Health Benefits of Infrared saunas – What Does the Research Say?

Nicole Marchand, Registered Dietitian

Infrared saunas (FIRS) are a safe and effective option for both the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses and chronic pain. In fact, research supports the use of FIRS an addition to other treatment options for illnesses such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and chronic stress, chronic fatigue and chronic pain. Unlike traditional saunas, heat from FIRS penetrates deep into the fat tissue and the neuromuscular system, which lends to its positive effects on the endocrine system, neuromuscular system and the cardiovascular system. (1,4) Furthermore, infrared saunas are much more comfortable than traditional saunas as they are ‘light loading for the body and provides a comfortable and relaxing experience’ and they offer a ‘vigorous sweat’ while being at a lower temperature than a tradition spa’. (1)

Furthermore, the internal demands of maintaining body temperatures during FIRS therapy as is seen with sweating, vasodilation and an increased heart rate, imparts a healthy dose of endocrine and cardiovascular stress on the body which is similar to a moderate exercise regimen. Due to this, FIRS may be an effective addition to a healthy lifestyle, especially for those who find it difficult to participate in traditional exercise programs due to medical conditions or pain, as seen in advanced, osteoarthritis, for example. (3,4)

Not convinced? Let’s look at the research. 

Exercise Recovery 

In a small study by Mero et al. (2015), the research studies the effects of far-infrared sauna (FIRS) bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training in sessions in men. (1) In comparison with either ‘no sauna’ or to a traditional sauna, the far-infrared sauna provided the best recovery and relaxation to the athletes of the free options. (1) Recovery was assessed by re-testing athletic performance after use of the saunas. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue 

In terms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a pilot study by Fredrikus et al. (2008) showed that infrared saunas significantly and clinically improved pain, stiffness in those autoimmune diseases during the treatment and directly after. (2) In fact, pain and stiffness decreased as much as 60% during the treatment for all participants and these effects lasted 30 minutes after treatment as well. Furthermore, this treatment was well-tolerated and there were no side effects reported by the 34 patients. (2) It is important to note that the participants of this study were not in a state of active or acute inflammation when entering the sauna during this study as there is speculation that sauna treatment during a flare-up could aggravate the disease. (2) However, according the researchers, ‘FIRS ‘ is feasible, well-tolerated treatment in patients with inflammatory arthritis. (2)

In terms of chronic pain, one clinical trial showed that there was a significant decrease in pain and anger for participants who had one 30-minute therapy session 5x/week for one month. In fact, it was concluded that adding infrared therapy into multidisciplinary treatment for those with chronic pain is a promising treatment method. (5) Due to sleep enhancing and relaxation effects as well, infrared therapy may be an effective treatment option for chronic fatigue as well as chronic pain. (5)  

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE, TYPE 2 DIABETES & CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE

Infrared sauces are beneficial in treating congestive heart failure and hypertension. (3)  In one small study, FIRS led to a small decrease in blood pressure in 15 healthy subjects. (2) A study by Beever (2010) assessed the effects of infrared sauna on cardiovascular health in those with type 2 diabetes. In this case, the participants used the sauna 3x/week for 3 months and objective measurements such as blood pressure were assessed. By the end of the trial, there was a significant 6.4mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure. Furthermore, the participants appeared to enjoy the treatment sessions, making adherence to the study attractive to the participants and no adverse effects were reported. According the authors, FIRS appears to be a viable treatment option for those with Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure. (2) Furthermore, as it is thought that FIRS reduce blood pressure by improving functioning of the blood pressure walls (endothelial function) and through increased nitric oxide (NO) production, FIRS could be a used as a viable treatment for congestive heart failure as well as other conditions such as metabolic syndrome, PCOS and sleep apnea. (3) Another study suggests that the blood pressure lowering effects of FIRS are due to the fact that FIRS reduces plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations, two neurotransmitters linked to stress, high blood pressure and endothelial dysfunction. (4)  

It is clear from research that regular use of FIRS (2-3 sessions/week) is a safe and effective lifestyle option in the prevention and treatment of chronic and inflammatory diseases. FIRS reduces stress, fatigue and pain and improves the health of our cardiovascular system, neuromuscular system and endocrine system. (4) 

References: 

  1. Mero A, Tornberg J, Mäntykoski M, Puurtinen R. Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. SpringerPlus. 2015;4(1). doi:10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5 
  1. Oosterveld FG, Rasker JJ, Floors M, et al. Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Clinical Rheumatology. 2008;28(1):29-34. doi:10.1007/s10067-008-0977-y 
  1. Beever R. Do Far-infrared Saunas Have Cardiovascular Benefits in People with Type 2 Diabetes? Canadian Journal of Diabetes. 2010;34(2):113-118. doi:10.1016/s1499-2671(10)42007-9 
  1. Beever R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors: summary of published evidence. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien. 2009;55(7):691-696. Accessed February 11, 2021. https://search-ebscohost-com.uws.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=19602651&site=eds-live&scope=site
  1. Masuda A, Hattanmaru M, Tei C. Repeated thermal therapy improves outcomes in patients with chronic pain. International Congress Series. 2006;1287:298-303. doi:10.1016/j.ics.2005.12.039 
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