(Update: We’ve updated this guide to saunas, as of December 9th, 2019).What if you could pop a pill every morning that that was scientifically increase your energy, improve your mood (combat depression), help rid your body of chronic inflammation and pain, improve brain health, make your mitochondria (your cellular energy generators) bigger and stronger, improve your physical endurance and stamina, and proven to reduce your risk of the major killers in our world (like heart disease and brain diseases) by 40-60%? Oh, and one more thing: Let’s say you could do all that with virtually no negative side effects and only positive side effects? Sounds pretty incredible, right? If such a pill existed, it would be prescribed to basically everyone (hundreds of millions of people), and you would be considered literally insane or a total fool if you weren’t taking it. It turns out that something like this exists — it’s just not a pill, it’s a sauna. All of these benefits I just listed off are actually proven benefits of sauna use. If you ask an average group of people about the benefits of saunas and you might hear things like “weight loss” and “detoxification.” And indeed there is solid evidence that saunas do impact these things. However, the benefits of the sauna go far beyond that… Regular sauna use has been shown to do everything from improving sports performance to increasing the number of mitochondria in your cells, to improving immune function, to reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s, and much more. Below, I give a list of the major benefits of sauna use (along with the science to prove it!), practical tips for using a sauna to get the best results, and my list of the top saunas on the market. (NOTE: Do you prefer to read, watch or listen to information to learn? Below you can continue reading this article or you can listen to all of this information in podcast form or watch the video below).
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Hormesis – The Good StressHow sauna exposure is able to have such amazingly powerful effects on our bodies is largely the result of something called “hyperthermic conditioning,” the changes your body undergoes when it is regularly exposed to “heat stress.” “Stress? But isn’t stress bad for us?” you might ask… That leads us to an important point. Before we get into how saunas work to improve our health (from our mitochondria, to our heart, to our brain, and so much more), we need to understand the concept of hormesis (“good stress”). As much as the word “stress” has become associated with all kinds of negative effects, it turns out that – counterintuitively – some types of stress are actually profoundly beneficial to human health. It’s not too far to say that certain types of stress may even be the crux of human health, energy, resilience, resistance to disease, and even longevity. This is called “hormesis,” and it is the principle that certain types of transient stress of our bodies stimulate our biology to make cellular adaptations that make us stronger and healthier. The most common example of this principle is physical exercise. There is a mountain of thousands of studies showing that exercise prevents all kinds of diseases and that it increases our physical energy levels, improves our mood, and extends longevity. This isn’t because exercise is intrinsically healthy for us – to the contrary, it is because exercise temporarily stresses our cells, and thereby stimulates them to adapt to that stress, which ultimately results in healthier, stronger, more resilient cells. The great thing about this is that by becoming resistant to one type of stress (say, for example, weight lifting, or jogging five miles regularly), the body doesn’t only become resistant to that type of physical stress – it becomes resistant to a broad spectrum of types of stressors, from processed foods with trans-fats, to psychological stress, to exposure to toxins. This is why we have research showing that it doesn’t just strengthen our muscles and our heart, but that it prevents a huge array of diseases in multiple systems of the body from neurological diseases, to heart disease, to diabetes, to many types of cancer. In short, developing resistance to one type of stress can make your cells resistant to many other types of stress. Heat stress (i.e. sauna use) is also a type of hormetic stress — like physical exercise stress. And as you’re about to see, much as is the case with exercise, there is a veritable mountain of research showing absolutely incredible benefits of sauna to our health. I like to say that if there were a pharmaceutical drug that had the same benefits of using a sauna, it would be the best-selling drug of all-time – an absolute blockbuster drug that would be prescribed to basically EVERYONE, and would be hailed as a miracle drug, and one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of all time. Here’s the cool part: That drug exists. It’s just not a pill made by a pharmaceutical company – it’s a sauna! With that in mind, let’s explore the amazing health benefits of sauna use…
The Top 22 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Saunas
1. Combats Aging and May Increase LongevityWe can start by looking at the benefit of sauna use on longevity since this is the big picture. If a therapy reduces death from all causes, you can be sure that there are multiple mechanisms at work that are enabling this to happen (many of which we will get into in more detail below). Why Slowed Aging and Increased Lifespan Is One Of The Main Health Benefits of Saunas So does using a sauna actually impact on how long we live? A study out of Finland followed 2,315 men (aged 42-60) for 20 years (studies this long are very rare) and found that those using the sauna 2-3 times per week (as opposed to just one time per week) were a whopping 24% less likely to die from all causes. But there’s even more – the effects continued to increase the more one used the sauna. Those using the sauna 4-7 times per week were an amazing 40% less likely to die from all causes. (As I said above, if there were a prescription drug that showed effects like this, it would be considered the most incredible pharmaceutical breakthrough of all time.) One of the mechanisms for this may be the activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs). Aging is associated with a progressive accumulation of molecular damage and reduced cellular defense mechanisms. HSPs can repair damaged cells, promote autophagy (the recycling of damaged cell parts) and also prevent future damage by scavenging free radicals and increasing antioxidant capacity through the maintenance of glutathione, a master antioxidant. Higher levels of HSPs have been linked to longevity, as women with a gene polymorphism that leads to increased expression of HSPs live longer. This is supported by data that we have in other organisms. Worms exposed to heat stress experienced both greater longevity and protection from frailty in a dose-dependent relationship. As little as one exposure to heat stress in flies and worms can result in up to a 15% increase in lifespan. This has been linked to the effect of HSPs. While this direct increase in longevity has only been shown in animal studies and hasn’t yet been studied directly in humans, as you’ll see in this article, the human research does indeed link sauna use with disease prevention and longevity benefits — so the human research does line up with these animal studies. Heat stress also activates FOXO3, which has been called the longevity gene since polymorphisms in this gene are associated with the ability to attain exceptional old age. FOXO3 affects the expression of a number of other genes, such as those involved in DNA repair and cell death, immune function, stress resistance, autophagy, tumor suppression, and the activation of stem cells., , ,  These are all critical functions that decline as we age, so a robust activation of FOXO3 via sauna use is a powerful anti-aging strategy! (Side note: While increased lifespan is one of the many benefits of saunas, there are of course numerous other factors that play a role in longevity. Check out the podcast I did with researcher Jason Prall on the key factors that play a role in longevity. )
2. Improves Mitochondrial Health and Energy ProductionHeat stress is a powerful type of hormesis, and heat shock proteins (that special type of proteins that are strongly elevated in response to heat exposure) play a big role in improving mitochondrial health and function. Why is that important? Simple: Mitochondria are the energy generators in our cells, and our energy/vitality depend directly on their size, power, number, and function. If your mitochondria are damaged, weak, small, fragile, and unhealthy, then you will be too. Moreover, a huge body of emerging research is now pointing to mitochondrial health/function as a major root cause of dozens of chronic diseases and even aging itself., While there are only a few studies testing this directly, heat stress has been shown to induce profound changes in mitochondrial health.
