unwind and relax, and it may have other health benefits.
Sweating has long been used as a therapy. The Mayans used sweat houses 3,000 years ago, according to Harvard Health Publications. In Finland, saunas have been used for thousands of years, and 1 in 3 Finns still use them. In the United States (U.S.), there are thought to be over a million saunas.
Here are some benefits of Sauna Use:
1. SAUNAS HELP DETOXIFICATION
A new study found that there were 200 toxins in a newborn babies umbilical cord, including ones, like BPA, known to cause developmental problems.
The skin is considered a major organ of detoxification.
Arsenic levels in the sweat of those exposed to high levels of the metal were seven times higher than those not exposed.
Similarly, high mercury levels can be normalized by frequent sauna use.
Policemen exposed to methamphetamine had fewer symptoms after regular sauna use.
People who go to the sauna regularly improve their sweat-detox pathways and can produce up to 2L/hour of sweat.
A study of 2,315 Finnish men aged 42-60 found that regular sauna use led to considerably decreased risks of heart disease and a lower chance of dying from all causes.
Those who enjoy a sauna 4-7 times per week have a 48% lower risk of fatal heart disease or heart attack over those that used the sauna once per week.
Vascular endothelial dysfunction can cause chronic heart failure (CHF). Sauna therapy promotes vasodilation and improves vascular endothelial dysfunction in patients with CHF.
Worms exposed to heat stress for no more than 2 hours showed increased longevity. The heat stress appeared to protect the worms against age-related frailty.
Heat shock proteins produced during heat stress are important for basic cellular maintenance e.g. preventing harmful accumulations of unhealthy proteins. Flies repeatedly exposed to heat stress had a significant increase in lifespan, correlating with higher levels of heat shock proteins.
Heat stress acts as a hormetic response that reduces protein damage and boosts antioxidant activity, as well as repair and degradation processes.3. SAUNAS HELP RECOVERY
Sauna use can increase IGF-1, a vital hormone for growth an recovery. One study found a 142% increase in IGF-1 during sauna use. Another study found a five-fold increase in the growth hormone with two 15 minute sessions at a very hot 212 degrees F.
Saunas improve blood flow, thereby delivering more nutrients to areas that need them for recovery.
Sauna use prior to wrist extensions improved muscular function in the wrist.
Studies have shown that sauna use at 41C or more can lower the risk of muscle wastage during disuse. Similarly beneficial is the effect that sauna use can have on minimizing the oxidative stress that occurs when returning to exercise after a period of recovery4. SAUNAS INCREASE HAPPINESS AND LOWER STRESS LEVELS
Sauna use may increase beta-endorphins in blood and lead to the feeling of euphoria. In fact, whole-body heat therapy has also been shown to improve symptoms of depression in cancer patients through this mechanism.
A long sauna session can be quite stressful on the body (albeit a beneficial, hormetic stress). As a result, we release an opioid called dynorphin, which gives you a feeling of dysphoria. To compensate, the brain then increases the production and sensitivity of receptors for euphoric hormones like beta-endorphin. These changes are semi-permanent, meaning that people that use a sauna will actually be happier in everyday life.
Sauna use increases the hormone BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Studies have shown that raising BDNF is an effective way to combat anxiety and depression.5. SAUNAS LOWER BLOOD SUGAR
Insulin resistant, diabetic mice were given 30 minutes of hyperthermic treatment, three times per week for twelve weeks.
The mice had a 31% decrease in insulin levels and remarkably lowered blood sugar levels, both suggesting increased insulin sensitivity (due to an increase in GLUT 4 transporters).6. SAUNAS INCREASE MUSCLE MASS
Sauna therapy causes net muscle growth. During a sauna, your body releases massive amounts of heat shock proteins (HSPs). These HSPs help prevent oxidative stress (a cause of muscle breakdown) by scavenging free radicals and maintaining healthy glutathione levels.
The HSPs released during exposure to heat have also been shown to repair damaged proteins that, otherwise, would likely be destroyed by the body.
Sauna use increases IGF-1, a hormone that promotes muscle growth.
The increased insulin sensitivity from sauna use can also lead to increased muscle mass.7. SAUNAS LEAD TO BETTER MENTAL PERFORMANCE
Studies have found that sauna use substantially increases norepinephrine levels, a hormone that increases focus and attention span.
Heat stress also increases prolactin, a hormone which encourages the growth of myelin (the insulation around the nerve fibers in your brain), which determines how fast your brain works.
Heat stress also increases BDNF. BDNF encourages Neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) which is important for improving learning and increasing long-term memory.8. SAUNAS LEAD TO BETTER PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
Increased body temperature from endurance exercise can cause strain and, ultimately, decrease performance. Regular sauna use can acclimate the body to function optimally during increased temperatures, while also improving its cooling mechanisms. This technique is called hyperthermic conditioning and can be very useful for events held in hot climates e.g. iron man Hawaii.
Heat therapy increases the ability of the heart to pump blood (stroke volume). This means that the same amount of work can be done with fewer heartbeats and, therefore, less energy.
Sauna use improves the body’s blood flow to muscles. More blood flow equals more glucose, essential fatty acids, and oxygen. This results in less glycogen depletion during workouts. In fact, one study found that sauna use decreased glycogen depletion by 40-50%.
Regular sauna use can increase red blood cell count – meaning more oxygen can be transported around the body during exercise.
Individuals who used the sauna twice a week for half an hour post-workout were able to run for an average of 32% longer until exhaustion than before the sauna therapy.
Heat therapy has been shown to protect against rhabdomyolysis, a break down of muscle from too much exertion. The increase in heat shock proteins (HSP32) from sauna use can limit the damage of rhabdomyolysis on the kidneys.9. SAUNAS HELP RELIEVE PAIN
Sauna use relieves pain by increasing the release of anti-inflammatory hormones like noradrenaline, adrenaline, cortisol, and IGF-1.
In one study, sauna use was, when stacked with other therapies, effective in managing rheumatoid arthritis.
Saunas can cause the release of endorphins, opioid-like chemicals which act as natural pain-killers.
Sauna therapy was found to be effective at lessening the pain experienced by someone with fibromyalgia. Many of the benefits are immediate and probably due to tissues made of collagen, like tendons and fascia, become more flexible when exposed to increased temperatures. However, many of the benefits actually persisted months after the treatment.
Regular sauna use is also an effective tool for managing chronic headaches (probably vasoconstrictive types).10. SAUNAS INCREASE STRESS RESILIENCE
Sauna use acts as a hormetic stress i.e. the body responds to the heat stress by increasing heat shock proteins that counteract environmental stress. This means that sauna use will make you more resilient in the face of toxins, extreme temperatures, and exercise.
Furthermore, sauna use can potentially bring the HPA axis back into balance.
Regular sauna use has been shown to be a useful anti-stress strategy by lowering cortisol and ACTH levels.