Mounting research is showing that sauna therapy can have a wide range of health benefits - provided, of course, that you have no medical contraindications. Not everyone can safely use the sauna e.g. heart disease, pregnancy, medications, children, so be sure to check with your doctor before you get into one, and be sure to use it safely, stay hydrated, and replenish with electrolytes if you’ve sweated a lot.
My whole family have been avid sauna users for years. It has been an absolutely instrumental tool in our healing, and I started using it to aid detoxification. But once I started, I was hooked! It never fails to lift my mood, and has literally been my sanctuary during stressful times.
Saunas have been used by many different cultures for thousands of years for healing, and, although the design of a sauna may vary, the key principle remains. By utilizing heat to raise core body and skin temperatures, we can bring about many health benefits.
In this article, I will take you through 5 main evidence-backed benefits:
Saunas are also great tools for relaxation and stress relief. We spend the majority of our lives in flight or fight mode, and using a sauna supports our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, allowing our body to enter the parasympathetic state - a key step in healing.
Our body has the natural ability to detoxify. However, due to our world being laden with ever increasing environmental toxins, our bodies may need support. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know that I personally believe environmental toxins to be a hidden iceberg when it comes to chronic disease - it is contributing to many chronic health conditions (like type 2 diabetes, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, Parkinsons and Alzheimers, allergies, eczema, acne, ADD, and many more, yet most doctors are not aware of this.
Before these medical diagnoses, our bodies often give us signals by way of symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, low mood, skin rashes, poor digestion… and if we don’t take heed and start reducing our toxic load, these conditions can ensue in the years to come.
Using a sauna can encourage blood flow and sweating, both can help with detoxification of heavy metals and a range of other toxins from our body.
Mold illness is increasingly common and sauna therapy. A large case-controlled study followed 100 patients who were chemically sensitive and exposed still experiencing symptoms despite remediation.. Approximately 85% cleared completely, 14% had partial improvement, and 1% remained unchanged with a protocol of sauna, nutrition and oxygen therapy.
Other toxins eliminated via the sweat:
When you reduce your body toxin burden, you are also lowering your risks of chronic diseases. Here is an excellent example of the benefits of sauna use for disease prevention:
Image Source: The Mayo Clinic Study
If you are trying to lose weight, but are not supporting your detox pathways - you are likely to fail in your efforts.
Weight regulation is NOT just about calories. It is a very complex topic involving a number of intertwined factors like gut, hormone health, you can read more on that in my Toxins and weight loss ebook.
Obesogens are now recognised by the NIEHS as a group of chemicals which alters our metabolism and contributes to weight gain, and so it makes sense that, if you were able to eliminate these from your body, your weight loss efforts will be supported and more likely to be sustained.
Many of these toxic chemicals are stored in our fat - and studies have shown that rapid weight loss can lead to an increased blood level of these toxins. If these are not rapidly eliminated via our detox organs, they can impact our thyroid gland, hormones, leading to weight regain which we so commonly witness i.e. yo-yo dieting.
Of course, I’m not saying that sitting in the sauna alone is going to help you lose weight - there is no magic bullet. However, in combination with healthy eating and exercise, sauna therapy can be an invaluable adjunct in aiding weight loss.
This study (done by Clearlight, a manufacturer of Infrared Sauna, at Binghamton University) showed that sauna helped with fat loss.
I have personally experienced effortless weight loss after working on lowering my total toxin burden.
Perhaps the benefit with the strongest scientific evidence and consensus amongst experts.
In this large Finnish study published in the esteemed journal JAMA, men who used sauna 4-7 times a week had a 48% reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and 40% reduction in ALL CAUSE Mortality (ie death from any cause) - it was a high-quality study because they controlled for confounding factors like socioeconomic status, smoking, diet, cholesterol, age, blood pressure etc.
That is an eye-popping statistic to me!
Sauna is safe for most, however, it is important that you check with your doctor first if you have heart disease.
This report from the Mayo Clinic shared that sauna bathing is associated with:
I have all the men in my life take regular saunas to protect their heart and overall health!
One of the world’s leading experts in Alzheimer's disease, Dr Bredesden, is an avid promoter of sauna therapy for dementia prevention, and for good reason too!
This study found that, in men, moderate to high frequency of sauna bathing was associated with lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in a dose-dependent manner (i.e. the more frequently it was used, the lower the risk).
Heat stress increases BDNF (brain derived neurotrphic factor) - a protein that promotes the growth of new neurons in our brain, and slows down cognitive decline. Sauna is not the only way you can raise BDNF though.. Exercise can do it too! So if you don’t have a sauna, exercise!
Don’t disregard that feeling of euphoria when you walk out of the sauna! There is good biological reason for it.
Heat therapy can release beta endorphins into our blood stream - these are the feel good compounds that make us feel great after exercise… this is why, even in the foulest of moods, if I head into my sauna, I always come out of my sauna feeling better - it’s my ‘natural prozac’.
Studies have also shown that sauna therapy may be beneficial in those with mild depression, and even one single session where the core body temperature was raised to 38.5 can have a rapid and long lasting effect on mood, according to this study published in JAMA Psychiatry.
With the darker months during winter, my sauna has definitely helped me with my mental health.
A few other improvements people also experience are reducing fatigue, muscle recovery, improved joint pains.
Overall, using a sauna regularly is a pleasurable and enjoyable experience. I love to use my sauna at the end of a long day or to start my weekend on a Friday night.
If space or affordability is an issue, Therasage is a great option. This is the portable sauna I started my detox journey with, and love because it uses non-off-gassing materials, and is low EMF. They also give you the option to add in red light therapy, which I’m also a big fan of for mitochondrial health.
If cost or space is not an issue, then I cannot recommend Clearlight Sauna enough. The Santuary model is what I have at home, and it is literally, as the name suggests, a sanctuary. The wood is non-off-gassing, the panels are low EMF, it heats up really well and helps us sweat buckets.
They are having a special fall sale right now and will give my followers a deeper discount if you mention 'Platefulhealth'.
If you do use the sauna, be sure to hydrate with plenty of water and electrolytes afterwards. I cannot tell you how much and what with - because it depends on your age, body weight, activity level, medications and medical history - so always speak to your doctor for guidance on that. However, the two brands of electrolyte I personally use post sauna are:
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I am not a fan of electrolytes that are super salty and high in sodium - watch out for those which are prevalent in the marketplace and touted by many health influencers to be ‘healthy’ when in fact, they will tax your kidneys.
If you're looking for more support and guidance on HOW to reduce your body toxin load, take my Do You Need To Detox? Quiz and you will receive my email series Detoxing The RIGHT way.