Clearlight would like to remind users that this should not be taken as direct medical advice, and you should always consult a licensed health practitioner before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or existing pain treatment regimen. In the blog post, we referred to a clinical study that used a cabin sauna and measured its temperature to demonstrate the practical applications of using the sauna and the outcomes that were observed during the experiment. It is important to note that the benefits are not derived from the temperature of the sauna cabin itself, but rather from the increase in the body's core temperature, and the cabin temperature serves only as a means to raise the body temperature in a controlled manner for the purposes of the study. This fact is supported by peer-reviewed studies that outline specific requirements for duration, frequency and cabin temperature for the safe and effective use of a sauna.
I’ve extensively reviewed all the health benefits of infrared saunas on this website. Today I want to zoom in on the extremely extensive health benefits of saunas for diabetes. I’ve already written elaborately on the infrared sauna for diabetes health benefits, such as:
Sauna While Fasting - which explains how fasting while sauna bathing can help you lose body fat and manage blood sugar levels
Today, however, I’ll specifically treat the topic of how long to use a sauna for diabetes for the best results. I’ll take you by the hand and lead you through lots of research that exists on the topic of saunas and diabetes and explain what these studies say about how long to use an infrared sauna. Let’s begin:
What Happens With Your Blood Glucose When You Use A Sauna?
Several studies have observed what happens when you enter a sauna (1; 2; 3). Because of the heat, your blood vessels start to dilate, moving more blood to your extremities. As a result, even the smallest blood vessels called “capillaries” will increase their interchange of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, and waste products. Why this matters I’ll tell you soon…
And because your body is under temporary stress, blood glucose is released from the liver to be burned off. Different types of hormones also increase in their levels, such as (4; 5; 6):
Thyroid hormones (which broadly manages metabolism as well as other functions
Adrenaline, which increases fat burning and heart rate and prepares the body for activity
Growth hormone, which helps increase the use of fats and glucose in the body
The blood flow to the muscles, moreover, also ensures that these muscles will better use the glucose (carbohydrates) in your bloodstream. As you may know, the fundamental problem with diabetics is that the body mishandles glucose at several potential levels, such as not being able to take it up to cells or not creating the hormone to properly handle it.
During this process, so-called “heat-shock proteins” are also activated (7; 8; 9). Heat shock proteins can be understood as thermostats in your cells that sense whether the temperature either gets too high or too low. (Heat shock proteins have many other functions, such as in the immune system and recycling old cell materials, but for this blog post the “thermometer function” matters most.)
In the last 10 years, strong evidence has emerged that activating these heat shock proteins has massive effects on managing blood glucose levels, especially in the long run. “HbA1c” is a frequently taken lab test measurement of these blood glucose levels. With repeated sauna exposure, these HbA1c levels see large declines over time. One study, for instance, showed that a 80-100 degree Celsius sauna (176F - 212F) dropped the HbA1c by a whopping whole point (9). A whole point might not seem like much, but is the difference between having normal blood sugar levels and having type 2 diabetes. These amazing results were achieved by three sauna sessions per week for three months. The sessions only lasted 15 minutes.
But how do these heat shock proteins have this effect on blood sugar levels? Simple: the heat shock proteins notice that tissues potentially get damaged. And with very high temperatures, some tissues do get damaged. The heat shock proteins then activate a recycling process in the cell that cleans up your cells from both new and existing “debris” (10; 11; 12). As a result, many cells of your body renew. As a result, the mitochondria are upgraded:
Upgrading Your Mitochondria With Saunas For More Sugar And Fat Burning
Your cells contain up to thousands of “mitochondria”. Mitochondria are the “energy-producing engines” of your cells. With few and small mitochondria, not much energy is produced by your cells. But once you upgrade your mitochondria - by increasing their quality and quantity - your body starts producing much more energy. Activating your body’s heat shock proteins is a key pathway to also upgrading your mitochondria (13; 14; 15). Some studies show that spending just one hour in a 40-degree Celsius environment already activates these heat shock proteins. As a result, new and bigger mitochondria are created. Over time through, the more frequently you spend time in a sauna, the more the heat shock proteins are activated and the greater the benefits you get.