Why Improved Mitochondrial Health and Energy Is One Of The Health Benefits of SaunasHeat stress (e.g. using a sauna) likely improves mitochondrial health in a number of ways:
- Mitochondrial biogenesis – stimulates the body to make more mitochondria, which means greater capacity to produce energy
- Mitochondrial growth – makes bigger, stronger mitochondria that produce more energy
- Improvements in the Antioxidant Response Element (A.R.E.), the internal anti-oxidant and detoxification system.
- Autophagy and mitophagy – stimulates the cells to recycle and repair damaged mitochondria (think of it like housekeeping and taking the garbage out)
3. Enhances DetoxificationSaunas may also be the single most powerful tool we have for detoxification from environmental chemicals and heavy metals. Sauna use shows real promise for detoxification from heavy metals, PCBs, PBBs, BPA, drugs, and organochlorine pesticides such as DDT (which has been banned for decades but is still ubiquitous). Many toxicants have long half-lives and bioaccumulate up the food chain, so even if you are avoiding new exposures to the extent possible by cleaning up your immediate environment and being careful about household and personal care products, no one can avoid all exposures and most people likely already have significant stores of toxicants. In our current world, even newborn babies have already been exposed, as a total of 287 toxic chemicals were identified in umbilical cords in a recent study. In short, even if you’re a health-conscious person who goes out of your way to avoid environmental toxicants, it’s still a safe bet that your body has accumulated some significant burden of nasty chemicals and heavy metals. (And if you haven’t been a health-conscious person who is aware of how to avoid such chemicals, then it’s a safe bet that you have a fairly high body load of accumulated toxicants.) Thus ongoing detoxification is very important.
How Saunas Help Your Body’s Detoxification ProcessThe ability to sweat seems to be critical for detoxification, and some toxicants, such as certain heavy metals, appear to come out in higher concentrations in sweat than via other excretion pathways such as urine or feces.,  Think about that – when you sweat, you are literally pumping metals like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead out of your body! Studies have found that we sweat out everything from mercury, to BPA (a hormone-disrupting chemical from plastics), to PCBs, to DDT, to prescription drug residues, to fluoride, to countless other harmful chemicals. Sweating appears to be a major detoxification pathway in humans. And this is extremely problematic because many humans in the modern world don’t live the outdoor, physically active lifestyles of our ancestors (where ample daily sweating was the norm), and thus many modern humans rarely or almost never sweat to a significant degree. So we live in a far more toxic world than our ancestors, and we simultaneously stimulate our sweating detoxification pathway far less than they did – a bad combination indeed. People with high levels of toxicants often have autonomic dysfunction that affects thermoregulatory mechanisms. Sauna improves autonomic function and consequently thermoregulatory mechanisms, increasing the ability to sweat. People who are heat-acclimated through sauna use can produce up to 2 liters per hour of sweat. The point is that accumulating toxins in your body can literally make it harder for your body to get rid of toxins – creating a vicious cycle. Sauna use helps break that cycle and helps your body re-learn how to detoxify. Toxicants can be either hydrophilic (water-soluble) or lipophilic (fat-soluble). Sauna can help excrete both, since sweating triggers release from both sweat and sebaceous glands. Though sweat is an important excretory pathway, it is likely that mechanisms for detoxification go far beyond sweating. These may include the entire array of beneficial adaptations to heat stress, including the repair or removal of damaged cells via HSPs and activation of FOXO3.infus One study showed a reduction in chemical sensitivity with sauna treatment in addition to graded exercise, daily massage, and nutritional supplementation. At the end of treatment, 86% of participants cleared or markedly reduced their symptom scores. Participants also had overall improvements in mental and physical energy and a reduction in odor sensitivity to toxic substances. After treatment had ended, those who continued to use the sauna three times per week continued to have health improvements and to see their chemical sensitivity diminish. Importantly, however, the authors of this study noted that symptoms could worsen during treatment for those with compromised detoxification pathways. It is critical to take this slowly and make sure the body is able to eliminate the toxins that are being mobilized from tissues. Sweating has also been demonstrated to increase excretion of toxicants such as organochlorinated pesticides (OCPs), which have been shown to cause mitochondrial damage, oxidative stress, cell death, endocrine disruption, and epigenetic modification.s In 69 police officers that developed chronic illness as the result of methamphetamine exposure, a sauna-based detoxification protocol led to a significant reduction in symptom and neurotoxicity scores. Sauna-based treatment of individuals exposed to hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) led to a remission of symptoms and an average reduction of HCB body burden of 30% at post-treatment and 28% 3 months post-treatment. Mean reduction of polychlorinated biphenyl was 16% at post-treatment and 14% 3 months post-treatment. Many of the rescue workers following the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center have developed symptoms from exposure to toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), and polychlorinated dioxins (PCDDs) that have not improved with time. Study subjects reported symptoms including respiratory impairment, mental and emotional distress, chronic muscle and joint pain, gastrointestinal disorders, and skin rashes. Remarkably, after treatment with a sauna-based detoxification protocol, health symptoms either completely resolved or satisfactorily improved, as did neurophysiological test results. Sauna use may very well be the single most powerful tool for detoxification available. (Side note: If you want to know more about the importance of saunas (and the best binders for toxins) when detoxing, listen in to the podcasts I have done with heavy metal detox expert Wendy Myers and Dr. Bryan Walsh.)
