Taking a sauna can do a lot more than help sweat out toxins. It can also reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. And it can reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Not enough? Read on…
What is a sauna?
For those who are not sure, the sauna is a method of deep perspiration (profusion). The traditional dry sauna is a Finnish invention. Today, infrared saunas have become popular for personal and commercial use due to the lower cost and additional benefits.
The sauna is basically a dry heated room set up for the purpose of sweating. This is similar to Native American Indian sweat lodges – which use covered shelters and hot rocks from a nearby fire.
The traditional Finnish sauna is usually built of wood such as fir or pine, with wooden benches. This allows for insulation as well as absorbance. Wood will absorb sweat but will also dry out easily. This helps neutralize the toxins from sweat.
Traditional Finnish saunas were heated with wood stove furnaces. Now radiant sauna heaters are usually electric. Rocks are often placed on top of the heater. This helps transmit and retain heat. Some rock heaters also allow for water to be poured on in order to add some moisture to the dry sauna.
A dry sauna will typically be heated to between 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) and 195 degrees Fahrenheit (90 Celsius). The upper range can become intolerable. But this is often controlled by keeping the sauna dryer (less humidity). A more humid sauna will feel hotter.
For this reason, water is used judiciously in a dry sauna. When the temperature isn’t as high, more water is often used.
A newer form of dry sauna is the infrared sauna. These saunas are also typically built of wood. But instead of being heated with a radiant furnace, they contain multiple panels of infrared heaters. Besides this, the infrared sauna will also maintain a much lower heat temperature – ranging between 110 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
Outside of the heat difference, the primary difference between the infrared sauna and the dry sauna is the effect of infrared radiation. Both saunas work by making us sweat profusely. But the infrared radiation will penetrate the tissues and dilate the blood vessels.
Saunas reduce Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland followed 2,315 healthy men for over 20 years. They were 42 to 60 years old at the beginning of the study. The researchers eliminated the effects related to age, alcohol, weight, blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, heart conditions and metabolic conditions.
Saunas are used so frequently by Finnish men. So the researchers broke the men into three groups:
• Those who took saunas 4 to 7 times a week
• Those who took saunas 2 to 3 times a week
• Those who took a sauna on average once a week
The researchers found that those men who took between 4 and 7 saunas a week had two-thirds (65 percent) less incidence of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who took a sauna once a week.
Saunas also reduced the incidence of all types of dementia. Those who took a sauna between 4 and 7 times a week had 66 less incidence of all dementia. Again, this is compared to those who took a sauna once a week.
With this kind of significant result for taking a sauna more frequently, we can also assume an even greater difference between those who don’t take saunas.
Compared to the once-a-week sauna users, the 2-3 times/week sauna users had a 22 percent decreased incidence of dementia. They also had 20 percent less incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. This type of decreasing difference indicates that taking a sauna even once a week has significant effects.
The researchers concluded:
“In this male population, moderate to high frequency of sauna bathing was associated with lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
Saunas help prevent heart disease and death
In 2015, some of same researchers, who partnered up with researchers from Emory University and Rome’s Catholic University School of Medicine, studied saunas and heart disease.
The researchers analyzed the health records of the same group of 2,315 men. Again, they were divided up into the same three groups. But this time, the researchers followed the men for incidence in:
• Death from a sudden heart attack
• Death from coronary heart disease
• Death from cardiovascular disease
• Deaths from all causes
The researchers found that 4 to 7 saunas a week reduced the risk of death from any of these causes by 63 percent.
Think about this: Those who took the saunas 4 to 7 times a week were 63 percent less likely to die from any cause. We’re talking about cancer, liver disease, kidney disease – whatever. The researchers concluded:
“Increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.”
Reduces blood pressure
A 2017 study from the University of Eastern Finland followed 1,621 middle-aged men. They found that 4-7 saunas a week reduced blood pressure by over 25 percent.
A study of 46 men with high blood pressure found that saunas twice a week decreased average blood pressure. Average levels went from 166/101 to 143/92 after three months. Other studies have found similar results – for both Finnish and infrared saunas.
University researchers from Kraków, Poland studied 16 healthy men. They were between 20 and 23 years old. Each of the men were given a physical and blood tests before and after. The men were given 10 Finnish (dry) sauna sessions over a 15 day period. They took dry saunas with temperatures at about 90 degrees Celsius (195 Fahrenheit).
After the 10 sessions, the researchers found the saunas significantly reduced total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-c). They also had some increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL-c) and decreases in triglycerides. The researchers compared these improvements to exercise. They concluded:
“The positive effect of sauna on lipid profile is similar to the effect that can be obtained through a moderate-intensity physical exercise.”
