The weather will soon be changing from the dog days of summer to brisk mornings and crisp evenings. This time of year people get less sunlight and start overeating during the holidays, which results in colds and flus. It just makes sense especially these days to build a better immune system as fall and winter approach. In addition to covering the basics through healthy nutrition, maintaining high levels of Vitamin D, C and Zinc, and lowering stress, there are certain modalities that you can support your immune system and help keep it balanced. A near-infrared sauna is such a modality. Read on to learn the “why’s,” “how’s,” and benefits of sauna!
Infrared Sauna: Benefits of Both Light and Heat
Sitting in any sauna is designed to make you sweat through exposure to heat. When you experience an infrared sauna, you are getting the added value of light therapy as well.
Last week I talked about the benefits of red-light therapy. For example, red light therapy has been shown to boost healthy stem production, increase communication amongst hormones in the endocrine system, and lower inflammation. Be sure to check out this article to learn more about the health benefits of red-light therapy!
Infrared therapy used inside of a sauna takes all the benefits of visible red-light therapy to the next level (and then some). Infrared light is invisible to the naked eye. It is shorter on the light spectrum and more powerful. This kind of light can penetrate about 1.5 inches into the body. An example of a non-sauna modality that uses infrared technology is the Bio-Mat. The Bio mat uses infrared heat as well as tourmaline and amethyst crystals that produce negative ions to kickstart immune system mechanisms and detoxification.
5 Reasons Why Sauna is a Good Idea for Your Immune System (and Whole Body!)
Hyperthermia is using the element of heat for health. The U.S. National Cancer Institute states that high external temperatures applied to the body have the ability to damage and kill cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues. The benefits of hyperthermia through sauna are many. Research over the last 20 years has found that this modality can help to:
#1 Create an Inhospitable Environment for Pathogenic Microorganisms
Do you ever wonder why you get a fever when you get sick? The reason has to do with the benefits of hyperthermia! Fever kickstarts certain immune system functions, which makes the internal environment, especially in the blood, undesirable and even deadly to pathogens such as viruses and bacteria.
The sauna uses a different mechanism than fever (obviously) to raise core body temperature, but the results are the same. An example that proves how important raising body temp is for healing is a gold standard double-blind trial conducted in South Africa over 20 years ago. The outcomes of people who contracted rhinovirus and used anti-fever medication like aspirin and acetaminophen were compared to those who did not take fever-reducing substances. Those who took the anti-fever medication took longer to recover, had worse symptoms, and experienced reduced immune system responses.
Infrared saunas in general typically raise core body temperature by 1-2 degrees. A fever is defined as having a core body temp of above 100.9 or higher. Even raising your core temp by just a one degree can cause chain reactions that can be significant for your health!
#2 Create Heat Shock Proteins
Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are protein substances that are created when the body is under stress. They are found in most cells in the body and play an important role in the process of “protein folding.” This is super important since proteins are the substances that create the collagen needed to create and repair all major tissues in the body. Heat shock proteins also help with molecular communication and protection of the cells during stress.
Healthy HSPs are produced in response to balanced and moderate exposure to hyperthermia modalities like sauna, and this is very good news. High levels of healthy HSP are connected to boosting the immune system, lowering disease risk as well as tissue and muscle repair.
#3 Increase Production of Natural Killer Cells
Natural Killer cells (NK cells) are types of white blood cells that play a major role in keeping pathogenic substances at bay. This includes cancer cells. These cells, which are part of the immune system, are formed in many areas of the body, including the lymph nodes, the bone marrow, and the thymus.
I like to call NK Cells “Exterminators” because that is what they do when it comes to cancer cells. When your NK count is strong and the cells are healthy, this is an idea. In fact, studies such as a 2011 Argentinian investigation have found that NK cells can actually control both tumor growth and metastasis because of certain substances they can put out which are toxic to cancer cells in particular.
Hyperthermia caused by sauna has been proven to absolutely increase NK cell count and effectiveness. In the same manner that HSPs increase through thermal stress, NK production also increases as the body heats up. A 2013 report published in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that NK cell count “rose significantly” after just one use of a typical Finnish sauna.
If you are on a healing journey with Breast Cancer and you have had lymph nodes removed as part of conventional treatment, then you are probably already aware of the risks of lymphedema and the important role this often-overlooked system plays for both detoxification and immune function.
There are actually over 500 “lymph nodes” in the body that are part of the lymph system. With the thymus being the major gland in the system. Each one of these points can be thought of as way stations where toxins get filtered and distributed for elimination.
Lymph fluid is the substance that moves them along. Lymph fluid plays a major role in moving not only toxins out of the body but also immune system substances throughout the body. Roughly 20 liters of lymph fluid moves through the body in one day. Various kinds of white blood cells, including NK cells (some of which are produced in lymph nodes), pass through lymph channels. Helping the immune system tackle and eliminate pathogens like viruses and bacteria.
Utilizing a sauna can significantly help keep things flowing along with the lymph system. Sauna encourages the body to sweat. Sweating, according to studies, is one of the most effective ways to keep lymph fluid going. In addition, according to a joint study conducted by Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and others, the light therapy aspect of sauna can significantly support the lymph system as well as help to prevent “programmed aging” in the thymus. In the study, this support came in part from how near-infrared light can help stimulate healthy stem cell production in the thymus.
#5 Helps Other Major Pathways of Detoxification
Conventional medicine continues to adhere to the stance that sauna use does not help eliminate toxins, despite studies such as the one above that state to the contrary. A comprehensive meta-analysis of dozens of other studies found that using a sauna can have other benefits for the liver and kidneys as well as the nervous system, endothelium, and H-P-A axis. In part, the support that sauna may be able to provide for the liver and kidneys comes from how it helps to increase blood flow, reduced urinary prostaglandin levels, and even out levels of both cortisol and adrenaline substances.
These are just a few specific ways that getting in a sauna on a regular basis can help you. In addition, studies have found that near-infrared sauna can also help with sleep, stress, and inflammatory levels in general. These benefits as well can have a significant effect on immune system function.
How Do You Do a Sauna on a Regular Basis?
Many spas, gyms, and other establishments provide sauna use. As long as the facilities are clean and in good working order, I am not opposed to that route at all. In general, I definitely recommend utilizing an infrared sauna whenever possible for the double benefits of both light and heat. Some far-infrared saunas can expose a person to high levels of harmful EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) IF they are not EMF protected. Both Far Infrared or wet saunas will provide the benefits of sweating (which are many). However, it will obviously not provide you with the benefits of light therapy and near infrared.
If you are considering purchasing a sauna for your home, I recommend Sunlighten. They offer well-made near-infrared sauna units that are super high in quality and at a great price. As a matter of fact, through September 31, you can get $200 off a cabin sauna and $100 off a solo system as well as free shipping. Find out about these savings HERE!