Modern day diseases such as cancer, fibromyalgia, diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and fatigue are prevalent and becoming more so in part because of the changes in our environment, exposure to toxicity, and a weakened immune system from chronic toxic insults.  Detoxification is vital for addressing the underlying weaknesses associated with these diseases, and one modality for detoxification is sweating. Sauna therapy helps to liberate the toxins stored in one’s tissues, strengthen the immune system, and facilitate circulation of lymph and blood.

Heated saunas have been used by many cultures and for thousands of years: Mayans used the

The inside of an infrared sauna

The inside of an infrared sauna

sweat lodge, Mexicans used the temescal, Islamists used the hammam, Russians used the bania, Japanese used the mushi-buro, Native Americans used the sweat lodge,  and Ancient Egyptian literature mentions the use of heat therapy for tumors. The Finnish are the current day most frequent users of sauna therapy– they sweat weekly and in the early 1900‘s the sauna was a multi-purpose building used as a community gathering place. While the Finns brought the sauna with them to the U.S., John Harvey Kellogg, MD, was the best known sauna proponent in the U.S. during the early 1900‘s, since he recognized the penetrating power of the radiant heat given off by electric lamps.  Sauna use waned in the early 1900’s, as technologic advances pushed aside more traditional forms of healing.

With major technologic advances in modern medicine, we have forgotten how to stimulate one’s vital force through circulation of lymph and blood to support healing. Heating the body’s core temperature by just a few degrees for at least 15 minutes can destroy or disable weak, heat sensitive cells, such as cells infected with viruses, fungi, parasites as well as cells containing damaged DNA, chemical toxins, heavy metals, and other cellular defects.  It ideal is to sweat for up to 3 hours per day when pursuing rigorous detoxification; however, this amount of sweating should be monitored by a medical professional trained in sauna detoxification.

The goal of using a sauna is to increase sweating, and with an increase in sweat comes an increase in mobilization of chemicals, toxins, and metals that have been stored in our tissues. By eliminating through the skin, the liver and kidneys are spared the job of elimination temporarily.  Some experts claim that the skin can eliminate 10%-30% of toxins that would otherwise be excreted through the kidney and liver.

Many patients inquire about the ability to detoxify during the sweating that results from exercise.  While exercise is an important component to living a healthy lifestyle, exercise alone cannot raise one’s temperature long enough or high enough to move most chemicals through the skin. Being in an infrared sauna can accomplish this.  Sweating with exercise also activates the sympathetic nervous system, which reduces the activity of the organs of elimination – liver, kidney, colon – so that all your energy can be directed toward your large muscles. Sauna therapy induces the parasympathetic state, in which healing can take place.

Think of toxins as being in many different layers in your tissues or in various cellular levels. Some are more superficial than others and some are much deeper and harder to access than others. Because the toxins are not all at a superficial level, it may take time to access them. The idea is to work slowly and consistently through all of the layers and then maintain certain lifestyle practices that facilitate continued detoxification (e.g. sweating 1-2 times per month, reducing exposure to toxins, and maintaining a diet rich in phytonutrients). It is important to remember that you neither gained all of the toxic exposures in one month, nor will you get rid of them that fast.  Rapid mobilization of toxins can cause the kidneys and liver to be overloaded with toxins and could cause damage to either organs

Many patients question whether they can detoxify in the dry sauna at their gym or even the steam sauna. There are 4 types of saunas:

Traditional saunas are those heated by rocks or by wood burning stove or an electric coil.  These are the saunas mainly found in health clubs and are often made by people who want to enjoy them in the outdoors. They operate at higher temperatures than an infrared sauna, typically 150o-210o F, and they heat only the surface of the body. While sweating does occur in a traditional dry sauna, the penetration of the heat is superficial.

Far-Infrared saunas are heated by metallic or ceramic elements and emit a narrow spectrum of light called far-infrared.  There is no light given off by a far-infrared sauna, as there is with an infrared lamp sauna. They heat the body by radiant energy, warming the body from the inside as well as on the surface. The radiant energy penetrates the body up to 1.5 inches and is therefore more effective at lower temperatures.  Ideal temperatures are between 120o-140o F. Far-infrared saunas can be used with less preheating than a traditional sauna and can be used for up to 3 hours per day (spread out over several sessions).

Infrared lamp saunas use red heat lamps as their source of radiant heat. They give off infrared energy as well as visible light.  Many people use the infrared lamps to make a sauna in their homes. They emit a frequency of light that include near, middle, and far infrared energy.  These light frequencies penetrate up to 3 inches into the body and can operate at the coolest temperatures of between 110o-115o F.  A maximum of 2 hours per day can be spent in an infrared lamp sauna.

Steam saunas are a traditional heated sauna, but water is added to increase humidity. The humidity raises the temperature in the hot air sauna, helps induce sweating, and has the added benefit of feeling good to most of us.

Starting on February 25, 2013, our new office in Boulder will include an infrared sauna that will be accessible to patients 5 days a week!

Books for further reading:

Holistic Handbook of Sauna Therapy by Nenah Sylver
Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing by Dr. Lawrence Wilson, MD