Improves lung function
Multiple studies have found that the Finnish sauna can improve lung function. A study from The Netherlands’ University of Nymegen studied 12 patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). They found that sauna therapy improved forced vital capacity, peak expiratory flow rates, and forced expiratory volumes among the patients.
A study from the University of Vienna showed that using a Finnish sauna twice a week for six months halved the incidence of the common cold in the sauna group. The 25 people who didn’t take saunas (control group) saw no difference in colds.
Decreases chronic pain
A study from Japan’s Nishi Kyusyu University tested 46 patients with chronic pain. The researchers gave 22 patients a daily sauna for four weeks in addition to other therapy. The remaining group was treated with the other treatments along with cognitive therapy.
The researchers found that infrared sauna therapy significantly reduced pain scores among the sauna group. It also allowed more people to return to work.
“These results suggest that a combination of multidisciplinary treatment and repeated thermal therapy may be a promising method for treatment of chronic pain.”
Improves inflammatory conditions
Other studies have tested infrared saunas for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory/autoimmune conditions. These have also resulted in improvements among patients.
I mentioned earlier that infrared saunas have the reputation of penetrating the skin and increasing circulation. This is not just opinion.
A study from the School of Medicine at Japan’s University of Toyama studied 24 patients with peripheral arterial disease. Half were treated with three weeks of daily infrared saunas (heated to 60 degrees Celsius). The other half continued their normal treatment. After the three weeks, the infrared-sauna group had significantly better levels of flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery. This means they had better blood vessel health. The researchers concluded:
“Waon [infrared sauna] therapy improves chronic total occlusion-related myocardial ischemia in association with improvement of vascular endothelial function.”
Reduces recovery time and fatigue
A study from Finland’s University of Jyväskylä tested 10 healthy men after they worked out. The research found the infrared sauna penetrated about 3-4 centimeters into the tissues and neuromuscular system. It helped the men’s recovery rates and decreased lactate concentrations.
Lowers anxiety and depression
A study from Japan’s Kagoshima University found that infrared sauna therapy reduced anxiety, fatigue and depression levels. It also improved moods.
A review of sauna research from the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine concluded that regular sauna use offered a number of benefits, including cleansing of toxins. The research concluded that:
“Existing evidence supports the use of saunas as a component of depuration (purification or cleansing) protocols for environmentally-induced illness.”
What these studies tell us about saunas
The research clearly proves that saunas can significantly improve our health. If we consider the excellent benefits of exercise, we find that saunas have a similar effect.
The above studies also tell us that it isn’t about taking a sauna once in awhile. Taking saunas regularly is the key ingredient. This is quite possibly why Finland’s life expectancy is two years higher than the U.S. – 81 years compared to 79 years.
These studies also tell us that taking a sauna is tremendously good for the health of our heart and blood vessels. It also improves circulation, and increases the removal of toxins.
By increasing the removal of toxins, we lighten our body’s burden. This allows our immune system to more easily remove other pathogens. These include cancerous cells.
Length of sauna time matters
The heart disease and death study discussed above also tested for time in the sauna. They compared those who took a sauna for less than 11 minutes with those who took saunas for between 11 and 19 minutes. Then they compared them to those who took saunas for more than 19 minutes.
The researchers found that the 11 to 19 minute saunas were 7 percent more effective than taking a sauna for less than 11 minutes. For those who took saunas that lasted more than 19 minutes, their saunas were 52 percent more effective.
A word of caution
Saunas do have their risks. A 1976 study of saunas tested 60 people before and during their saunas. They found that during the sauna their core body temperatures increased to more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.6 Celsius). During the sauna, their heartbeat levels jumped to more than 140 BPM – and more than 160 BPM in about a third of the group. They also found that blood pressure increased during the sauna.
Of course, these levels are also seen during intense physical exercise. So these temporary increases may not be concerning for many of us. But for those who might have a pre-existing heart condition or are otherwise not used to taking a sauna, it is a different matter.
Don’t drink alcohol in or before a sauna – especially in the Finnish dry sauna. A 2008 study from Sweden found 77 cases of death in the sauna over an 11-year period. However, 71 percent of those who died also had high alcohol concentrations in their blood. For this reason, they stated:
“The most important risk group is middle-aged men, especially those with heavy alcohol consumption.”
The evidence also indicates that saunas may not be healthy for pregnancy. The overheating may be problematic for the baby.
Infrared saunas are considered significantly safer than dry saunas because they are not as hot. But they will still significantly increase body temperatures and heart rate.
It is thus advisable to talk to your doctor before you embark on a sauna routine. Even after that, easing into a sauna routine is a good idea. This means starting with lower temperatures for a short time. Infrared saunas may be safer because of the lower temperatures. Again, talk to your doctor. Be wise.
Discover: Compact home far infrared sauna
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.