Many people hear the word infrared and they think radiation. Infrared sauna has nothing in common with either the ultraviolet radiation we receive from the sun or the atomic radiation of nuclear explosions. Far infrared waves refer to the part of the spectrum of light that can heat objects directly, without having to heat the air or create steam. This is what differentiates far infrared saunas from ”regular” saunas that must heat the air between the heating device and a person.
The effect is that infrared heat penetrates the body in a much deeper way. For example, regular saunas primarily heat up the surface of the skin whereas infrared rays can penetrate 1-1.5 inches reaching the subcutaneous fat layer of the body. This has wonderful implications for releasing fat-soluble toxins as well as enhancing cellular metabolic activity overall. How does this work? In one respect, the mechanism is simple. With increased local temperature the blood vessels dilate thereby increasing circulation of nutrients and of oxygen to the soft tissues and removing accumulated toxins.
This is especially important when you consider that many of the toxins we most want to remove are stored in this fatty layer of the body that far infrared sauna can reach. For example, pesticides, preservatives, food additives, plastics (including PCBs) and other environmental chemicals are all stored in our fat. Even more striking, there is a proven correlation between toxicity and an inability to lose weight! We must detoxify in order to optimize our metabolism and lose fat. This is why I often recommend infrared sauna to those looking to shed some pounds and address cellulite even if the person isn't overweight. Most of the scientific research performed using far infrared sauna has focused on cardiovascular disease. Because of the improvements in circulation, far infrared sauna has shown benefit for people suffering with congestive heart failure, high blood pressure and diabetes as well.
In addition, far infrared sauna can also reduce chronic pain and improve energy associated with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lastly, I often recommend saunas to my patients struggling with chronic tick-borne illness (better known as Lyme disease) as well. Why might this be? Infrared sauna also stimulates what is known in scientific circles as hormesis. Hormesis is a process by which the cells literally clean themselves out by way of molecular chaperones called heat shock proteins (HSPs). As the tissues heat up, many proteins that are susceptible to doing cellular damage get “ wrinkled ” or “folded" in an abnormal way.
These helper molecules, HSPs, clean up the damage that mis-folded proteins are doing to your cells! They come in and help turn on many mechanisms that ultimately make your cells work more efficiently. They can help clear cells of infectious agents, and the by-products of infectious agents, and may play a role in preventing cells from becoming cancerous as well. “Hyperthermia" (increased body temperature) has long been studied in the context of cancer treatment and prevention.
Because your body needs time to accomplish the clean up after the hormetic effect has been stimulated, you don't want to do far infrared sauna every day. You want the stress on the cells to be sporadic and intermittent, turning on the self-healing mechanism s in between the treatments. It ’ s a good idea to do several treatments over a 2-6 week period. During a detoxification program it would be optimal to have saunas 2-3 times per week. Depending on the health of the individual we start with a range of 20-30 minutes in the sauna at 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. The infrared rays can penetrate at lower temperatures. We often work up to hour-long treatments and the saunas can be used regularly for an indefinite amount of time after the official detoxification program is completed as part of maintaining good health!