But what is the link between mitochondria and diabetes? Recent studies have found an extremely strong link between the quality and quantity of your mitochondria and diabetes (16; 17; 18; 19). Recent studies go as far as to call diabetes type II a “mitochondrial disorder”. Upgrading your mitochondria through infrared saunas then becomes a prime diabetes prevention and management strategy.
This process is especially important if you’re overweight and/or have diabetes type II. The bottom line is this: the bigger and more plentiful your mitochondria are, the easier losing fat and building muscle become. The reason is that you’ll simply have more energy. And with more energy, it’s easier to become a so-called fat burning machine. Let’s venture into that topic right now:
How Long To Use A Sauna For Diabetes Fat Loss?
You’ll burn a lot of calories when spending time inside a sauna (20; 21). Depending on the study, you burn anywhere between 500 and ~1,000 kilocalories per hour of spending time inside a sauna. These results are extremely welcome as there’s a direct link between being overweight or obese and diabetes type II (22; 23; 24; 25). Often, it’s also argued that the opposite is true: that the insulin resistance that’s intertwined with diabetes type II causes people to be overweight - I’ll get back to that topic in a second.
Let’s for now assume that burning too few calories and consuming too many of them causes diabetes type II. In that case, burning an extra 500 kilocalories per day can make a world of difference in not only preventing diabetes type II but also managing symptoms. You’ll thus have to use an infrared sauna for an hour to get the diabetes weight loss benefits. But what about the long-term effects?
Fortunately, we’ve carried out our own sauna fat loss study on this topic to confirm these results. By using a Clearlight® infrared sauna three times per week for 30 minutes per session, participants lost four percent body fat over a four month period. Translated to a period of a month, you can lose a whopping one percent body fat per month if you use the infrared sauna 30 minutes per day, three times per week. And there’s more:
We analysed which participants did best by using an infrared sauna for fat loss. Using an infrared sauna in the late afternoon or early evening leads to the best results. People who used the infrared sauna earlier in the day only had half the fat loss of people who used the infrared sauna after 3 PM. And that’s not all…
The extremely important outcome we measured for people with diabetes is that blood glucose levels went down. And, people with excess body fat lost far more weight than people who were closer to normal body fat. So everywhere you can see win-win-win situations here. Overall though, I recommend using an infrared sauna three times per week for at least 30 minutes per day for diabetes weight loss. Once again, for that goal, you have to activate the heat shock proteins (26; 27; 28).
Saunas And Insulin Efficiency
Saunas also aid in making insulin work more efficiently (29). For this result, study participants spent two sessions of 25 minutes in an 85-degree Celsius traditional sauna. Insulin was injected as the study participants were diabetics. And, insulin absorption increased by a whopping 110% compared to normal levels. Blood glucose levels were also lowered overall. The greater the increase in insulin absorption, moreover, the lower the blood glucose levels became. Put in plain English, this outcome means that insulin works way better when you’re using a sauna. You’ll have to be aware that using insulin together with a sauna can lower blood glucose levels quicker than normal, potentially leading to a hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Even though this blog post doesn’t contain medical advice, I still want to recommend talking to your physician about using insulin if you’ve got type I diabetes and want to use a sauna. An alternative here is to eat more before a sauna session - even if it’s a small snack - to raise your blood glucose levels. So people with type I diabetes should be more careful using an infrared sauna, even if it’s a short 25-minute session at an intensity that’s not super high (85 degrees Celsius). And now that I’ve talked extensively about how long to use a sauna for diabetes, let’s consider what diabetes is:
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What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes or diabetes mellitus is not a single phenomenon but a collection of diseases. Diabetes can be subdivided into diabetes type I, type II, type III, gestational diabetes and mitochondrial diabetes (30; 31; 32) Let’s explore these different types of diabetes mellitus one by one:
What Is Diabetes Type I? And How Long To Use Saunas For Diabetes Type I
Diabetes type I is an autoimmune disease (33; 34; 35). In an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system attacks your own cells. Basically, some of your own cells are wrongly identified as external intruders by your immune system. Lots of damage is the result. In case of diabetes type I, the beta cells of the pancreas are attacked. Those cells are responsible for the production of insulin. For that reason, the body of people with diabetes type I doesn’t produce insulin and these people therefore have to inject the hormone.
