Friday, 10 July 2020

Infrared saunas - part of my protocol

Just over 10 weeks after my diagnosis I had transurethral hyperthermia (i) and in the process started to learn more about heat, saunas and hyperthermia and cancer. I’ve always loved saunas but never was able to have them regularly. My partner is Norwegian and it is noticeable how saunas are more apart of everyday life. However some other Scandinavian countries seem to have an even stronger tradition of "saunaing". Finland, for example has over two million saunas available for a population of about 5.3 million! There is also a strong culture of cold and hot; in Finland often part of the sauna is the rolling in snow. I've not done that but 'Showering like James Bond' blog covers some of my morning routine. 

I don’t sweat much?

I also noticed that for many years, a lot of the time, I never sweated much but in saunas I did and do. I’m not suggesting I have anhidrosis (inability to sweat normally), but have become aware that not sweating is not so good. You need to look at why this is happening. 
There are various causes but for me it seems that sometimes I’m not hydrated enough. I am still struggling to learn the importance of drinking lots of water everyday. I will get into a good rhythm and then it slips. The other, bigger cause for me, is about how hard I am working. You need to work hard enough to increase your core temperature otherwise your body won't need to cool itself and you might not sweat. I seem to have to work quite hard to raise temperature. I noticed this when I first started exercising. My pulse rate and sweating took a while to go up; to my dismay this meant that some of the exercising I had been doing, while good, was not as good as it could have been! Of course it is worth noting that we are all different and what is normal for one is not necessarily normal for another. Interestingly my sweating has improved since regular sauna use.

Anyhow it was a couple of months after my treatment in Germany that I was able to get a dome infrared sauna; a very wonderful and hugely generous gift from my parents who were keen to support my complementary approach to cancer. In this blog below I will look at it’s used as a sauna and then there will be a blog coming soon about using it for whole body hyperthermia.

Having a sauna
There are different ways to create a sauna (incl dry air, steam or infrared) but it seems that far infrared sauna offers some of the best outcomes (ii); weight loss, detoxification, blood pressure reduction, relaxation, pain relief and so much more. The heat can penetrates through the outer layers of the skin and heats up the blood vessels below - it also doesn't cause any damage to tissue. It is claimed by many manufacturers that 80% of the heat goes into the body rather than the air. 

I think there are other benefits from different saunas, for example near infrared is allegedly good for herpes, shingles, hair loss, prevents loss of collagen and helps re oxygenation of tissue. You can even get lamps that go in the shower?! It is said taht being exposed to this earlier in the day can offer a protective effect. The mid-infrared is good for weight loss, pain relief and plays a role in improving circulation. There are also full spectrum saunas offering near, mid and far - but come at a cost.

It is also worth mentioning that some saunas have more elecromagnetic radiation issues than others; this was hard to check out but if no mention in the advertising then I think it is worth asking.

There are some obvious general precautions regarding saunas like not taking one when you are ill, avoiding alcohol and medications that may impair sweating before and after your sauna, cooling down gradually afterwards and drinking at least two glasses of water after each sauna. For me I stay in the sauna for a minimum of 20 mins and rarely stay beyond 30 mins (unless having a hyperthermia) (vii). I do however usually warm the sauna up for a few minutes before getting in. I was aiming for three times a week but that has slipped a lot after radiotherapy and I’m only just getting back to that.

One of the joys of my visit to Bad Aibling and the treatment there in Germany was the neighbouring spa, 'The Thermae’ (i). There are a collection of thermal spring pools, inside and out (we swam one time in the snow), but there were also over ten different saunas, some with aromatic smells, some crackling of firewood, one had a thick steam spray fog, while another had a view over the river. 
Well I hadn’t appreciated Germans have mixed, naked saunas…the first I went into was already packed with well over 40 people of all ages on three levels. I started to make my way between the bodies to a space on one of the benches, then was told we are all naked…I hung my towel and returned to the bench only to find that I had committed another sauna faux pas - you are meant to have the towel to sit on. I then realised I was in one of the hottest saunas having misunderstood the guide about which sauna to start with. I made it through the whole sauna session but was fearing that I would be the only one, the visiting English guy, who would have to stand up and make my way, once again in full view, to escape. 
Fortunately at home we can develop our own routines around having a sauna!

Research on sauna use (iii)? 

In the Finnish Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, looking at over 2000 middle-aged men, researchers concluded that using it two or there times a week led to reduced likelihood of death from cardiovascular-related causes by 27% and associated with a 66% and 65% lower likelihood of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. If sauna use was four to seven times then the likelihood of death from cardiovascular-related causes was reduced by 50%. Other research has seen similar results.

Another bit of research with 28 people with mild depression showed sauna sessions for four weeks showed subjective improvements in appetite, aches, anxiety, relaxation and  depression levels. Other research shows a link with reduced inflammation (iv) which must be good for cancer. There is also research around saunas helping with weight loss, managing pain and stress reduction.

There seems to be less specific quality research around the use with cancer - for example a study with tumor-infected mice showed even low sauna temperatures produced reductions in their cancerous masses of up to 86%. But there’s not lots of research other than when it comes to hyperthermia which I will look at in my next blog.

Nevertheless clearly all the other benefits that have been found from saunas are going to help build our health and immune system. Improved circulation must be good, as cancer often grows in tissues with poor circulation. In a sauna the pulse rate can go up by 30% or more which can also improve circulation to the lungs and greater oxygenation - and we know oxygen is what cancer doesn’t like.

Saunas may also help with elimination of toxins including heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides. Saunas are said to not just work on the skin but also help to decongest and eliminate toxins from internal organs. Interestingly it is claimed that researchers have found that sweat from traditional saunas was about 97% water and 3% toxins. Infrared  saunas produced a sweat that was only 80-85% water. The remaining 15-20% was made up of heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia, uric acid and fat-soluble toxins (v). However there doesn’t seem to be a research paper to go with this claim that is often repeated on the web (vi). Indeed Dee Anna Glaser, a dermatology professor at St. Louis University notes that: "for most people, sweating a lot does not detoxify them at all. Because the kidneys are doing it. Sweat’s main job is to keep us cool.”  So maybe that 15-20% figure of toxins is too good to be true!
Nevertheless there are some who consider it key in building our immune systems for them to tackle cancer. In a 2004 article in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, Lawrence Wilson, MD, wrote, “If I were to single out one method to combat cancer, it is the sauna. It assists removal of chemical toxins and heavy metals, increases oxygenation, enhances the immune system, and reduces the radiation burden in the body”(v).

Saunas appear safe for most people but I guess folks should check with their doctors especially if problems with heart disease or blood pressure. We certainly need more research! One of the areas that is researched better is that of sauna use and hyperthermia - see my blog coming soon for more on that. Update 25/07/20: here is the blog on hyperthermia:


(ii) Hussain J.,Cohen M. Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018; 2018: 1857413. Published online 2018 Apr 24. doi: 10.1155/2018/1857413 PMCID: PMC5941775 Article PubReader PDF–1000KCitation
(iv) Lidija Kandolf-Sekulovic, Milena Kataranovski, Milos D. Pavlovic. Immunomodulatory Effects of Low-Intensity Near-Infrared Laser Irradiation on Contact Hypersensitivity Reaction. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 2003; 19: pp 203–212, Blackwell Munksgaard. See also 2018 study:

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