Infrared sauna and health: Part 3. Many benefits? Yes and no

In the previous part of Infrared sauna and health series I explained how taking an infrared sauna affects our body, and how our body reacts to heat and infrared radiation. In this part I aim to connect a body response with numerous health benefits ascribed to an infrared sauna. It is important to understand that one should not look at the question of infrared sauna health benefits from the binary point of view – either it provides benefits or not. Some conditions an infrared sauna can benefit only slightly, while on others it can have a strong healing effect. Some people can benefit from an infrared sauna more than others, because we all have different organisms, with different metabolism, different nutrition, different inherited genetic background, immune system and so on. There is definitely no Yes or No answer.

While infrared sauna marketers try squeeze all from even slight evidence of infrared sauna benefits to any illness, with goal to make potential customers believe that the answer to the question Will infrared sauna benefit my health problem? is Yes, there are people from the other side, treating all this FIR sauna stuff as a quackery and declining that an infrared sauna can have any benefit at all. Who is right? I think neither are. I think neither are because both looking at some sites that sell infrared sauna and at those sites who writes that all this is scam make me feel suspicious and sometimes even angry. Sellers are selling their products. Skeptics often look like they are attacking not infrared saunas but they way they are marketed, drawing the conclusion that since there are some bad marketing then saunas must be bad too. These are the examples of the binary, black/white point of view.

Infrared saunas don’t get any benefits from too aggressive marketing and too aggressive skepticism. They both can turn a person that could benefit from infrared sauna down or make a person who can easily live without an infrared sauna buy it. My goal is to look at an infrared sauna itself, without attachment to the skeptics or sellers camps, and provide facts and my own thoughts that will help others to decide for themselves. And, fortunately, not all seller/skeptic sites take either black or white point of view. There are plenty of them who provide more accurate and helpful information.

To move on to explaining infrared sauna benefits, I decided to compile an extensive list of benefits that an infrared sauna is claimed to provide and pose a question: How an infrared sauna can provide these benefits? To answer this question I want to use only that facts about human body reaction to heat/infrared that I wrote about in a previous post in this series. To gather this list of benefits I scanned through several infrared sauna manufacturers’ websites and some popular infrared sauna articles. Here is this list of areas and conditions to which infrared sauna is said to provide benefits:

  • detoxification
  • cellulite removal
  • sunburn antidote
  • improved skin
  • removal of clogged pores and blackheads
  • acne
  • eczema and psoriases
  • dandruff
  • muscle spasms
  • arthritis
  • joint stiffness
  • low back pain
  • muscle tension
  • cold hands and feet
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer
  • asthma
  • weight loss
  • lowered cholesterol
  • fibromyalgia
  • reduced stress and fatigue
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • multiple chemical sensitivity

A long list, indeed. And probably not complete. If I searched more I would probably find more benefits which would be from the same fields than on the list above. But this list is enough to define a spectrum of benefits which are associated with infrared sauna.

As it presented on many infrared websites it can appear that infrared sauna is somehow affect every symptom and condition listed. It can look that infrared sauna treats arthritis directly, high blood pressure directly, fibromyalgia directly, acne directly and intoxication directly. Visually, I presented this point of view on a figure (click to see a larger version):

This figure illustrates simple, but wrong point of view that an infrared sauna affect all illnesses and conditions it is said to benefit directly.This figure illustrates simple, but wrong point of view that an infrared sauna affect all illnesses and conditions it is said to benefit directly.

If it were indeed the way the things are, one could say “Wow! This infrared sauna thing is a cure for all!” But it isn’t so. There is no a lot of research to support each of these benefits, only a few studies that support some of them. An infrared sauna isn’t widely used in traditional medicine. There was enough time since sixties, when infrared saunas first appeared, to recognize in an infrared sauna an effective treatment for many conditions. There is some information that infrared sauna appeared even earlier, but it wasn’t called “infrared sauna”. And traditional saunas have infrared radiation, although to a lesser degree than infrared ones.

To get better understanding of infrared sauna benefits, let’s look at them from a different point of view. As I wrote before, an infrared sauna makes our body to use its thermoregulation abilities. Blood flow through our skin increases, as well as heart rate, and we begin to sweat a large amount of sweat. It has two major effects – there is much more circulation in parts of our body that usually has low blood flow and there is movement of water and all that dissolved in this water in tissues under the skin, to support sweating.

Conclusion is that an infrared sauna activates and trains body systems that are rarely used in a modern life and usually work rarely. But these systems play important role in a human organism and are essential for a healthy life. By taking infrared sauna we make our body to:

  • train our cardiovascular system, as it should pump a large volume of blood through tissues under our skin
  • increase blood circulation in many parts of our bodies, so blood flushes out wastes from these parts and brings to them oxygen and nutrients
  • sweat a lot of water with stuff dissolved in it; when old sweat is out, fresh fluid is supplied to skin tissues
  • open and cleanse skin pores that were clogged
  • this is just an overview; there are more effects I don’t know or I don’t think are essential

Possible infrared sauna benefits follow from these effects of infrared sauna on systems of our body. This is the same as with healthy lifestyle. If you follow healthy lifestyle, you probably won’t get ill. That’s simple. To illustrate this point of view on infrared sauna benefits here is another figure (click to see a larger version):

How an infrared sauna benefits our health through training various systems of our organism.How an infrared sauna benefits our health through training various systems of our organism.

And this figure shows to us both good and bad news. Good news is that using an infrared sauna regularly you become healthier by compensating low physical activity levels. This will reduce risks to get some illnesses that are common among people who don’t live a healthy life and will improve your overall condition – you will generally feel better and more energetic. However you can just don’t notice this change if you already healthy. An infrared sauna also can be used as a supplemental treatment for some diseases, like fibromyalgia or arthritis. But bad (but anticipated) news is that infrared sauna hardly can be a cure for any disease that has developed enough and broke our organism’s usual rhythm. Infrared sauna is good for preventing illness or for symptoms relief, but when disease showed itself an infrared sauna is not enough. To treat developed disease targeted and more effective treatment is necessary.

And, at last, it is important to remember about relaxing and stress-relieving effect of an infrared sauna. Many people just like it.

In this part of Infrared sauna and health series I described why and how an infrared sauna benefits our health. The conclusion is that infrared sauna is a good choice for a healthy lifestyle and for symptoms relief. But if you are already ill then an infrared sauna is unlikely a cure. In the next part of the series I will write about alternatives to an infrared sauna which provide similar effects and benefits to our body and health. I will also try to answer for whom an infrared sauna is a good choice and for whom it will be better to try another way to be healthy.

Read other parts of Infrared sauna and health series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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