Insulin helps glucose (carbohydrates that are broken down into sugars after digestion) to be taken up by your cells. As I’ve already mentioned earlier, it seems like saunas can help with diabetes type I by making the insulin you inject work better. Only two 25-minute sauna sessions achieved this effect. Then there’s diabetes type II:
What Is Diabetes Type II? And How Long To Use Saunas For Diabetes Type II
Diabetes type II is a metabolic disorder (36; 37; 38; 39). Unlike in diabetes type I, in diabetes type II the body produces insulin sufficiently and often excessively. The problem is that the body’s cells are no longer responsive to insulin. The so-called insulin sensitivity of the cells has gone down dramatically over time. Frequently, diabetes type II develops as you age although more and more younger people are affected nowadays.
High blood glucose levels are a main way of identifying diabetes type II. And, as I’ve stated earlier in this blog post, infrared saunas are an excellent tool in that regard. Infrared saunas not only drive down your regular (fasting) blood glucose levels but also your long-term levels. Three 15-minute sauna sessions per week for a month drove down the long-term blood sugar levels (HbA1c) by a whole point. HbA1c is a main diagnostic tool for diabetes type II (40; 41). HbA1c is measured in the blood. Red blood cells have a turnover rate of 2-3 months and your HbA1c are thus a extremely good indicator of your long-term blood sugar levels.
If you know anything about HbA1c, the 1-point difference that a sauna can make within a month is extremely significant. Of course, contact your physician first for setting up a treatment plan that ideally includes an infrared sauna. Right now, seven percent of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom have diabetes (42). That number is still increasing also. Next up, let’s consider a form of diabetes related to type II diabetes:
What Is Diabetes Type III & How Long To Use Saunas For Diabetes Type III
Lots of discussion currently exist about type III diabetes and its relationship to type II diabetes. Alzheimer’s disease is more and more considered an independent form of diabetes: diabetes type III (43; 44; 45; 46; 47). The poorer your blood sugar control, the higher the risk of cognitive decline and different forms of dementia. How well insulin works in your body is also closely related to the building of so-called amyloid-β plaques that cause Alzheimer’s. Insulin resistance in the brain may also contribute. Now here’s the deal:
Extremely strong evidence exists showing that frequent sauna sessions counter both Alzheimer’s disease specifically and dementia in general (48; 49). If you use a sauna four times per week or more, your overall risk of dementia goes down by an incredible 53%. Another study showed an even more unbelievable 66% difference. For Alzheimer’s, that number is 65%. Keep in mind that people who didn’t spend much time in a sauna if at all are compared with people who spend four times per week in sauna or more frequently. So, to counter diabetes type III, spend at least four times per week in an infrared sauna. Preferably your sessions are longer but well tolerable.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy (50; 51; 52). The exact reason for gestational diabetes isn’t known. Being overweight or obese, of older age, and a familiar history of diabetes are risk factors though. So if you want to prevent gestational diabetes, it’s highly recommended to use the tips listed above to lose excess body fat. But how about using saunas during pregnancy?
Saunas during pregnancy, either to counter gestational diabetes or not, aren’t recommended. Yes, during your pregnancy you can use very light sauna sessions way below your level of maximum exertion for relaxation. But using a sauna during pregnancy is strongly discouraged. If you want to use a sauna during gestational diabetes anyway, set your infrared sauna to a very low temperature. And use the infrared sauna for 15 minutes at the maximum. Next up, I’ll consider some questions about how long to use a sauna for diabetes for the best results:
Saunas And Diabetes: Frequently Asked Questions
Below I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about saunas and diabetes.
What Are The Far And Near Infrared Benefits For Diabetes?
Far infrared saunas have been used for a long time for health improvements. Very strong evidence exists that far infrared saunas have similar effects for heart and blood vessel health, nervous system functioning, pain, and so forth (53; 54; 55; 56; 57). Far infrared saunas are very similar to traditional saunas such as a Finnish sauna. There are only slight differences between these two sauna types. Let’s consider a few of these differences and their implications for your diabetes sauna sessions.
Heating style. Traditional saunas heat the air around you with a heater element. That hot air then comes in contact with your skin and heats your body. With an infrared sauna, heater panels are aimed at your body. These heater panels emit different types of infrared, such as near and far infrared. The air around you doesn’t get hot so the sauna temperature can be 40-50 degrees Celsius lower in an infrared sauna.
