Can one of the hottest treatments to heal the heart be heat itself?
Over the last two decades, I've treated patients with advanced heart disease, and I've seen many innovations in medications, surgeries, and devices. But there is still an enormous toll on quality and quantity of life.
Background on Infrared Sauna
One of the treatments which has been a relative secret but needs to be outed now is sauna therapy for heart health. And not just any type of sauna heat. Doctors in Japan have been working for over 20 years testing the benefits of infrared dry sauna therapy in some of the sickest heart and vascular patients, and they've published nearly 20 research articles showing this is a major breakthrough.
They've used a technique called waon therapy, from the Japanese words wa for soothing and on for warmth, or so called soothing warmth therapy. The way it works: patients sit in an infrared sauna set at 60° C (140° F) for 15 minutes, followed by resting outside the sauna for 30 minutes, wrapped in towels. People are encouraged to drink water to compensate for the perspiration. Results showed improved function of the cells that line the arteries and the blood flow they carry.
Here in the U.S., a 2005 clinical study by the University of Missouri Kansas City showed that far infrared saunas could lower blood pressure through a program of 30-minute infrared sauna session 3 times per week. The study concluded that sauna dilated blood vessels and reduced the volume of their inner lining, thus increasing circulation to promote healthy blood pressure.
We live in a sea of toxins. Luckily there are steps we can take to more effectively remove these toxins, and the use of FIR saunas is one powerful method for doing so. The Environmental Protection Agency has shown that sauna therapy increases excretion of heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium) and fat-soluble chemicals like PCBs, PBBs, and HCBs.
When it comes to burning calories with infrared heat, Sunlighten saunas were clinically shown to dramatically aid in weight loss. Results from a 2009 study indicated that saunas are beneficial for lowering weight and waist circumference in just a 3-month period. And for those who are sedentary due to medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular or respiratory problems, results were even more profound.
Exercise ability and flexibility
Mid infrared heat works by penetrating joints, muscles and tissues, increasing circulation and speeding oxygen flow. By reducing soreness on nerve endings, infrared heat reduces muscle spasms and helps the body heal itself naturally. A 2013 study conducted at the Auburn University at Montgomery compared stretching in a infrared sauna compared to a typical training room environment. Participants completed a series of hamstring stretches in random order with 48 hours separating the sessions. Results showed that acute flexibility increased up to 3x in the sauna than without! Benefits to the increased range of motion include joint mobility, less friction in the joints, enabling of joint function to diminish stiffness and joint relaxation.
An anti-aging tool
Near infrared produced from LED lights help restore skin to a youthful appearance. A study published in The Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy showed significant improvements in skin appearance after just 12 weeks of sauna skin therapy using near-infrared technology. Participants experienced a reduction in wrinkles and crow’s feet, as well as improved overall skin tone, including softness, smoothness, elasticity, clarity and firmness.
If infrared therapy is so beneficial in heart patients, why haven’t you heard of it? And why isn’t it used more? In my opinion, it's partly due to the fact that many doctors aren't familiar with the strong data supporting it, and partly due to the fact that low-tech treatments such as this one get buried by expensive and glitzy therapies that may not prove to be beneficial.
Patients have used health accounts to cover the cost of sessions or even to buy their own units so it can be in reach of many people. Is it beneficial for those of us without health issues? I cannot promise it, but as my mother says about her healing vegetable broth, it couldn’t hurt!