*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of the existing scientific 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 18 scientific references. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
Here's a question I frequently get as the CEO of Clearlight Infrared Saunas International®, many people inquire about the potential for sauna healing.
Below I describe 2 different mechanisms by which infrared saunas, including far infrared light, can stimulate sauna healing.
Healing Benefit 1: Far Infrared Healing
There's not an exceeding amount of available research on "far infrared", as compared to visible light and near infrared light (1; 2; 3). You may wonder, however, what the difference is between "visible light", "near infrared", and "far infrared".
Well, it's simple: visible light is the different photons you can see with your naked eye. Visible light includes all the colours of the rainbow, such as purple, blue, orange, red, etcetera.
Some parts of the light spectrum are also invisible to the human eye, however - that's infrared light and ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is the light that can give you sunburns - I won't treat that in this blog post. Infrared light, moreover, is felt as heat on your skin, and can venture into your body, thereby affecting your cells' functioning.
I'll now venture into the topic of sauna healing, specifically "far infrared healing". Let's, therefore, explore some purported benefits of far infrared which have been demonstrated in the current scientific literature:
- In a population at risk of cardiovascular disease, far infrared therapy significantly improved blood vessel function (4). The study participants had impaired blood vessels function at the beginning of the study - called "endothelial function" in medicine - and may reduce the risk of "atherosclerosis". "Atherosclerosis [is] the formation of fibrofatty lesions in the artery wall", meaning that lesions in your artery wall give rise to new minerals and fat that clog up your blood vessels (5).
Infrared sauna use may also lower "oxidative stress", one biomarker signifying heart disease (6). More research is needed for definitive conclusions though, but, current research is very promising. The personal experience of people using infrared saunas also matches these scientific findings in almost all cases!
- If you've got diabetes, far infrared healing may also take place. Far infrared exposure lowers the levels of several stress hormones such as "cortisol" and "ACTH" (7). Blood sugar levels and insulin levels - the main hormone ensuring that sugars can enter your cells - also decreased.
Of course, if you're already healthy, an increased ability to manage your blood sugar levels can improve things even further! So, athletes, for instances, would benefit from improved blood sugar management because it almost certainly improves their performance.
- In a wide variety of conditions, like fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and chronic fatigue, far infrared healing may also take place (7; 8; 9; 10).
Fibromyalgia, as a condition, is characterized by overall fatigue, pain at different places of the body, and lowered sleep quality (11). The condition also frequently leads to a lower quality of life. If you've got fibromyalgia, far infrared does lead to a reduction in the amount of pain you experience. Combining far infrared with hot water therapy, moreover, daily functioning also goes up (7; 8)
If you've got chronic pain, moreover, overall pain goes down, as well as pain behavior (like compensating because you cannot maintain good posture), the presence and intensity of depression, and feelings of anger (9). Of course, it's not hard to imagine why many people with chronic pain have feelings of depression and anger - resolving them is a very positive sign that infrared healing takes place.
Lastly, while evidence is extremely limited, a study of 2 chronic fatigue patients, far infrared exposure lowered fatigue, fever intensity, risk of sleeplessness, and pain perceptions (10).
The bottom line? There's good preliminary evidence that far inrared light can aid in the healing process.
Of course, far infrared is not the only modality to be relied upon - always consult your physician if you need help treating a health conditions!
Next, let's move to the second reason of sauna healing 101:
Benefit 2: Sauna Therapy For Detoxification And Healing
If you've ever read an online article about sauna healing, then you've seen both people claiming that saunas are amazing for detoxification, and others who claim that saunas don't affect detoxification at all.
So who is right?
Well, for that reason I'm going to give you some indications from a "systematic review" on heavy metals found in sweat (12). A systematic review is a medical study that combines and integrates many previous publications, giving precedence to high-quality research over low-quality alternatives.
Here are some of the outcomes of that systematic review. All of the studies below measure heavy metals in sweat. Heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium, all have negative health effects (13).
- Sweating increases the amount of arsenic that's expelled from your body (14; 15). Arsenic seems to be excreted together with zinc, a mineral that you can best get from milk, pumpkin, different meats and seafood, shellfish, and eggs. For that reason, it's important to eat well around your sauna sessions, especially if you've got a high toxic load on your body!
- Lead is also removed from the body through sweating. In a very unethical study, 6 milligrams of lead was intentionally applied to research participants (16). The more you sweat, the more lead is also removed. Fortunately, detox after the 6-milligram dose seemed efficient and participants removed most of their load soon, without uptake in bones and organs, etcetera. Other studies confirm that lead can be excreted through sweat (17).
- One more heavy metal to consider: mercury. You might know about "mercury teeth fillings", which slowly leak about 1 microgram of the heavy metal into your body every single day. Industry (air pollution) and damaged light bulbs or thermometers are common sources of exposure. Once more, sweating increases mercury expulsion (18).
Once again, I hope you can see that infrared light can contribute to the healing process.
Again, if you've got a very high toxin load, consult with your physician before doing sauna sessions first, and make sure you start at very low intensities and build up gradually.
I think you get the point! Ample evidence exists that sauna healing is a genuine process. Let's therefore conclude:
Conclusion: Let's Explore The Concept Of "Sauna Healing" Some More
I can completely understand that you might want to do some more reading on this topic. For that reason, I've collected a few interesting blog posts allowing you to dive deeper into the subject:
The Great Benefits Of A Sauna: Detoxification: Do Saunas Get Rid Of Toxins? blog post explains a few physiological mechanisms by which sweating helps you expel toxins.
The How Hot Is A Sauna? blog post explains how different temperatures of different saunas give rise to different health effects. For instance, a Finnish sauna might get hotter than an infrared sauna, but did you know it doesn't necessarily help you detox better (quite the contrary, in fact!).
My Ultimate Guide To Buying Infrared Saunas tells you what to look for to ensure your detox and healing experience is as optimal as possible. For instance, you don't want a sauna with toxic glues inside (that detract from your detoxification process and might make it worse), or a sauna leading to high Electro-Magnetic Field (EMF) exposure.
I hope you now understand that the concept of "sauna healing" definitely exists and that you've got many options to assist you in your process!