*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.
The claims in the article are backed by 23 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
Welcome to the sauna and diabetes ultimate guide - the interrelation to these topics are a very important reason why people buy a sauna in the first place and in this blog post I’ll explain the ins and outs of them.
I’ll explain to you to what extent saunas are beneficial to different types of diabetes and claims the currently published science does and does not support. But before digging into the topic of (infrared) saunas, let’s first explore what diabetes is.
Why? Simple: only by understanding the problem of diabetes will you understand the link between the benefit infrared saunas and diabetes have. So let's go:
Diabetes, or “Diabetes Mellitus” (DM), is a health condition in which basic metabolic processes of the (human) body are impaired (1; 2; 3; 4).
All diabetes is not homogenous though - different types of diabetes exist that I’ll go into in a second. The main two types of diabetes distinguished by modern science are diabetes type one and two. Other categorisations also exist, such as classifying Alzheimer’s disease as “diabetes type three” and more.
The main issue in DM is that the body loses control over properly metabolising glucose. As a result, people with DM end up with chronically high blood sugar levels. The cause of these higher blood sugar levels differs from person to person, which is why different categorisations of diabetes exist.
If you’ve got diabetes type one, your “pancreas” organ doesn’t produce sufficient insulin. That insulin is necessary for your cells to take up glucose. Hence, different carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose, and glucose created from other sources, end up in your bloodstream because your cells no longer take them up.
With diabetes type two, however, the problem is different. In that case, your body does produce adequate insulin but your cells no longer respond adequately to that insulin. The end result is the same - you’ll have high blood glucose levels - but the biological origin of the problem is different.
Then, there is a temporary diabetes problem that might result during pregnancy, called “gestational diabetes”. Gestational diabetes can happen even if you’ve got no previous history with the other diabetes types.
Diabetes is not benign, moreover, as it’s interrelated with tons of health complications (5; 6; 7). For instance, your risk for neurological problems, organ failure such as your kidneys and heart, poor blood flow, significantly increases. As a result, you’ll have an increased risk for heart disease, problems with your eyes and extremities because of poorer nervous system functioning, kidney problems, poor brain function and health, and even increased stroke risk. Diabetes is also very costly and lowers your overall quality of life.
Now, you’re not powerless against these conditions, especially diabetes type two. Poor diet and sleep, not getting enough movement and exercise, stress, ageing, overall toxicity intake, exposure to air pollution, being overweight or obese, are all risk factors for getting diabetes. These factors are very important to keep in the back of your mind when we’re going to explore a far infrared sauna and diabetes solution, for instance.
Prevention of diabetes, is, interrelated with the aforementioned causes. And hence, we’ll have to focus on them in the rest of this blog post:
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The Diabetes And Sauna Use Connection
In this section, I’ll dig deeper into the diabetes and sauna use connection. You might think: “what’s the link between a dry sauna and type 2 diabetes” or “what’s the connection between an infrared sauna and type 1 diabetes”?
This section answers all of these questions…
Let’s first look at some research on diabetes and saunas:
“Heat Shock” Protein Activation To Lower Your Long-Term Blood Glucose Levels
First of all, heating up your body triggers so-called “heat shock proteins” to get activated (8; 9; 10). As the name implies, following the temporary stress of a heat shock, a biological organism adapts by altering processes inside its body.
Before current airconditioned and warmed-up houses, these heat shock proteins would be triggered far more frequently in your ancestors because of more frequent and longer exposure to the elements, such as cold, heat, and the effects of ultraviolet light from the sun.
As a result of activating your heat shock proteins, blood glucose levels go down and you’ll lose body fat. Carrying excess body fat is one of the main risk factors for diabetes type two.
In fact, (infrared) sauna sessions have a similar effect on your cells’ ability to take up blood glucose as exercise does. Different types of heat therapy can be used for this purpose, such as hot baths (hydrotherapy), steam rooms, and infrared saunas.
One of the reasons many people today thus might end up with diabetes in the first place is because you and I are no longer exposed to everyday stressors like your ancestors would be. As a result, the excessive inflammatory response that underlies diabetes and is also a symptom of it is also inhibited.
Next up, the “mitochondria” in your cells are also activated. “Mitochondria” are the energy-producing factories in your cells. Mitochondrial problems are interrelated with diabetes and keeping your mitochondria healthy will help avert diabetes type two and help maintain your overall health.
Lastly, the good news is that three weeks of continuous heat therapy, such as through infrared saunas, can already lower the very important HbA1 biomarker by a whopping 1%. HbA1 is a marker signifying your long-term blood glucose levels and a more reliable indicator of the presence of diabetes than fasting blood glucose. Fasting blood glucose levels have a more predominant short-term focus.
