December 1, 2011
By Michelle Robin, DC
Due to their clinically proven health benefits, infrared saunas are now being used in medical practices, wellness clinics and health spas around the world. They are also manufactured in several sizes and sold to individual consumers who want to relax and reap their health benefits at home.
Many people are unfamiliar with infrared heating technology and even fewer know about the medical research promoting infrared saunas for clinical weight loss, heart health, pain relief, detoxification and muscle recovery.
Instead of using convection heat (like an oven) found in conventional saunas, infrared saunas use infrared light waves to warm the body. This light is invisible to the human eye and is capable of penetrating deeply into the body’s tissues for a deeper core sweat. These heaters produce infrared heat to warm the body, rather than the surrounding air. As a result, the air temperature in an infrared sauna is much lower than a typical sauna, which helps make the experience more pleasant. Infrared, which naturally occurs in sunlight, is the safest form of heat and is used in hospital incubators for newborn babies.
Though always considered safe by the medical community, doctors are now discovering the many health benefits of infrared saunas, including significant passive weight loss. For example, by calculating the heart-rate increase during a 30-minute infrared sauna bath, the average person can burn up to 600 calories.
In a 2010 study published by the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, medical researchers found infrared sauna treatment to significantly lower blood pressure and induce weight loss, in addition to reducing waist circumference, especially for patients forced to be sedentary due to medical conditions. As a result, medical experts have started to promote infrared saunas as a valid intervention for congestive heart failure (CHF), hypertension and obesity.
Infrared heat has also been proven to support cardiovascular health. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that infrared sauna treatments improve heart muscle functioning in congestive heart failure patients. It was noted that two weeks of sauna therapy increased blood flow through the heart and reduced systolic blood pressure. These results were supported in a study performed at the University of Missouri, Kansas City in 2005 where blood pressure dropped an average of 6.5 points in six weeks via infrared sauna treatment. And again in a 2010 study by Canadian doctor Richard Beever, MD on Type 2 diabetes sufferers, where infrared heat therapy was found to decrease patients’ systolic blood pressure by an average of six points.
Detoxification benefits of infrared saunas are also notable. For example, Seattle, Wash., neurologist, Deitrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD, found the sweat from those using a conventional sauna was 95 to 97 per cent water, while the sweat from those bathing in an infrared sauna was 80 to 85 per cent water; the non-water portion being cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia and uric acid. As a result, those who bathed in an infrared sauna purged literally 10 times the amount of toxins one would sweat out in a normal sauna. This is why holistic doctors often prescribe infrared sauna treatment for individuals with mercury or other heavy metal toxicity.
Infrared saunas also have a profound effect on relieving chronic pain. In a 2006 double-blind, placebo-controlled study in the Journal of Pain Research and Management, where researchers found infrared heat therapy, over a seven week period, to reduce chronic lower-back pain by 50 per cent, without any negative side effects.
Participants were asked to rate their overall pain without movement, as well as pain during various movement postures, such as bending forward, back, right, left and rotating the spine. The results showed all measures of pain were reduced approximately in half, with the greatest reduction experienced toward the end of the seven-week period. This points toward the fact that continuing treatment beyond seven weeks may lead to even greater pain reduction.
A 2002 study, published in the journal, Spine, by a researcher at the New Jersey Medical School (UMDNJ) found heat therapy to be more effective than pain medication for lower-back pain relief. In fact, pain relief was significantly greater in the group that underwent infrared heat treatment as compared to the group who were only given pain medication. According to the study, some members of the group that received infrared heat treatment experienced pain relief as early as the first day of treatment, and the effects lasted more than 48 hours after treatment.
Infrared heat has also been proven to help with several forms of arthritis. For example, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, researchers found reductions in both pain and stiffness after only four weeks of treatment for several types of arthritis.
In addition, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society reported the results of a study, which showed infrared heat treatment reduced pain and increased the ability in elderly patients with degenerative osteoarthritis (DOA) of the knee. This double-blind study on DOA demonstrated pain reduction for the treatment group by more than 50 per cent, with no significant pain reduction in the placebo group. Although the study lasted only 10 days, individuals in the treatment group reported no need for pain medication as they were pain free for two months to one year.
