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You’ve likely seen videos and posts on social media about sauna therapy - from sauna rooms to sauna blankets to infrared sauna therapy. Is sauna just the latest health and wellness trend, or is there science behind it? What is the hype all about? Read on to understand the different types of sauna therapy and whether sauna has beneficial effects on your thyroid health.
Traditional sauna bathing, or dry sauna, is a thermal therapy that originated in Finland. These saunas are usually made of wood and characterized by dry heat at a relatively high temperature, usually between 170 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and with little to no humidity. The heat is radiated by rocks that are kept in the sauna room. These sauna sessions are typically shorter; the duration depends on the bather’s comfort level with hot temperatures. Time in the sauna is interspersed with cooling-off periods in a pool, shower, or at room temperature. In a traditional Finnish sauna practice, a sauna bath is taken one to three times weekly.
Wet sauna therapy -- also called a steam room -- features water-filled generators that pump steam into an enclosed space, creating moisture and humidity in the air. The temperature ranges from 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity levels. A typical session lasts about 10 minutes.
Infrared saunas are a blend of sauna methods. Instead of high temperatures or steam, infrared saunas use infrared lamps and electromagnetics to create warmth. Temperatures range between 110 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, making infrared sauna treatments an excellent option for those who are either new to sauna use or uncomfortable with very hot temperatures. This sauna type is also called a far-infrared sauna, “far” describing the distance the infrared wavelengths fall on the light spectrum.
So now, which is the better option? That answer depends on your preference! The various sauna types share similar health benefits, including:
1) Supports cardiovascular health
Utilizing infrared saunas has been shown to support heart health and result in blood pressure reduction. While you’re in a sauna, it has beneficial effects, including opening your blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and encouraging greater blood oxygen transport. Nine studies have found that regular and consistent use of dry sauna therapy can improve congestive heart failure and other heart conditions.
2) Improves respiratory health and circulation
Wet sauna specifically helps to dilate blood vessels, which promotes increased circulation and allows blood and oxygen to flow more easily throughout the body. If you feel that your nasal passages are stuffy or you suffer from seasonal allergies, a sauna is beneficial to open your sinuses and clear out any mucus. Moderate to high use of sauna bathing is associated with a decreased risk of developing a respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or pneumonia.
3) Soothes sore and tired muscles
A study of 100 subjects of 100 subjects showed that having immediate regular exposure to moist heat for 20 minutes after a workout helps to “reduce pain and preserve muscle strength.” Heat also calms the nervous system and relaxes the muscles.
4) Reduces stress and promotes relaxation
Heat therapy offers psychological benefits due to the release of endorphins during sauna therapy. Endorphins are chemical messengers released when we feel pain or stress to help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve mood. We experience an endorphin release when we eat something delicious, get a massage, hug our pets, and have a sauna treatment. A controlled trial investigated sauna after four weeks of use by patients diagnosed with mild depression. The researchers reported noticeably improved relaxation scores compared to a control group who had bedrest for relaxation.
What about thyroid health? Improved heart health, respiratory health and circulation, relaxed muscles, and reduced stress are all good reasons for thyroid patients to consider sauna treatment. Other beneficial effects of sauna include a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s’, a reduction in chronic pain (including joint pain), improvements in skin appearance, reduced inflammation and cortisol levels, and detoxification and excretion of heavy metals and toxins.
With regard to thyroid health, sauna therapy has been shown to be incredibly beneficial. A 9-month study found that patients taking levothyroxine for hypothyroidism experienced improved thyroid function and reduced antibodies with regular sauna therapy. Most people battling hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease are also in a chronic state of inflammation. Utilizing infrared heat therapy, such as infrared saunas, can also help alleviate excess inflammation in the body.
If you don’t have access to a sauna, you still have options. You can purchase a convenient and portable sauna blanket and use it anywhere. It’s designed like a sleeping bag, so you can slip yourself in and let pain and stress melt away (literally!) A hot bath makes a good substitute for a sauna because both encourage sweating and raise your core body temperature. Fill the tub, add some essential oils to your bath, grab a book, and enjoy your “home thermal therapy!”
Please practice caution and speak with your healthcare provider before utilizing any sauna if you are pregnant, have heart disease, very low or very high blood pressure, epilepsy, or are taking any antibiotics or stimulants. Also, remember to stay well-hydrated if you are using any thermal therapies. If you have questions about whether sauna use is right for you and want to work with a practitioner who is an expert on hypothyroidism and Hashimotos’, reach out to one of our Paloma doctors for a virtual consultation. They’re ready to help and support you on your wellness journey with hypothyroidism, including lifestyle and complementary approaches to help you feel and live well.