Improved Insulin Sensitivity
Next up, spending time in a sauna also improves insulin sensitivity (11; 12). Improving insulin sensitivity means that glucose located in your bloodstream is better taken up by your cells, thereby countering one of the main problems in diabetes type two.
However, benefits also exist for people with diabetes type one. If you’ve got diabetes type one, you’ll frequently need to inject insulin to allow your cells to take up the glucose in your bloodstream. With merely two sauna sessions of 25 minutes, the insulin absorption increased by 110%.
In turn, people with type one diabetes could lower their insulin dose and still retain the full health benefits. And while I’m only advocating for that choice after you’ve consulted your physician and have an agreement with your doctor, lowering insulin doses can avert some of the side effects associated with its use.
One concern can occur in the case of an infrared sauna and type 1 diabetes, for instance. Spending time in a sauna can lower your blood glucose levels too much and too quickly, as can exercise. So if you’ve got type one diabetes, I recommend eating well before your sauna session and discussing your insulin dosing protocol with your physician beforehand.
Also, make sure to build up your infrared sauna sessions very slowly to learn whether you end up with low blood sugar levels.
Lastly, with these heat therapy interventions, the health of your blood vessels also improves. Impaired blood vessel function and poor blood flow is a very common side-effect caused by all types of diabetes.
Next up, let's explore the benefits of not just traditional saunas but infrared options specifically:
Specific Far Infrared And Near-Infrared Light Benefits For Diabetics
The benefits of saunas don’t stop here. While traditional saunas like Finnish saunas and steam rooms use air to heat up your body, infrared saunas use infrared light to increase your body temperature.
The benefit of infrared saunas is that different types of infrared light have effects on your body cells independent from heating. In fact, infrared light is a kind of nutrient that enters your body and thereby affects biological processes in your cells. Here are some examples:
- exposure to far-infrared light improves circulation in the extremities, such as the feet (13). Remember that the extremities are frequently plagued by symptoms such as poor healing and neurological problems if you’ve got diabetes
- in rat studies, higher levels of far infrared light exposure lead to quicker wound healing (14). In this case, 12 sessions in 4 weeks at 40 minutes worked superior to 20 minutes per session.
- in a mice study, far infrared light exposure helps maintain the mass and function of the pancreas (15). The pancreas is the main insulin-secreting organ and is negatively affected in diabetes type one.
- fortunately, some of these effects are confirmed in human studies (16). Both blood circulation and overall tissue quality improves when people with diabetes are exposed to far-infrared light.
Now, there’s more to the story than just far-infrared light. Other types of infrared, such as near-infrared and middle infrared light also have extensive health benefits.
Near-infrared light, for instance, shows very promising benefits for blood sugar control, helping the nervous system heal if you’ve got diabetes, increasing wound healing, preventing ulcers, and many other benefits (17; 18; 19; 20; 21). Some of these benefits are only investigated in animal studies, but, because most of the research points in the same direction, the same benefits in humans can reasonably be expected.
The best way to add near-infrared light and middle infrared light to your routine is to use a full-spectrum sauna. Another method to add near infrared light is to use a red light therapy device.
So you might think: “what’s the ultimate effect of all these interventions?” Let’s find out:
Quality Of Life Improvements
As a result of spending time in a sauna, you’re not just countering your risk of getting diabetes and its symptoms, you’re also actively promoting your quality of life (22; 23). And the best news is that you’ll gain these quality of life gains without any adverse or side effects.
These scientific findings are currently supported in both people with diabetes and obesity. One study that used four sauna sessions on different days in one week already found statistically significant outcomes. Next to the quality of life improvements, general health and social functioning enhancements can also be expected.
The health gains for diabetes you gain through integrating a sauna into your daily routine thus translate into real quality of life improvements in your everyday life - as well as improvements in your overall health. Next up, let's conclude to better understand how to accomplish all this:
Infrared Sauna And Diabetes - A Match Made In Heaven
While you can rely on a regular sauna for countering many of the symptoms and sometimes underlying causes of different types of diabetes, it’s imperfect. So, using an infrared sauna - preferably a full-spectrum one - gives you the maximum benefit for dealing with diabetes.
Red light therapy, moreover, will act as a cherry on the cake. Fortunately, the Clearlight® Light Therapy Tower is the only red light therapy device that can be used inside a sauna, as of the moment of this writing. By allowing you to combine sauna time and red light therapy, you’ll massively increase the number of health benefits you’re getting because both benefits don’t overlap.