4. Reduces Rates of Heart and Cardiovascular DiseaseMore than 600,000 people die of heart and blood vessel diseases in the U.S. every year, which is about 1 in 4 deaths. Cardiovascular disease is also the leading cause of death worldwide. How Saunas Improve Cardiovascular Health Sauna bathing is inversely associated with the risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease (CHD), and cardiovascular disease (CVD) independent of conventional risk factors. A Finnish study (mentioned above) following 2,315 men for 20 years found that the risk of fatal CHD events was 23% lower for 2-3 sauna sessions per week and 48% lower for 4-7 times per week. Risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was 27% in the group using the sauna 2-3 times per week, and a whopping 50% lower for those using the sauna 4-7 times per week. Another study following 2,227 men for 26 years found that sauna use was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular mortality independent of cardiorespiratory fitness. That means the sauna was conferring benefits above and beyond exercise alone. The authors concluded that the combination of the two may confer additional survival benefits since those who had high cardiorespiratory fitness and high sauna use (3-7 times per week) had the lowest CVD and all-cause mortality. After adjusting for age, BMI, smoking status, Type II diabetes, cholesterol, current CHD, alcohol consumption, socioeconomic status, and C-reactive protein levels, those with high cardiorespiratory fitness and high sauna use had a 58% lower risk of CVD mortality and a 40% lower risk of all-cause mortality. Adjusted for age alone, the reduction in risk was 73% and 55%, respectively. Waon therapy, a type of sauna therapy, developed in Japan, has been studied for its effects on heart disease for over 20 years. During Waon, patients are placed in a 60°C infrared sauna for 15 minutes and then kept under warm blankets for 30 minutes thereafter. This is usually done five days per week for a number of weeks or months. A recent review of the literature found that Waon has been shown to improve blood flow, cardiac function, ventricular arrhythmias, vascular endothelial function, neurohormonal factors, sympathetic nervous system function, and symptoms in patients with chronic heart failure (CHF). Waon has also been found effective for patients with severe peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which often causes severe pain and inability to exercise due to leg claudication.,  After Waon therapy 5 days per week for 10 weeks, participants with PAD experienced reduced pain and increased exercise performance. Leg ulcers caused by PAD either healed completely or greatly improved, and one patient was even spared from a leg amputation. Results continued in patients engaged in Waon therapy at least twice per week thereafter. Sauna use improves vascular flow and endothelial function by increasing the expression of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). This is important for other lifestyle diseases, too, since people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity also show impaired endothelial function. Again, the biggest study on the subject ever done showed a 50% decreased risk of dying from cardiovascular vascular disease in those who use a sauna 4-7 times a week. There are few other therapies in existence that show this kind of effect.
5. Lowers Blood PressureResearch has shown that sauna use in combination with exercise is more effective at lowering blood pressure than exercise alone. How Saunas Lower Blood Pressure For high blood pressure, even sauna bathing as little as every other week had benefit. A group of hypertensive men using the sauna every two weeks for three months experienced a drop in blood pressure equivalent to that caused by hypertensive medications. Researchers in Finland studied more than 1,600 middle-aged men and found that those who took sauna baths four to seven times a week lowered their risk of high blood pressure by nearly 50% (compared to those using the sauna only once per week).
6. Increases Weight LossIn one study, people participated in either 15 minutes of exercise followed by 30 minutes of infrared sauna, or 15 minutes of exercise only (the control group). Participants in the sauna group lost 1.8 times as much weight and 4.6 times as much body fat as controls. Adding to this, we also have other lines of evidence suggesting a link between HSPs and fat loss. Mice with high expression of HSPs have lower body fat mass, better insulin tolerance and glucose clearance, less intramuscular lipid accumulation, more oxidative enzymes and higher number of mitochondria. How Saunas Help With Weight Loss Sauna use can also modulate appetite. In one study, normal-weight patients with appetite loss increased ghrelin (a hormone associated with hunger ) concentrations, leading to normal daily caloric intake and feeding behavior. Obese patients, on the other hand, did not have an increase in ghrelin and instead, using the sauna reduced “abnormal feeding behavior” such as overeating and snacking between meals. Their body weight and body fat significantly decreased after two weeks of sauna therapy. Sauna uses increases metabolic rate and oxygen consumption similar to moderate exercise. This may help with weight maintenance for those unable to exercise due to illness or injury. Thus, there are likely multiple mechanisms at play in why saunas promote fat loss.
7. Increases Physical Performance, Endurance, and EnergySauna use can increase endurance. In one study, male distance runners using the sauna for 30 minutes post-workout for just three weeks increased their run time to exhaustion by a whopping 32%!
