Infrared Saunas: Separating Fact From Fiction
What Are The Real Benefits of Infrared Saunas?
As with many popular health and wellness trends, infrared saunas combine a compelling combination of true scientific value and optimistic myth. While there are true health benefits to be gained by using an infrared sauna, it’s best to be realistic about these benefits.
In this article, we’ll separate fact from fiction. We’ll then examine the various kinds of infrared used in saunas and discuss the pros and cons of each. This way, when purchasing an infrared sauna, you can make the educated choice on which one is right for you.
Infrared Saunas - Separating Reality from the Woo Factor
An infrared sauna is a type of sauna that uses infrared lamps to create heat in the body without actually heating the air around you (as with traditional saunas). This allows for greater tolerance of the environment, so that a user can stay in for longer periods. This leads to an increase in core temperature of 2-3 degrees over the traditional steam sauna.
So what are the benefits of an infrared sauna? What we know for sure is that saunas increase body temperature, creating reactions that mirror those of mild to moderate exercise. For example, intense sweating and increased heart rate. Benefits claimed for sauna use include the following:
- Detoxification of the body
- Improved Sleep
- Weight Loss
- Joint and muscle pain relief
- Improvement of chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms
- Better skin tone and clarity
- Improved Circulation
Weight Loss and Detox
Let’s break these down a bit. Weight loss is almost always a claim that can be debunked. While using an infrared sauna can be a good supplemental action toward a healthy lifestyle, it is not going to lead to true fat loss. Any weight loss from sauna use is water weight, which is temporary.
However, a small preliminary study has shown that the use of an infrared sauna can decrease muscle soreness while increasing recovery after training sessions. (1) And heat, in general, is a well-known recovery tool… this includes the use of traditional saunas after a workout.
In the case of detox, this is a bit of a buzzword. The body itself completes detoxification through organs like the liver and kidneys… there isn’t really any proven benefit for detox cleanses and things of that nature. However, saunas do cause vigorous sweating, which does in fact expel toxins from the system, lightening the load for these “detoxifying” organs.
Managing Symptoms of Chronic Conditions
As for some of the other health benefits, there has been some research conducted on the use of these saunas across a variety of chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure (CHF), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) (2). Though more rigorous research is needed to confirm them, these preliminary studies have shown promising results.
It stands to reason that the regular use of an infrared sauna can help strengthen the cardiovascular system. The high heat increases the heart rate, and this exertion works as moderate exercise would...working the heart and promoting the expansion of the blood vessels to move the blood toward the skin to cool the body.
As for chronic fatigue symptoms, a small study has shown that there was a benefit to using an infrared sauna as part of an overall treatment plan for patients. (3) Like the other studies, however, this has yet to be followed up with larger studies.
Relaxation and Improved Sleep
Relaxation is a rather subjective benefit, but there’s really not too much doubt that this one is real. Heat does in fact relax and loosen stiff muscles or joints, and just taking the time to focus on self-care can be extremely beneficial mentally as well as physically. This relaxation can also lead to improved sleep, especially if used as part of a routine that emphasizes good sleep hygiene practices.
The Different Types of Infrared: Far, Near, Mid and Full Spectrum
This kind of infrared can be said to be the most natural. The wavelengths given off by far-infrared are the closest match to those emitted by our own body. For this reason, this infrared is known for being relaxing and energizing.
These are the shortest infrared wavelengths, yet they penetrate the body the most deeply of all three types. Near Infrared waves also generally emit the lowest amount of EMF, or electric and magnetic fields.
These wavelengths go deeper than far, yet not quite as deep as near. This type of infrared is used for muscle and pain relief, as well as for strengthening the circulatory system.
Full-spectrum allows for the best of all worlds, treating, as the name suggests, with all three levels of infrared wavelengths. If you want the benefits of all three spectrums, a Full Spectrum Infrared Sauna is what you should go with!
The Bottom Line
Infrared saunas offer the same benefits as traditional saunas but in a more accessible way. The way heat is conducted makes it easier to use for those who can’t tolerate the superheated environment of the steam sauna.
While the sauna is by no means a cure-all, it is absolutely an effective way to supplement a healthy lifestyle routine that includes hydration, regular exercise, and balanced eating. It can offer relaxation, relief for sore muscles, and possibly even improved sleep.
When using an infrared sauna, just be sure to follow a few simple precautions. Stay hydrated, refrain from using drugs or alcohol, and move slowly when finishing your session as you might become a bit lightheaded. If you have any chronic conditions, get the okay from your doctor before starting a sauna regimen.
While much of the research for the treatment of chronic conditions is either anecdotal or preliminary in nature, there is quite a lot of promise in this line of research. It is a safe addition to a wellness routine and may do a lot of good while doing no harm if you follow basic precautions.