Muscle recovery, for both athletes and laypeople, has also been a proven benefit of infrared heat. In 2008, the Journal of Human Ergology published a report, which revealed infrared heat treatment was capable of regenerating muscle cells.
Researchers found during repeated hand gripping exercises, arm-muscle agility remained in the ideal range for participants receiving infrared heat treatment, while the non-treatment group’s muscles were gradually fatigued.
The muscle recovery benefits of infrared heat have also been touted by Dr. Jeffrey Spencer, a former Olympic athlete who was named 2004 ‘Sports Chiropractor of the Year.’ He works with many high-performance athletes including, Lance Armstrong, Chad Reed, Troy Glaus, Tiger Woods and NASCAR driver Bobby LaBonte.
When asked about his personal daily health routine in a recent Dynamic Chiropractic article, Spencer said, “I make deliberate time to exercise daily, beginning with 45 minutes of qigong before the sun comes up, followed by at least an hour of cycling during the day. I also do full-body resistive training daily, take supplements specific to my needs, get regular adjustments, do Thai/Chinese massage, eat a calorie-restrictive organic diet, (and sweat in an) infrared sauna.”
After numerous studies, which have revealed several health benefits, infrared saunas have been getting lots of exposure in the general media. Consumers are being persuaded to buy infrared saunas for their homes on major television shows such as Oprah, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Rachael Ray. This national visibility makes it easier for health professionals and sauna dealers to explain the many health benefits they have to potential consumers.
Infrared saunas are utilized by many holistic health practitioners for their wellness benefits, including doctors of integrative medicine, chiropractors, physical therapists, naturopaths and osteopaths; however, they are not only built for health clinics. Many gyms, spas and hotels have been incorporating infrared, instead of traditional saunas, into their amenity offerings.
Infrared saunas are also sold to individual consumers for personal use at home. They are easy to set up and are free standing, allowing them to be moved
easily around the home, indoors or outdoors. They plug into a standard household outlet and typically cost less than $10 in electricity per month with regular use.
For those who live in apartments or have minimal space at home, most infrared sauna manufacturers also offer compact ‘solo’ models that easily fold up into a 1 m2 (12 sf) area. These lightweight, portable models are also being purchased by massage therapists or other freelancers in the healing profession who want to enhance home visits with their clients.
Certain infrared sauna bhttp://www.poolspas.ca/wp-admin/edit-comments.phprands are now also available in eco-conscious models. These saunas are made from 100 per cent Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Canada certified wood and are free of any glue, dye or chemicals.
In terms of their operation, most infrared saunas utilize only far-infrared heat, which is only one part of the infrared spectrum. However, in the last year, sauna manufacturers have launched full-spectrum infrared saunas to provide users control over their settings, which can now range from near-infrared light, which aids in pain and muscle relief, to mid-infrared light, which assists in fat burning and weight loss, to far-infrared light, which deepens the core sweat to detoxify the entire body.
Bio-feedback is another new feature offered by infrared sauna manufacturers. These saunas include a bio-feedback monitor that is programmed to wirelessly send data (e.g. heart rate, calories burned and core body temperature) to a personal-wellness website, which allows sauna bather’s to track their health goals. Another unique feature offered by some infrared sauna manufacturers is sound therapy technology. This feature uses sound waves to create a musical massage for the body, which encourages the bather’s muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments to resonate to stimulate the mind and body’s natural relaxation response.
With infrared sauna popularity on the rise in the health and wellness industry, now is the time to educate consumers on their medically proven benefits and the possibilities for greater health and longevity via regular use.
Michelle Robin, DC, is a holistic chiropractor and founder/chief wellness officer of Your Wellness Connection, a successful healing centre in Kansas. Honoured as the ‘Master’s Circle Chiropractor of the Year’ in 2007, Robin is a regular contributing writer to a magazine for executive business women as well as many community publications focusing on health and wellness. She is also the author of the book Wellness on a Shoestring—Seven Habits for a Healthy Life. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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