There is nothing quite like a 20-minute sweat session in a sauna. You feel more relaxed and rested after you are done, and the heat helps relieve sore muscles and improves your overall health and well-being.
But if the high temperatures of a traditional sauna are just too much for you to handle, an infrared sauna may offer the benefits of a sauna without the extreme heat.
What is an Infrared Sauna?
Unlike a traditional sauna, infrared saunas do not heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared lamps (that use electromagnetic radiation) to warm your body directly.
“These saunas use infrared panels instead of conventional heat to easily penetrate human tissue, heating up your body before heating up the air.”
An infrared sauna can operate at a lower temperature (usually between 48˚C and 80˚C) than a traditional sauna.
Manufacturers claim that in an infrared sauna, only about 20 percent of the heat goes to heat the air and the other 80 percent directly heats your body. Supporters of infrared saunas say the heat penetrates more deeply than warmed air. This allows you to experience a more intense sweat at a lower temperature.
This environment is more tolerable, which allows you to stay in the sauna longer while increasing your core body temperature by two to three degrees.
We have a Clearlight Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna; this sauna has three types of infrared waves in one sauna:
· NEAR-infrared spectrum
· MID-infrared spectrum
· FAR-infrared spectrum
The near-infrared (NIR) spectrum, delivered at the ideal wavelength of 880nm without extreme heat or light, stimulates your mitochondria (energy-producers of the cell) to promote immune cell growth and activity. It also helps reduce inflammation and pain and speeds healing.
The mid-infrared (MIR) spectrum is a longer wavelength that penetrates deep into your tissues, helping the body to heal from within. The MIR spectrum increases circulation, speeds healing, and supports deep, restorative sleep.
The far-infrared (FIR) spectrum is the longest wavelength, so it is deeply healing as it penetrates far into the body where toxins are stored. It raises your core body temperature and helps the body counteract stress.
What are the benefits of an Infrared Sauna?
The supposed benefits of using an infrared sauna are similar to those experienced with a traditional sauna. These include:
Relief from sore muscles
Improves function of the immune system
We know that stress increases the levels of cortisol in the body, and it turns out that cortisol in turn lowers the body’s ability to fight off germs. Stress makes you more susceptible to catching a cold and becoming ill. Cohen, S., Tyrrell, DA., Smith, AP, (1991)
In 2015 a Finnish study by Mero, A. Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M. Puurtinen, R. (2015) found that far infrared sauna bathing with its 3-4 cm penetration into tissue reduced cortisol levels in men who had just exercised. A review study by Shanshan S, Wang X, Chiang J. Y, Zheng L. (2015) also found far infrared therapy to be helpful for lowering cortisol.
Offsetting heightened stress hormones like cortisol will help your body stay balanced and ready to fight off any bugs or viruses that comes along.
Relief from sore muscles
A small study conducted of 10 healthy, physically active men in 2015 concluded that the deeply penetrating heat of a Far Infrared Sauna set at mild temperatures and light humidity are “favourable.” A. Tornberg, J., Mäntykoski, M. Puurtinen, R. (2015)
Additionally, in a NASA study done by Dr. Whelan et al. (2000) with near-infrared heat, determined that LED technology allows for deep penetration of tissue and increased cell growth from the inside.
Finally, a 2003 study conducted by Kandolf-Sekulovic L, Kataranovski M, Pavlovic M.D, (2003) at the Department of Dermatology and Institute of Medical Research by showed that use of near-infrared heat therapy helped the production of white blood cells to alleviate inflammation and reduce swelling, two key factors in easing bodily pain.³
Translation: Infrared saunas could be used as a post workout recovery tool for athletes and other physically active folks. The authors also highlight the fact that FIRS provide a “comfortable and relaxing” experience.
One promising finding is that infrared saunas could help reduce pain for certain people.
In a small study by Oosterveld, F.G.J., Rasker, J.J., Floors, M. et al. (2009) 17 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 17 patients with ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory disease that can affect the spine) completed eight infrared sauna sessions over the course of four weeks. Results showed that during these sessions, patients experienced decreased pain and stiffness to a statistically significant degree. And, over the course of the four-week trial, the patients showed clinical improvements in pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Also promising: The study did not find any adverse effects from the infrared sauna sessions, and the sauna sessions did not exacerbate the patient’s diseases. These findings suggest infrared saunas are a feasible treatment for patients with inflammatory arthritis, though the authors note that folks should chat with their doctor before using infrared saunas for treatment and that more research on the topic involving bigger populations is definitely needed.
A Japanese study published in the journal, Internal Medicine by Matsushita K, Masuda A, Tei C. (2008), showed that chronic pain patients suffering with Fibromyalgia experienced a significant reduction in pain levels (nearly 70%) after the first session of infrared sauna therapy. Pain scores also decreased significantly and remained low throughout the observation period. Researchers concluded that infrared heat therapy is effective for chronic pain treatment.
Infrared therapy is like giving yourself a passive cardio workout – whenever you need it!
