If you follow health experts on social media or listen to a health podcast, then chances are you have heard of the use of an infrared sauna as a health attaining practice. They have become quite popular. Well, the verdict is in and infrared sauna use is very beneficial for heart health. Rather than just accept an idea, I am always seeking to understand why something may be health promoting, so before we get into the research showing the benefits of sauna on the heart, let’s discuss why exposure to infrared light being beneficial makes sense.
The genus Homo first showed up around 2.5 million years ago. Modern humans showed up around 2-3 hundred thousand years ago. For all of that time humans and pre-humans were outside in the sun. This is especially true for the earliest pre-humans who spent their lives evolving around the equator where is it very sunny. The point being that our physiology evolved in the presence of lots of sun exposure. One of the wavelengths of light that comes from the sun is infrared light. So, from an evolutionary perspective it makes since that our physiology would have evolved a benefit from this very abundant wavelength of light.
But what does this light do for us? It does many things, most famously it is a key ingredient in the synthesis of vitamin D, provided we have enough cholesterol and sulfur to do so. But the work of Dr. Gerald Pollack at the University of Washington shows us another benefit to infrared light exposure. I discussed this in more detail in my blog post called “Why Don’t We See Atherosclerosis in Veins?” and “Is the Heart Really a Pump?” The basic premise is that the water in our bodies has the ability to hold energy. (1) When it holds sufficient energy, it structures itself in a specific way that facilitates the movement of water and metabolites around cells, protects the lining of our arteries, and aides in the flow of blood through our arteries.
Dr. Pollack and his team have found many things that help energize the water in our bodies. Among them are direct contact with the Earth (grounding), drinking water that is energized, and even vibration. However, the thing that seemed to be most effective at energizing the water was infrared light. Specifically, the 3000 nm wavelength because it is the most strongly absorbed by water.
Okay, so now that we have an understanding of what effect infrared light has on the body, we can start to dive into the research, as well as explain the findings of some studies. Let’s start with blood flow. People with Heart Failure (CHF) have issues with the pumping of the heart. In my blog post “Is the Heart Really a Pump?” I argue that the heart is not really a pump. (2,3) When it is forced to be the main pumper of the blood, we start to develop what we call heart failure. The heart is a vortex (4,5) that swirls the blood to help energize it. It is not set up to be a forceful pumper of blood and heart failure is what happens when we force it to do this. It is forced to do this when water in blood is not energized enough to produce some of it’s own blood flow. (6) To help the heart out we need to energize the water in the blood so that is can start to move on its’ own and give the heart a break. Infrared light exposure is a perfect way to do this.
One study in 2008 found that in people with heart failure, infrared sauna therapy improved heart function and decreased the size of their abnormally expanded hearts. (7) This makes sense because if the water in the blood is not energized enough to create the flow of blow, then the heart will have to do more pumping than it is designed to do. Over time this results in heart failure. By energizing the blood with infrared light, the physiology starts to get back to normal and heart function is restored. Being so removed form the natural world where we are not in contact with the Earth, no exposed to enough sun, and not drinking energized spring water results in poor blood flow that forces the heart to do the pumping it is not set up to do. Infrared sauna is an amazing therapy to counteract this.
There are also multiple studies that show that infrared sauna therapy is very good at restoring function to the lining of our blood vessels. (8,9,10,11,12) This is very important because the lining of our blood vessels is where Nitric Oxide (NO) is made. NO is very important for dilating blood vessels and in the prevention of heart attacks, which I discuss here. This also makes sense because when the water in our blood is energized it structures itself in a way that forms a protective barrier to the lining of our blood vessels. When the lining of our blood vessels is protected like it should be, then it is allowed to function at a much higher level.
The benefits don’t stop there. In many other blog posts, I have discussed how important it is to maintain balance in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This is extremely important for the prevention of heart attacks. Infrared sauna therapy has been shown to help create balance in our ANS. (13) Again, this makes sense. The things that usually help us create balance in our ANS are things that move us back to the way of life in which we evolved. That includes being in nature. While we are not getting direct sunlight from a sauna, it is one way that we can increase our infrared light exposure, especially since getting lots of sunlight is not always possible in our modern world.
I have also written a lot about the best way to look at a cholesterol/lipid panel and how to optimize it. Studies have shown that infrared sauna therapy can have a positive effect on our blood lipids. (14,15) While the studies discuss the lowering LDL effect of sauna, if you follow my blog you know that high LDL is not a problem as long as you have lower triglycerides, normal/high HDL, and low markers of inflammation. Well, these studies looking at sauna and lipids showed that sauna use resulted in optimization of all those markers.
Further, infrared sauna has also been shown to have beneficial effects on high blood pressure (16), peripheral artery disease (17), and has been associated with reduced all-cause mortality (18). When we understand the effects infrared light has on our cardiovascular system that we previously discussed, these all make sense as well.
Hopefully, you can now see the cardiovascular benefits of using an infrared sauna. Hopefully you can also see that it is not just the next health trend out there, but that it is actually helping us move back into an environment that our physiology is more suited for. This will help us optimize our health within the confines of our modern-day environment. I discuss the benefits of infrared sauna in this video as well.
I believe that every cardiac rehab center in the world should have an infrared sauna, unfortunately they do not. We have to find them at spas, yoga studios, gyms, wellness centers and even health care offices that have saunas. You can just look up somewhere close to you and use it. You could use it everyday if you wanted, just make sure to rehydrate well. I recommend 30-45 minute sessions at a temperature that you can handle. If you want to buy your own sauna you can do that as well. Be sure to get one that has very low EMF. My favorite is the Sunlighten brand, some of the best saunas on the market.
Stay health out there!
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