How Saunas Improve Physical PerformanceCardiovascular improvements gained via hyperthermic conditioning – like increased plasma volume, increased red blood cells and blood flow to the heart – improve athletic endurance and performance.,  These benefits apply to athletes at all levels: highly trained, moderately trained, and untrained.,  Hyperthermic conditioning improves thermoregulatory mechanisms, which means your body stays cooler and performs better at higher temperatures, like those induced during exercise. Increased blood flow to skeletal muscles improves nutrient delivery, reducing reliance on glycogen stores during exercise. One study noted that heat acclimation reduced glycogen depletion during exercise by 40-50%.,  In other words, sauna use seems to help the body perform exercise more efficiently and with greater ease. The effects on performance have led some to call sauna use a “performance enhancing drug.”
8. Increases Muscle GrowthSauna use increases muscle growth (hypertrophy) and reduces muscle breakdown. HSPs repair damaged cells and help prevent future damage by reducing oxidative stress, which is a major cause of muscle degradation. This results in reduced muscle breakdown.,  Why Increased Muscle Growth Is One Of The Many Health Benefits of Saunas Sauna use causes a major increase in growth hormone levels. Depending on the temperature, duration, and frequency of sauna exposure, these increases are generally between 2- and 5-fold, but one study showed that after two one-hour sessions per day at 80°C (176°F) for seven days, growth hormone levels increased 16-fold on the third day! Growth hormone increases levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-1), which increases protein synthesis and decreases protein breakdown, resulting in muscle hypertrophy. (Note: If you’re a longevity science geek like myself, and you are concerned about a link between GH or IGF-1 and longevity, remember that sauna use profoundly decreases all-cause mortality. So these spikes in these hormones appear to be only beneficial to health and longevity.) Sauna use also increases insulin sensitivity.,  This results in improved uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle, enhancing muscle growth. (And results in fewer nutrients ending up in fat cells.) Studies in rats have shown that heat treatment reduces oxidative stress and protects muscle mass (reduces atrophy) during immobilization,,  and enhances muscle regrowth and reduces oxidative stress during regrowth. In one study this resulted in a 30% increase in muscle regrowth compared to mice not exposed to heat.
9. Faster Post-Workout RecoveryLactic acid build-up in the muscles after exercise is reduced as the result of hyperthermic conditioning. Sauna use reduces exercise-induced muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness.,  Researchers have found that infrared heat improves recovery of the neuromuscular system after maximal endurance performance. How Saunas Speed Up Post-Workout Recovery As mentioned above, sauna use enhances muscle regrowth and reduces oxidative stress after a period of immobilization. So don’t forget to make the sauna part of any injury recovery! HSPs may protect against rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition caused by excessive muscle breakdown due to overuse which can cause kidney failure. Hyperthermic conditioning leads to higher expression of HSPs under both normal conditions and subsequent exposure to heat, so pre-conditioning is key here. Sauna use is a potent tool for accelerates recovery in between exercise sessions.
10. Promotes Brain Performance, Neuron Repair, and Growth of New Brain CellsSauna use also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), since heat stress in conjunction with exercise has been shown to increase expression more than exercise alone. BDNF increases the growth of new brain cells and improves the survival of existing ones. It increases neuroplasticity, which is important for learning and long-term memory.  Importantly, low BDNF has been linked with both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).  BDNF increases from exercise, and this is thought to be a major reason why exercise is linked to improved brain health and protection from neurodegenerative disease. Everyone knows that exercise helps prevent muscle atrophy with aging, but few realize that it also prevents brain degeneration as much as it helps prevent muscle atrophy. Sauna also increases BDNF and sauna use has also been linked with hugely decreased rates of certain neurodegenerative diseases. Other research has shown that sauna use has a huge impact on other hormones like norepinephrine and prolactin, which play roles in focus and attention, as well as promotes nerve myelin growth and nerve repair., 
How Saunas Improve Brain Performance, Neuron Repair, and Growth of New Brain CellsSauna use significantly increases norepinephrine and prolactin levels, which has benefits for mental performance. During sauna, norepinephrine increases 2- to 4-fold, while prolactin increases from 2- to 10-fold., ,  Norepinephrine improves focus and attention. Heat stress also increases the capacity of norepinephrine to be stored for later use. Prolactin promotes myelin growth. Myelin insulates nerve fibers and increases the speed at which nerve impulses are conducted, which makes your brain work faster. It is also important for repairing nerve cell damage. In addition, “runner’s high” – the sense of euphoria that accompanies prolonged exercise – is thought to be related to heat stress, and research has shown that sauna use affects these same endorphin pathways.
11. Improves Skin HealthPassive heat therapy improves skin microvascular function, which means better nutrient delivery to skin cells. ,  How Saunas Improve Skin Health Mild heat stress has anti-aging hormetic effects on the growth of human skin fibroblasts (cells in connective tissue that produce collagen and other fibers). In other words, it temporarily stresses your skin cells and induces them to build up their anti-oxidant defense systems and stimulating cell repair processes, which protect them from future stresses (like sun exposure or toxins). Regular sauna use has a beneficial effect on skin health, improving hydration, maintaining surface pH, and resulting in less oil on the forehead of participants measured. Sauna may benefit people with psoriasis because it aids the removal of scales. In short, sauna use is a powerful tool for improving your skin health.
12. Increases Red Blood Cell Count (Increased Oxygen Delivery to Cells)Sauna use also increases red blood cell count, which means greater oxygen delivery to muscles. Greater capacity to deliver oxygen to your cells means better energy, as well as better brain performance and physical performance. You may remember back to the Tour de France scandals involving competitors injecting their own stored blood (that had been removed weeks prior) to increase red blood cells, and injecting erythropoietin (EPO) to stimulate their body to produce more red blood cells. (Note: Athletes often train at altitude to stimulate some of these benefits as well). How Saunas Improve Oxygen Delivery Well, it turns out that sauna use mimics many of these effects and can also boost EPO and red blood cell count. This is likely because the body increases plasma volume (the overall amount of fluid in your blood vessels) – likely as a way to adapt to sweating so much – and then the body increases red blood cells to keep the concentration of red blood cells to plasma optimal. The end effect of increased red blood cells is that saunas don’t make you better at tolerating heat – they actually help your stamina, endurance, performance (physical and brain performance), perceived exertion during exercise, and overall energy levels.