The infrared sauna heats your muscles with infrared rays and produces an increase in blood flow similar to regular exercise. In fact, blood flow during infrared sauna use has been reported to rise from a normal rate of 5-7 quarts per minute to as much as 13 quarts per minute. Matsushita K, Masuda A, Tei C. (2008)
The elevation in body temperature from a sauna session also produces an increase in blood flow that mirrors the benefits of a passive cardiovascular workout. Regular infrared sauna use – especially in the mid-infrared range – has been shown to significantly stimulate blood flow, even after your health sauna session is completed.
A 2018 meta-analysis of seven studies by Källström M. et al (2018) concluded that infrared sauna sessions were associated with short‐term improvement in heart functioning for patients with heart failure.
Improves function of the immune system
When your body is fighting an infection like a cold or flu, the immune system causes an increase in temperature, anywhere from 100.9°F (38.3°C) or higher, which is considered a fever. This elevated temperature creates a less suitable environment for these destructive bugs.
Infrared saunas work similarly to a fever in the body. The infrared heat penetrates the skin and works deep in the tissues, raising core body temperature to about 102°F (39°C). The body responds to this simulated “fever” by stepping up its immune response and mobilizing the Th1 branch of the immune system. This branch is antiviral and antibacterial, as opposed to the antiparasitic and anti-allergic Th2 system.
Additionally, increasing the body temperature to within the range of a fever has been shown by Evans S.S, Repasky E.A, Fisher D.T. (2015) to improve the adaptive immune response. This helps the body “remember” the microbes you have been exposed to, and to be better prepared to fight them next time around. Near-infrared light activates white blood cells and increases antibodies against pathogens.
In fact, a NASA study showed this same near infrared therapy, delivered by LEDs deep into body tissue, can quadruple cell health and tissue growth Dr. Whelan et al. (2000)
Several studies have shown that LEDs stimulate white blood cell production and collagen growth by increasing energy at the cellular level.
A study done at the Medical College of Wisconsin demonstrated that LED-produced near infrared (NIR) helps promote cell health and regeneration.
Infrared Sauna Use & COVID-19
Most recently, and something we are excited to learn more about, Dr Rhonda Patrick talked about Sauna use and immunity with regards to COVID-19. Here is what she had to say:
“No data suggest that sauna use or other modalities of heat stress such as steam showers or hot baths will have any effect on COVID-19 illness. However, robust evidence suggests that sauna use promotes mild hyperthermia, which, in turn, induces a wide array of beneficial physiological responses.
These responses reduce oxidative stress and inflammation and activate cellular defence systems such as heat shock proteins, which provide protection against many diseases. Data from a 2017 study suggest that sauna use reduces the risk of developing certain chronic or acute respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, by up to 40 percent.
Sauna use reduced the incidence of common colds in 25 participants who used the sauna one to two times per week for six months compared to 25 controls who did not. It is noteworthy that it took three months before sauna use had a protective effect. The mechanism by which frequent sauna use reduces the incidence of pneumonia and colds is unknown but might be related to modulation of the immune system.
Levels of white blood cells (especially lymphocytes, neutrophils, and basophils) are increased in both trained and non-athletes after sauna use. While these findings are interesting, they are still preliminary and larger studies are needed to confirm. Increasing evidence suggests that certain heat shock proteins play a role in both innate and adaptive immunity.
Heat shock proteins can directly stimulate innate immune responses, such as the maturation and activation of dendritic cells and the activation of natural killer cells. This indicates there may be a direct role for heat shock proteins in regulating the innate immune response, which plays an important role in the body's ability to fight off a disease that it has never been exposed to before”.
*Disclaimer - As stated above, Infrared Saunas may help your immune system in a positive way. But please don't book in if you are showing any symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has had COVID-19 recently.
To book in for an Infrared Sauna session contact us via our website.
Statements included above taken from:
‘Psychological stress and susceptibility to the common cold’ - Cohen S, Tyrrell DA, Smith AP, Carnegie Mellon University (1991)
‘Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men’ - Mero, A. Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R, University of Jyväskylä (2015)
‘Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems: A systematic review’ - Shanshan S, Wang X, Chiang J. Y, Zheng L. Hefei University of Technology (2015)
‘The NASA Light-Emitting Diode Medical Program- Progress in Space Flight and Terrestrial Applications. CP504, Space Technology and Applications International Forum’ - Whelan et al (2000)
‘Immunomodulatory Effects of Low-Intensity Near-Infrared Laser Irradiation on Contact Hypersensitivity Reaction.’ - Kandolf-Sekulovic L, Kataranovski M, Pavlovic M.D, Military Medical Academy (2003)
‘Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis’ - Oosterveld, F.G.J., Rasker, J.J., Floors, M. et al. Saxion University of Applied Sciences (2009)
‘Efficacy of Waon Therapy for Fibromyalgia’ - Matsushita K, Masuda A, Tei C. Kagoshima University Hospital (2008)
‘Effects of sauna bath on heart failure: A systematic review and meta-analysis’ - Källström M, Soveri I, Oldgren J, Laukkanen J, Ichiki T, Tei C,Timmerman M, Berglund L, Hägglund H, Uppsala University (2018)
‘Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heat’ - Evans S.S, Repasky E.A, Fisher D.T. Roswell Park Cancer Institute (2015)