Healthy Beginnings

Are far infrared saunas worth all the hype?

Far infrared saunas warm the body directly using light waves without actually heating the air in the room. Photo: Shutterstock

From the Jewish schvitz to the Native American sweat lodge, cultures around the globe have long believed in the health benefits of sweating it out in a hot room.

But today, modern technology has seeped into the age-old tradition with the growing popularity of the far infrared sauna.

Unlike regular saunas that heat the room with wood or electricity, far infrared saunas warm the body directly using light waves without actually heating the air in the room.

While this may sound unsafe, infrared heating is used in hospital neonatal units to keep babies warm without overheating them.

“Far infrared is a frequency that oxygenates the cells on a mitochondrial level and cellular level, so it brings in circulation and oxygenation much like we would experience when we run or workout,” explained Kerri Brehler, owner of Pinnacle Wellness Spa in Reno, which offers pods, wands and rooms where clients can experience far infrared heating.

The infrared heat penetrates the body more deeply than warmed air, giving sauna users a more vigorous sweat without the stifling heat.

Traditional saunas are heated anywhere between 150 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, which many people can only endure for short periods of time.

Brehler says the far infrared sauna “helps with stress, sleep, energy, muscle mass, lung oxygen, and mental clarity.”

While research is still limited on far infrared saunas, there is evidence to support the use of the heat therapy for heart health and chronic pain.

One research group out of Japan found that people with coronary risk factors that spent 15 minutes a day for two weeks in a far infrared sauna experienced a significant drop in blood pressure compared to a control group that spent an equal amount of time in a non-heated space.

Other studies found that time spent in a far infrared sauna could balance out irregular heartbeats and improve the quality of sleep for those with chronic pain.

But claims that the process is detoxifying — a buzzword in many health trends — are not supported by scientific evidence.

A recent study published in the journal Environment International shows that even when humans do sweat out pollutants, the amounts we excrete are negligible.

The researchers found that an average person doing 45 minutes of high-intensity exercise a day could sweat a total of two liters and that sweat would contain less than one-tenth of a nanogram of the pollutants we ingest from food and the environment every day.The liver and kidneys remove far more toxins than sweat glands.

Though the detoxification claims are unfounded, based on existing evidence, there are still benefits to using far infrared saunas, especially when it comes to heart health and managing chronic pain.

Claire Cudahy is a special assignments reporter for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings. Email her at ccudahy@swiftcom.com with feedback.