13. Decreases Pain and Fibromyalgia SymptomsSauna use has also proven to be exceptionally beneficial for people in pain. Fibromyalgia patients receiving thermal therapy combining sauna and underwater exercise reported 31-77% reductions in pain and symptoms after the 12-week program. These improvements continued throughout the 6-month follow-up period, which also noted also an improved quality of life. Why Saunas Decrease Pain and Fibromyalgia Symptoms Regular sauna use has also been found to reduce headache pain intensity in those suffering from chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH). In a group of patients with chronic pain, a combination of multidisciplinary treatment (including rehabilitation, exercise therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy) and sauna use resulted in decreased pain, anger, and depression scores. After treatment, 77% of patients that received the multidisciplinary treatment and sauna were able to return to work as opposed to 50% of those who received the multidisciplinary approach without sauna. This suggests that the sauna was a key aspect to recovery from chronic pain. In people with leg pain from peripheral artery disease (PAD) – a common form of cardiovascular disease where plaque builds up in the arteries and hinders blood flow, causing pain while walking – researchers found that 6 weeks of daily 15-minute sauna sessions caused a nearly 70% reduction in pain (compared to no change in pain in the control group that didn’t use a sauna)! In addition, the group that used the sauna was able to walk twice as far without pain, compared to the control group which had no change in walking distance. Another study looking at people with fibromyalgia showed huge reductions in pain. Researchers in Japan studied the effects of infrared (Waon) sauna sessions in 13 women with fibromyalgia. They were given infrared sauna therapy (at 140°F) for 15 minutes either two or five days per week. Following the sauna, they laid down in a warm room and were covered with a blanket for another 30 minutes. Pain was reduced by nearly half following just the first session (but this pain-killing effect only lasted for a few days initially). However, the effect became persistent and lasting following about ten treatments, at which point, the women reported pain reductions between 20%-78%! Again, that is after just ten 15-minute sauna sessions, which was completed in just 2-5 weeks of sauna use. Moreover, 5 of 8 of these women who had to leave work due to pain and disability returned to work following just a few weeks of these sauna sessions!
14. Lowers InflammationInflammation has been implicated in almost every major disease. Although inflammation results from the attempt of the body to heal itself, chronic systemic inflammation can form a negative feedback loop that can prevent or delay healing. Reducing inflammation is critical for health. Chronic inflammation is also a major cause of chronic fatigue. HSPs play a role as an anti-inflammatory protein, suggesting that sauna use may have benefits for chronic inflammation.,  Indeed research confirms that it does have benefits. Participants engaged in daily infrared sauna therapy for two weeks had lower markers of oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation. Using the sauna is associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an important marker of systemic inflammation. Men in a study who used the sauna 2-3 times per week had 17% lower levels of CRP and those using the sauna 4-7 times per week had 32% lower levels of CRP compared to those only using it once per week. (And we don’t know how much higher the levels were for those not using the sauna at all!)
15. Bolsters Immune SystemHeat stress bolsters the immune system. Part of the mechanism for this is that HSPs stimulate both innate and adaptive immunity.  There appear to be numerous effects and pathways of immune function that are altered by heat exposure. How Saunas Improve Immune Function Regular exposure to sauna can reduce the incidence of the common cold. In one study, half of the participants engaged in sauna use once or twice per week while the other half did not. The incidence of the common cold was similar for the first three months of the study, but in the second three months, the sauna group had less than half the number of colds. High sauna temperatures easily kill infectious microbes on the skin, which can be beneficial for skin infections of many kinds. Many practitioners swear by the effectiveness of sauna use for hard-to-treat chronic infections.
16. May Potentially Combat Certain Types of CancerEvidence suggests that hyperthermia can cause apoptosis, or cell death, in both normal and tumor cells, but the damage caused by hyperthermia is not evident in normal cells. This might be due to what has been called (in the context of fasting) “differential stress resistance,” in which our own cells can adapt to stress but cancer cells cannot. How Saunas Can Help Prevent Certain Types of Cancer The FOX family proteins (such as FOXO3) play a critical role in tumor suppression. Since we know that sauna use affects FOXO3, it is reasonable to suspect there may be a link here. Cells with high acidity and low pH such as cancer tumor tissues are more susceptible to heat due to insufficient blood flow. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of radiation and some types of chemotherapy are enhanced by heat. Therefore, in many cancer treatments, the addition of hyperthermia results in an additive effect.,  Hyperthermia alone (local, regional, or whole-body) has shown complete response rates of 13% in several cancers, and clinical trials adding hyperthermia to radiation and/or chemotherapy have resulted in as much as a 50% improvement in response rates, tumor control, and overall survival. The addition of hyperthermia to other treatments has shown significantly improved outcome in cancers of the head and neck, breast, brain, bladder, cervix, rectum, lung, esophagus, vulva and vagina, and also for melanoma. Hyperthermia induces cell death in melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer cells. (DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended as medical advice or a substitute for seeing a physician. Please follow your physician’s recommendations, and please check with your physician before trying anything to treat any particular medical condition. Trying to self-treat may have consequences, so always check with your doctor before doing anything to treat any condition you may have. Check with your doctor about sauna use or hyperthermia to see if it’s right for you.)
