> Biological benefits of sauna therapy include detoxification, heat shock protein amplification and photobiomodulation (PBM) > The key to achieving efficient detox and heat shock protein amplification is making sure the sauna is hot enough. Most of the research documenting sauna benefits use a temperature range from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit > The duration of each session, and the frequency of use are also important. The sweet spot appears to be about 20 minutes, four to seven times a week, in a 174-degree F. traditional sauna > Other benefits of sauna use include improved cardiovascular fitness and reduced all-cause mortality, lower blood pressure, reduced dementia risk, improved mental health, strengthened immune function, improved athletic endurance, reduced inflammation, stem cell activation, improved insulin sensitivity and a reduction in stress hormones > An ideal infrared sauna will heat up above 160 degrees F., and include not just far-infrared but also red, near- and mid-infrared frequencies for PBM benefits. I include instructions for how to modify your existing sauna or build your own
In a recent MedCram interview (above), Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., cofounder of Found My Fitness, provided a wonderful summary of the benefits of sauna therapy, and some of the basic principles of sauna treatment.
Further below, Ive also included another excellent video featuring neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, in which he takes a deep dive into the science of how and why heating is so beneficial for health, both when locally applied and when using a sauna.
I have been a huge fan of sauna therapy for nearly a decade and have learned a great deal along the way. In later sections, I will attempt to summarize my understanding of how to best implement sauna for maximum biological benefits, which include detoxification and heat shock protein amplification. Ill also review how you can get the benefits of photobiomodulation from your sauna by using heat bulbs that also provided near- and mid-infrared frequencies.
The key to achieving the first two benefits detoxification and heat shock protein amplification is to make sure the sauna is hot enough. Most all of the research documenting sauna benefits comes from Finland, which uses traditional saunas where the temperatures range from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Most saunas sold in the U.S. are far-infrared (IR) which are considerably more energy efficient than a Finnish sauna and typically less expensive. However, there are several problems with most far-IR saunas. When they were initially introduced in the U.S., most were very high in magnetic and electric fields (EMF).
Over time, most of the far-IR sauna companies have been able to radically reduce the magnetic fields but it is the rare company that has eliminated the electric fields. Buyer beware, as there are a number of popular IR saunas today that are very high in both magnetic and electric fields. These tend to be the smaller, typically portable units where your head sticks out.
But theres an even more important consideration with far-IR saunas than EMF, and thats the temperature they can reach. It is the rare far-IR sauna that is able to go higher than 140 degrees F., and this simply isnt hot enough to provide the detox and heat shock protein benefits achieved at 160 degrees F.
So, my recommendation is to steer clear of buying most far-IR saunas. There are some that would reach the temperatures needed and are essentially EMF-free, but there is an even better approach that I will discuss in the following sections.
If you have already purchased a far-IR sauna, theres no need to worry or have buyers remorse. You can easily modify your sauna to be one of the best in the world. Before I get into that though, Ill summarize some of the information Patrick shares in her interview.
The Duration of Each Session Matters
The duration of each session is also important, with respect to the robustness of the results. Patrick cites research from Finland, which used traditional Finnish sauna at 174 degrees F., with a humidity level between 10% and 20%.
Using this kind of sauna, people who used the sauna four to seven times a week, for 19 minutes or longer, were 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular-related disease. Those whose sessions averaged only 11 minutes only reduced their cardiovascular death risk by 8%, which is no minor difference. So, the sweet spot appears to be about 20 minutes, four to seven times a week, in a 174-degree F. sauna.
The Many Health Benefits of Sauna Therapy
Research has demonstrated sauna use can:
Improve cardiovascular fitness and lower your risk of death from cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack
> Lower your blood pressure
> Lower your risk of dementia
>Improve your mood and mental health, and reduce symptoms of depression, in part by sensitizing opioid receptors
> Strengthen your immune function
> Reduce all-cause mortality
> Improve athletic endurance
> Reduce inflammation by lowering c-reactive protein, and increasing IL- 10 and IL-6 (a.k.a. myokine), and activating Nrf2
> Activate and replenish stem cells
> Improve fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity
> Reduce the stress hormone cortisol1
All of these benefits occur in a dose-dependent manner, so the more frequent your sauna use, the more robust your benefits will be.
For example, using the sauna two to three times a week has been shown to reduce your risk of cardiac death by about 22% compared to once-a-week use, whereas those who use it seven times a week lower their risk by 63%. Similarly, those who use it four to seven times a week have a 40% lower all-cause mortality risk than those who use it only once a week.
And, as explained in the interview, combining sauna with other strategies, such as cold-water immersion and/or exercise can optimize these kinds of benefits even further. That said, more sauna is not necessarily better in all instances, as you will lose toxins but might also deplete your body of beneficial minerals.
Sauna Therapy Mimics Moderate Exercise
While theres a well-known aspect of meditation to sauna bathing, it actually mimics moderate cardiovascular exercise, triggering many of the same physiological responses and benefits.
Physiological responses that mimic those of exercise include sweating, increased blood flow to the skin and muscles, increased plasma volume and elevated heart rate, lowered blood pressure, endorphin release and increased brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF, which acts as an antiaging agent for the brain).
These help account for many of the cardiovascular benefits of sauna, as well as some of the neurological benefits. Sauna is also an excellent adjunct to exercise, as the two augments each others benefits.
Patrick cites research comparing people who did aerobic exercise only, sauna only, and those who did aerobic exercise in combination with sauna. In the final analysis, those who did both had better cardiorespiratory fitness than those who did either alone.
The Science of Heat and Heating for Health and Healing