Ahhh, the sauna. It’s an age-old experience that brings peace, calm, relaxation and even a little bit of luxury to mind. What you may not know, however, is that it is also one of the best activities for releasing toxins and can be a great way to boost your immune system.
All saunas raise your body temperature above the typical 98.6 degrees.
This is called hyperthermia.
Creating hyperthermia to the point of heat exhaustion or stroke can be extremely dangerous, but controlled hyperthermia, or thermotherapy, can provide you with many health benefits that may surprise you. Did you know that temperature plays a part in almost every interaction that occurs in your body, and that a low base body temperature often accompanies many common disease conditions?
“Heat is a form of energy, and every reaction in a human body occurs at a certain energy or temperature level,” says Dr. Mark Sircus, Ac., OMD, a prolific author and expert in natural medicine.
Diabetes, hypothyroidism, infection, sepsis, cancer, chronic stress, and drug addiction are among the conditions which are often accompanied by lower overall body temperature.
According to Dr. Nobuhiro Yoshimuzi, author of the book The Fourth Treatment for Medical Refugees, a mere 1-degree decline in overall body temperature results in a 40% decline in immune function.
The opposite is also true, however. If your overall body temperature increases by one degree, there can be a 40% increase in immune function. Also, many studies have shown that controlled hyperthermia can help with some disease conditions, including cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, “research has shown that high temperatures can damage and kill cancer cells, usually with minimal injury to normal tissues.”
Hyperthermia aids your body by “stressing it out” just a little bit. As we usually hear that stress is bad, this may seem counter-intuitive. But remember that we are talking about short bursts of heat-induced stress, such as being in a sauna for no more than 10 minutes followed by a cool-down and lots of water. This kind of stress is called hormesis. Hormesis kick-starts the production of substances in the body called Heat Shock Proteins, or HSPs. While damaged HSPs can be detrimental, healthy HSPs in your system instigate a cascade of good news for your body by boosting healthy mitochondrial function.
Mitochondria are the “energy generators” of your cells. HSPs help to remove old and worn mitochondria while generating new ones, which help prevent disease. The benefits of hyperthermia in generating HPSs are especially important as we age. Studies show that the older we are, the less adept our bodies are at producing HSPs.
An in vivo study conducted by the University of Texas, San Antonio, and published in the Journal of Gerontology found that aging resulted in a decrease in the immune substances needed to synthesize certain kinds of heat shock proteins. In some cases, the rate of decrease was close to 40% .
Dr. Rhonda Patrick discusses how conditioning the body to heat stress through sauna use, called "hyperthermic conditioning" causes adaptations that increase athletic endurance (by increasing plasma volume and blood flow to heart and muscles) and muscle mass (by boosting levels of heat shock proteins and growth hormone). She also discusses the profound effects of hyperthermic conditioning on the brain including cognitive function.