17. May Help Prevent Alzheimer’s and DementiaThe accumulation of misfolded proteins (like beta amyloid) in the brain is thought to play a critical role in the development of many neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. Research suggests that elevating HSPs and FOXO3 (e.g. via sauna use) may activate the repair of misfolded proteins, restoring their proper structure.,, This can prevent them from clumping together and forming plaques, which have been implicated in both Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. How Saunas Fight Neurological Diseases Like Alzheimer’s and Dementia A Finnish study that followed 2,315 men for 20 years found that those who used the sauna 2-3 times per week (compared to only once per week) had a 22% and 20% risk reduction of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, respectively. Importantly, this was after adjusting for age, alcohol consumption, BMI, blood pressure, smoking status, exercise habits, Type 2 diabetes, previous heart attack, resting heart rate, and cholesterol levels. This is important in this type of long-term observational study so that we know that these results are not confounded by a person’s other lifestyle habits or health history. But here’s the even more impressive part: Those who used the sauna 4-7 times per week had a 66% reduced risk of dementia and a 65% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who only used the sauna once per week!
18. Decreases Risk of Lung & Respiratory Disease (and Improves Lung Function)A large observational study found that those who used the sauna 4 or more times per week had a 41% lower risk of respiratory diseases over a 26-year follow-up period than those who used the sauna less than once per week. Those who used the sauna 2-3 times per week had a 27% lower risk. Sauna use decreases lung congestion, and increases the vital capacity, tidal volume, minute ventilation, and forced an expiratory volume of the lungs.,  Patients with asthma or chronic bronchitis report that sauna improves their breathing. Patients with obstructive lung disease experienced improved lung function with sauna use. It is possible that the hot air of the sauna may initiate a hormetic response in the lung tissues and help stimulate cell repair and build up the internal antioxidant defense systems of the lung cells, thus protecting them from damage from a broad range of stressors.
19. Massively Improves Mood – Acts as an Anti-Depressant (Fights Depression)Sauna use has been shown to combat depression in numerous ways. Depression has been linked in numerous studies to elevated core body temperature. As Dr. Charles Raison has explained in this interview on hyperthermia and depression, the research shows that, counterintuitively, giving people with depression a brief hit of even higher body temperature (e.g. via sauna use or other body heating devices) can lead to remarkable improvement in depression. How Sauna Use Act As An Anti-Depressant and Fights Depression There are several mechanisms by which sauna use can combat depression:
- Temporarily increasing body temperature and spiking inflammation (and increasing heat-shock proteins) actually lowers baseline body temperature and inflammation (normalizes body temperature regulation and inflammatory/immune pathways), through hormesis.
- Heat hormesis also may promote autophagy in the brain, which makes brain cells more resilient and resistant to a range of stressors.
- Sauna use has been shown to cause a massive release of beta-endorphins in the brain, leading to better mood and fewer negative effects of stress., 
- Heat acclimation also has the longer-term effect of making you more sensitive to endorphins. When the body is under heat stress, a substance called dynorphin is released. Dynorphin has a role in thermal regulation but it also produces dysphoria or discomfort. To counter this, the body responds by not only producing more endorphins but more endorphin receptors and increasing the sensitivity of those receptors. This means you need less to feel good even when you are not heat-stressed, so you can get more pleasure from everyday activities, like watching a sunset.
20. Improves Symptoms in Some Autoimmune ConditionsSauna use might help the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.,  This is because certain HSPs can regulate the immune system, suppressing overactive responses in autoimmune diseases., 
How Saunas May Help People With Autoimmune DiseasesIn a case report, a woman with Sjogren’s syndrome underwent 20 sessions of infrared sauna treatment over the course of 4 weeks. She experienced “dramatic” improvements in dry mouth and arthritis and her antigen levels dropped into the normal range. Studies based on interviews of approximately 200 patients with rheumatoid arthritis have found that 40% to 70% experience alleviated pain and improved joint mobility with sauna use. However, approximately half of the patients temporarily experience worse pain the following day before seeing the improvements in symptoms. Many reported that this could be prevented by a cool shower after the sauna., 
21. Combats Diabetes and Insulin ResistanceReduction in HSPs has been shown in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and correlates with insulin resistance and glucose control., 
How Saunas Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Help Combat DiabetesResearchers have suggested that therapies utilizing HSPs might serve as a treatment tool for Type 2 diabetes and metabolic diseases.,  FOXO increases insulin sensitivity by inducing expression of the insulin receptor. Diabetic mice exposed to whole-body hyperthermia 3 times per week for 12 weeks had a 31% reduction in insulin levels and significantly decreased fasting blood glucose levels. The ability of hyperthermia to increase insulin sensitivity was further established in glucose tolerance tests and insulin tolerance tests. Increasing physical activity has a beneficial effect on metabolic health, but sometimes people who would benefit most are unable to do it due to medical conditions or disability. Sauna use cannot replace all the benefits of exercise, but it may replicate some of the benefits and alleviate some of the symptoms associated with Type 2 diabetes.
22. Combats Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME)In a case report, two CFS patients received infrared sauna therapy (Waon therapy) once a day for 35 days, and then once or twice per week thereafter for one year. They experienced improvements in physical and mental complaints, fatigue, depression, confusion, and sleep. Energy levels and hours of non-sedentary activity increased. Both patients were able to return to work 6 months after beginning therapy. How Sauna Use Helps Combat Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) A pilot study found that sauna use (Waon therapy) improved cerebral blood flow and brain function in all 11 participants with CFS. This correlated with self-rated improvements in CFS symptoms. Another study found that perceived fatigue, anxiety, depression, and performance status improved in patients with CFS following 4 weeks of Waon therapy. (While research on this topic is currently limited, I’ve found that among Energy Blueprint program members, many people say that sauna use has been the single biggest needle mover in helping them overcome chronic fatigue and recover their energy.)
