Nothing feels quite as good as a hot sauna after a day of skiing, or even as a complement to a nice, soothing massage. But could regular trips significantly clear your system of toxins from chemotherapy and radiation?
New York City used saunas to help rescue workers suffering from 9/11 toxicant-induced illnesses. However, it’s not clear how much benefit the saunas had, as the program also included nutrition and exercise. “Upon completion of the sauna detox program,” Schanfarber writes, “72 percent of those individuals who had required multiple pulmonary medications achieved ‘near-normal pulmonary functions’ and were medication-free. Other notable results … include fewer sick days, better thyroid function, increased cognitive function, and improved balance.”
There’s no doubt that saunas make you sweat, but just how much does that rid your body of toxins? Probably not as much as most sauna companies would have you believe. Donald Smith, professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz, says almost all toxic metals in the body are excreted through urine or feces, less than 1% through sweating, so fiber and water will do you more good than the sauna. Dr. Anna Glaser, professor of dermatology at St. Louis University, also warns that though sweat does contain trace amount of toxins, if we sweat heavily too often, we can actually impair the body’s natural detox system, mainly through dehydration. (If you don’t drink enough water to counteract the sweating, your kidneys can’t do their job of flushing your system of toxins.)
Even Gaia Saunas says, “Unfortunately, there is too much wrong information about the release of body toxins due to infrared saunas. The claims of 15-20% of your sweat contain toxins is completely misleading; many conditions in the human body affect how toxins are released.”
Saunas do, however, have other health benefits. Besides slightly reducing built-up toxins from cancer treatments, they also increase the heart rate and dilate blood vessels, easing circulation and actually burning calories. “Sitting in a sauna for about 30 minutes is the cardiovascular equivalent to a 2-mile run,” says Dr. Jason Allen, naturopath. The penetrating heat helps sooth joints and muscles, and creates deep relaxation, which can reduce stress and facilitate sleep. Dr. Weil says saunas help reduce blood pressure, and recommends a plunge into cold water afterwards.
Bottom line? If you like the experience of sitting in sauna, by all means indulge and enjoy the relaxing benefits. It may help you sleep while you’re going through treatment. If you’re looking for ways to detox, however, a good walk or run followed by a few glasses of water may be just as effective.
Do you experience health benefits as a result of using the sauna? Tell us your story.
Photo courtesy of bodyandbeyond via Flickr.com.