The core body temperature rise. Despite the huge difference in air temperature, both a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna lead to a large increase in what is called your “core body temperature” - more or less the temperature around your organs. This increase in core body temperature is actually what gives you great results because you’ll start sweating heavily and blood flow increases, among others. So both saunas should give you the diabetes health benefits described in this blog post.
Heating the correct tissues. With a traditional sauna, the hot air moves towards the upper part of the sauna. Technically, therefore, your head receives the most heat. But that head is the weakest link in the chain and once your head gives out, you can no longer stay inside a sauna. A high-quality infrared sauna is different in that it only heats your core and extremities - not your head. So you can stay in the infrared sauna longer and reap more benefits.
So overall, even though both saunas offer diabetes benefits, infrared saunas such as full-spectrum infrared saunas or far infrared saunas offer the best benefits for diabetes. Infrared saunas are gentler and thus allow you to sweat more. Next question?
Is Heat Good To Counter Diabetes? What About Sauna Side-Effects For Diabetes?
Heat exposure, in controlled and limited amounts, is great for diabetes support and diabetes symptom management. However, if you’ve got diabetes or if you’re prediabetic you have to be more careful with heat exposure. Your body is often less able to supply energy properly, which can influence your ability to withstand heat. For instance, you may end up with low blood sugar. Or you the way insulin interacts with your body may change, if you’re a type I diabetic. Therefore, you’ll have to build up your heat tolerance gradually. The same is true for the number of sauna sessions you implement each week.
This advice is especially true if you’ve got multiple chronic conditions. An example would be if you have heart disease and diabetes at the same time. Of course, talk to your doctor first but then build up your sessions very slowly. If you feel nausea or weak or have a headache in any way, get out of the infrared sauna. With one or more diseases, you’ll also have to ensure you’re properly hydrated and consume sufficient salt. And, with diabetes specifically, it very often helps to eat a small meal or a snack before a sauna session to keep your blood sugar levels high.
Does Red Light Therapy Have Benefits For Diabetes?
Red light therapy can make your sauna for diabetes sessions much better. Red light therapy uses very specific wavelengths of light in the red and near infrared light spectrum. To simplify my message a bit, that red and near infrared is emitted by LEDs. That light then enters your body a few millimetres and affects you at the cellular level. Our Clearlight®Red Light Therapy Tower is one of the only red light therapy products specifically made to be used inside an infrared sauna. That way you can enjoy the benefits of both infrared saunas and red light therapy at the same time. What red light therapy for benefits (58; 59; 60; 61; 62; 63; 64; 65; 66; 67) Well, red light therapy:
Quickens the healing rate of foot ulcers and reduces their size - a common diabetes complication
Improves wound healing, which is often impeded in diabetes
Impedes the pain of a diabetic neuropathy - a nerve problem in that often appears in the periphery due to diabetes. Even the health of the nerves improves
Reduces “Diabetic Dermopathy”, a skin disorder as a result of diabetes
Lowers inflammation - inflammation is interwtined with diabetes and chronic inflammation is frequently one of the causes
Makes your mitochondria work more efficiently so that you’re more energetic and more energy is available for healing
Prevents insulin resistance - the problem in prediabetics and type II and III diabetics where insulin no longer drives glucose into the cells, so that you end up with high blood glucose.
And much more that I won’t go into here.
The Bottom Line:
When you’re spending time in an infrared sauna, you´ll activate countless different processes that aid diabetes support and prevent diabetes. For instance, you’ll activate heat-shock proteins, burn 750 kilocalories per hour to keep the excess body fat off, improve glucose handling, create bigger and more plentiful mitochondria, and much more.
Adding red light therapy to your sauna can improve the benefits you’re getting even more.
For type II diabetes or if you’re prediabetic, build up to at least three sessions of 30 minutes of infrared saunas per week. For type III diabetes - often called “Alzheimer´s disease” - build up to four to seven sessions weekly, with at least 30 minutes per session, although longer is better. For type I diabetes the sauna session frequency and timing is more complicated as there’s no direct research, so I recommend a conservative approach of three 30-minute sessions per week - that improve insulin sensibility.