Key Facts About Saunas
How hot do saunas get? (And why this is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT)This is an important question, since many different types of saunas exist and they get to VERY different temperatures. This is an especially critical point, since many of the benefits of sauna use may depend not just on heating the body up to the point of sweating, but of actually having the body in a chamber of VERY hot air. To get the full benefits of sauna use, you really want to get yourself to the point of feeling uncomfortably hot — to the point where your body starts saying “okay, it’s time to get out.” If you’re in a sauna and you’re sweating, but you never get to the point of feeling any real discomfort from the heat (i.e. if you feel like you could stay in there all day), that means it’s not hot enough, and that you’re not getting all the benefits of sauna use. Just as with exercise, if you never push your body to the point of any discomfort, you’re not going to stimulate any new beneficial physiolocial adaptations. (I.e. You’re not going to get all the potential benefits). This is key, because many infrared saunas simply don’t get very hot — they have a low maximal temperature. There are two basic types of saunas. Traditional saunas (also known as Finnish saunas) use radiant heat to achieve temperatures between 70 and 100°C (158-212°F) with a face-level temperature of 80-90°C (176-200°F). Sometimes water is intermittently poured over rocks to temporarily increase the humidity, but not all saunas have this feature.,  Infrared saunas, in contrast, generally have temperatures from 40-60°C (104-150°F). (Influence infrared saunas are the exception, and get up to 170 degrees F). Because infrared heat penetrates more deeply into tissue (approximately 3–4 cm) than warmed air, users start sweating at lower ambient temperatures than in the traditional sauna. Many infrared companies try to state that the heat of the chamber does not matter, and that it’s all about sweating. Based on the research (and the simple fact that much of the benefit of sauna use comes from heat hormesis, not just sweating), I believe it is very likely that HEAT MATTERS!
Infrared vs. Traditional SaunaMost of the studies done on sauna use over the last several decades have used traditional saunas, but infrared has been gaining popularity. Some have claimed that infrared saunas are superior, but we simply don’t have the science to support that claim yet. In fact, traditional saunas might prove to be a stronger form of heat hormesis since they activate overt physiological effects of heat stress more than infrared (for example, raising the heart rate higher). Infrared, since it is done at lower temperatures, may place less stress on the body and thus might be a better choice for those with certain health conditions. On the other hand, in the context of people who are not very healthy and who are fragile (i.e. are easily overwhelmed by small stressors), infrared saunas are generally better tolerated. So in my experience, infrared saunas are better for those with low heat tolerance or low tolerance to stressors in general. It’s also a way to sweat a lot (and detoxify your body) without needing to be exposed to extremely hot temperatures. Based on this, I generally recommend sauna type based on the individual and their needs:
- If you’re a young, healthy, and physically fit person with good heat tolerance, traditional saunas may have the edge in terms of stimulating the benefits of heat hormesis (where you really do want to heat your body up as much as tolerable).
- If you’re not very healthy or suffering from chronic fatigue (or otherwise have a low heat tolerance or low tolerance to stressors of all kinds), I suggest infrared saunas. This will give the best mix of sauna benefits while being very gentle on the body.
My Top Recommended SaunasRemember, I generally recommend sauna type based on the individual and their needs:
- If you’re a young person who is very physically fit and used to exercising intensely while outdoors (e.g. in hot environments), traditional saunas may have the edge and give you the heat intensity you need.
- But for most people – especially people dealing with chronic fatigue – I have found from working with thousands of people with chronic fatigue and other conditions that traditional saunas can be hard for many people to tolerate and can cause fatigue if they overdo it.
- Sun Stream
- Heavenly Heat
- They use absolutely top quality wood (and have non-allergenic options)
- They use the highest quality emitters (which emit the highest percentage of infrared in the therapeutic wavelengths)
- They do not use plywood or glues which can off-gas in the sauna
- They have excellent warranties
- They have third-party testing to prove that their saunas are low EMF
- Sunlighten offers a one-person laying “dome” style sauna (which is a nice option on the cheaper side)
- Influence saunas have the special benefit of getting much hotter than other infrared saunas — all the way up to 170 degrees F — which is likely a key benefit
TOP SAUNA RECOMMENDATIONSRemember, as outlined above, it’s important to get the right sauna type for you. Are you an older, less fit and less healthy person? Or are you very physically fit and active? For Those People With Fatigue Or Other Health Issues Or Who Have a Lower Heat Tolerance (or who are just not in great health): An infrared sauna from either Sunlighten or Influence Saunas (note: Influence saunas have a higher maximum temperature). For Those People Who Are Young Athletes In Great Health With High Fitness and Very High Heat Tolerance: Traditional Sauna or Influence Infrared Saunas (which get much hotter than other infrared saunas — all the way up to 170 degrees). For you ultra-fit heat junkies wanting a super hot traditional sauna, I highly recommend Almost Heaven, SDI saunas, and Aleko brands. They have both indoor traditional saunas and outdoor barrel saunas (that you can keep out of your house in your backyard). You can find options for these saunas on Amazon HERE. Almost heaven barrel sauna, SDI barrel sauna, Aleko barrel sauna. Again, the Influence Infrared saunas are great as well, since they got much hotter than other infrared saunas — all the way up to 170 degrees F. For Those People Who Want The An Amazing Infrared Sauna At A Cheap Price (and/or who don’t have room for a huge sauna): Sunlighten Solo Best Overall Bang For The Buck: Sunlighten Solo or Influence Sauna If you’re on a tight budget (under $3,000), you cannot beat the Sunlighten Solo, in my opinion. If you can afford to spend around $4,000, the Influence saunas are amazing infrared saunas with a very high maximal temperature (higher than other infrared saunas). Again, remember this key point: Generally speaking, infrared saunas are going to be best for most people. Traditional Finnish saunas are likely better for very fit and healthy people with a high heat tolerance. (Or opt for the Influence saunas, which are infrared saunas that get much hotter than other infrared saunas — up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.) For people dealing with fatigue or other symptoms/conditions who are not already extremely healthy, I strongly recommend infrared saunas. Then within that category of infrared saunas, you have a wide range of options from $2,500 all the way up to $7,000 and beyond. An infrared sauna from any of the top companies I listed above is a great buy. Obviously the Sunlighten and Influence brands are my top recommendations.
How to Use a Sauna – Practical TipsUsing a sauna is a very individual thing, as some young healthy and very physically fit may have a very high heat tolerance and can handle being in a very hot sauna for over 30 minutes right from the start. Other people whose health is compromised may only be able to tolerate relatively low temperatures, and for maybe only a few minutes at first. So please adjust accordingly and listen to your body. (I.e. If you feel light-headed or uncomfortable, get out of the sauna.)
How to use a sauna – Starting outIf you’re unsure about your health status and it’s your first time using a sauna, I suggest no more than 3 or 4 minutes for your first session. Then build up slowly from there, adding 30-60 seconds to each session as feels comfortable for you (until you get into the durations suggested below.)
How often to use a saunaMy general recommendation (based on the evidence) is to use a sauna between 3-7 times per week. (Remember, health benefits have been shown all the way up to using a sauna 7 times per week, or daily.)
How to use a sauna – Temperature and durationHere are some general guidelines as far as temperature and duration:
- Infrared sauna: 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit (one infrared sauna brand gets up to 170 degrees), for 15-45 minutes
- Regular (Finnish, or moist) sauna: 175-200 degrees Fahrenheit, for 10-40 minutes
ConclusionThe research on saunas is still in its infancy, but based on the current evidence, sauna use appears to be an amazing way to benefit immediate and long-term health, physical performance, and mental performance. I believe this is one of the top three most powerful strategies to enhance your health, increase your energy, prevent disease, and extend longevity in existence – on par with nutrition and exercise. (And yet, it is vastly under-rated and few people are aware of how powerful it is.) As I said above, based on feedback from thousands of Energy Blueprint program members, a huge portion of them have reported that sauna use has been the single biggest needle mover in helping them overcoming fatigue and increasing their energy. I also believe that it is the single most powerful tool for detoxification that we have available to us. (Weekly detoxification routines are vital in our world, which is now, unfortunately, filled with countless types of toxins that we’re exposed to daily.) In short, saunas are one of the most powerful strategies in existence for improving your health, energy and longevity. Like I said before, if there were a pharmaceutical drug that research showed had even half the benefits that sauna use does, it would be regarded as the most incredible “miracle drug” ever discovered and would be prescribed to basically everyone. And doctors would look at you like you were insane if you weren’t taking it. That drug exists – it just comes in the form of a sauna you sit in rather than a pill you pop.
Frequently Asked Questions About SaunasIn the following section, I will answer some of the most common questions about the risks and benefits of saunas.
Sauna vs. Steam RoomI do NOT recommend steam rooms in most cases unless you are using highly purified water in your home. Tap water has small amounts of numerous contaminants, and these contaminants become even more toxic when inhaled as vapors. So steam rooms are a bad idea unless you are using highly purified water from an excellent home filtration system.
Are Saunas Bad For You? I.e. Who Should Avoid Sauna UseExtensive systematic reviews have found that sauna use is generally well tolerated and safe.,  However, there are times when sauna should not be used. It should be avoided by:
- People with unstable angina-type chest pain, recent heart attack, or severe aortic stenosis (narrowing of the major artery of the heart)
- People with severe orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing)
- People with infectious diseases with fever or fever for any reason. (Please consult your doctor if you wish to use a sauna to help treat an infection.)
- It has been found to be safe during normal pregnancy for women already acclimated to sauna use but is not recommended during high-risk pregnancy. And in general, most advice you’ll read online will generally advise to stay out the sauna if you’re pregnant and not already accustomed to sauna use. So my suggestion is that if you are not already accustomed to sauna use, best to be on the safe side and avoid the sauna while pregnant or trying to become pregnant.
- People trying to get pregnant are best advised to avoid using a sauna, as sauna use may temporarily lower sperm count for men from the heat.
- Very importantly, alcohol and sauna don’t mix. Alcohol increases the risk of low blood pressure and fainting, arrhythmia, and sudden death. In one review, alcohol was found to be a factor in 84% of hyperthermia deaths in Finland. Chronic alcohol use, not just acute, might also make sauna bathing dangerous because of its long-term effect on thermoregulatory mechanisms. This may be because of disrupted activation of opioids such as endorphins, whose levels do not rise during hyperthermia in drug and alcohol addicts.
- Overweight people have a greater risk of dehydration from heat stress. A good way to measure how much water loss has occurred it to weigh yourself before and after the sauna and replenish at least the same amount. If you’ve sweated profusely, also be careful to replenish electrolytes. If you want a pre-formulated drink, skip the Gatorade – coconut water has been shown to rehydrate as well as commercial sports drinks. But it’s not necessary to do coconut water. Drinking water with a trace mineral supplement (I like the Concentrace brand) is also great. Or just go for plain water (make sure you’re using extremely pure water from a top-notch filter) and then making sure to eat lots of mineral-rich foods like leafy greens is a great way to replenish sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and so forth. Smoothies with ample greens (using things like spinach, kale, chard, celery, etc.) is a great way to do this – plus the fiber content has added benefits in binding and helping you to excrete toxins released during the sauna session.
- Also, it’s always a good idea to sauna with a buddy – especially if you have a history of fainting or hypoglycemia. (Note: Most modern saunas have a timer and automatically shut off after 30-60 minutes – you can set the time – so there is little risk of passing out and being stuck in an extremely hot sauna.)
- Finally, always listen to your body when in the sauna. Your body will almost always let you know when it’s time to stop before fainting, just as with physical exercise. If you feel very uncomfortable or light-headed, listen to that feeling simply get out.
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