When the season turns cold and our immune systems are under attack, there’s nothing like the feeling of a hot sauna to bring about a feeling of relaxed vitality. However, did you know saunas are also great for your immune system? It’s true. Relaxing in the sauna a few times a week may be your best strategy for keeping healthy year-round.
Because there are so many strains of viruses and because they constantly adapt to the changing environment, there is still no consistently effective prevention or treatment strategy (vaccination or medication) for the common cold or flu. In fact, because viruses are constantly changing and becoming resistant to medications, it’s best to focus on strengthening your immune system rather than focusing on how to disarm the seemingly infinite number of microbes out there.
A study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that those who took anti-fever medications for a rhinovirus (cold virus) actually had a worse immune response compared to those who didn’t take the medication.
In this article, I’ll discuss how infrared saunas can help arm your own immune system against those ubiquitous “bugs.”
A sauna works similarly to a fever
When your body is fighting an infection like a cold or flu, the immune system causes an increase in temperature, anywhere from 100.9°F (38.3°C) or higher, which is considered a fever. This elevated temperature creates a less suitable environment for these destructive bugs.
Infrared saunas work similarly to a fever in the body. The infrared heat penetrates the skin and works deep in the tissues, raising core body temperature to about 102°F (39°C). The body responds to this simulated “fever” by stepping up its immune response and mobilizing the Th1 branch of the immune system. This branch is antiviral and antibacterial, as opposed to the antiparasitic and anti-allergic Th2 system.
Additionally, increasing the body temperature to within the range of a fever has been shown to improve the adaptive immune response. This helps the body “remember” the microbes you’ve been exposed to, and to be better prepared to fight them next time around. Near-infrared light activates white blood cells and increases antibodies against pathogens.
Saunas make us more resilient
While extreme stress and chronic stress are bad for us, small amounts of stress can be good for our bodies and make us more resilient. Think of exercise. Your muscles get sore, but then they get stronger. That’s an example of a concept called “hormesis.” Saunas are another cause of hormesis.
The high temperatures of the sauna are a short-term stress on the body and cause it to improve its adaptability to heat stress. “Heat shock proteins” are produced, which help the body do a better job of creating proteins for healing and metabolism. Heat shock proteins also improve the function of the immune system.
Spending time in an infrared sauna may literally make our immune systems younger. Since the immune system needs to be continuously replenished by immune stem cells located in the bone marrow and thymus, it is particularly affected by aging. Those stem cells get depleted over time and a person is more susceptible to viruses as he or she gets older.
The good news is that photobiomodulation from the near infrared spectrum is able to stimulate the mitochondria of those stem cells. The result? More white blood cells and a stronger immune system.
Saunas literally lower your stress response
You’ve probably noticed that just when you have too much on your plate, you also come down with a cold or flu. You’re forced to take a few days off… just when you don’t have time for it. We know that stress increases the levels of cortisol in the body, and it turns out that cortisol in turn lowers the body’s ability to fight off germs. Stress makes you more susceptible to getting a cold.
Enter, the infrared sauna. A 2015 Finnish study found that far infrared sauna bathing with its 3-4 cm penetration into tissue reduced cortisol levels in men who had just exercised. A review study also found far infrared therapy to be helpful for lowering cortisol.
Offsetting heightened stress hormones like cortisol will help your body stay balanced and ready to fight off any bug that comes along.
A sauna before bed can help you sleep
Everyone knows that not getting enough sleep sets you up for getting a virus. Deep sleep is especially important for maintaining a strong and balanced antiviral immune response. Many animals hibernate in the winter. There’s a reason the days are shorter and the nights are longer. Take advantage of those longer nights and get your rest.
According to board-certified sleep psychologist, Dr. Michael Breus, making sure you have a steep drop in body temperature in the evening before bed helps cue your body that it’s time to sleep. A warm bath may help, but a sauna is even better, as it penetrates deep into your tissues. Using the infrared sauna in the late afternoon or evening can help your body have a good drop in temperature before you hit the hay. Giving your body clear “zeitgebers,” or time indicators, like the drop in temperature before bed helps entrain your body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Using the sauna helps keep the common cold away
An Austrian study published in the Annals of Medicine had 25 healthy volunteers commit to regular sauna bathing while another 25 did not sauna bathe over a six month period. Those who regularly took saunas had significantly fewer incidences of the common cold than those who avoided saunas. The difference was especially notable after 14 consecutive weeks of sauna use. Regular usage is considered to be at least twice a week.
What I Use
To get the most from your infrared sauna, I highly recommend Sunlighten’s mPulse 3-in-1 infrared sauna. This sauna has three types of infrared waves in one sauna:
- NEAR-infrared spectrum
- MID-infrared spectrum
- FAR-infrared spectrum
The near-infrared (NIR) spectrum, delivered at the ideal wavelength of 880nm without extreme heat or light, stimulates your mitochondria (energy-producers of the cell) to promote immune cell growth and activity. It also helps reduce inflammation and pain and speeds healing.
The mid-infrared (MIR) spectrum is a longer wavelength that penetrates deep into your tissues, helping the body to heal from within. The MIR spectrum increases circulation, speeds healing, and supports deep, restorative sleep.
The far-infrared (FIR) spectrum is the longest wavelength, so it is deeply healing as it penetrates far into the body where toxins are stored. It raises your core body temperature and helps the body counteract stress.
The “mPulse” part of the name comes from the fact that the LED lights used in the sauna are pulsed so that the waves can travel deeper into the body.
If you’d like to get your own innovative, whole body restoration tool for strengthening your immune system and maximizing your resilience to stress, check out the Sunlighten mPulse 3-in-1 sauna. It’s the only infrared sauna on the market that features full-spectrum infrared therapy, as each spectrum of infrared waves are produced from a separate heating element. This allows it to reach peak wavelengths for each part of the spectrum and allows you to program them for any combination of NIR, MIR, and FIR waves.
Sunlighten mPulse saunas provide seven pre-set programs to allow you to meet your wellness goals:
- Healthy Aging
- Weight Loss
- Pain Relief
Please note that I am an affiliate for Sunlighten so I do receive a small percentage of sales, but all opinions are my own.
Not ready to own a sauna?
No worries – try at a place near you
If you do not have the space or budget to own a sauna, but you want to EXPERIENCE the benefits of an IR sauna, I asked Sunlighten for a list of spas, clinics and yoga studios that own a sauna and would allow a walk-in (at a fee).
Here is the list.
I can’t personally vouch for any of these locations but I think it’s worth it to call them and enquire. I’m hoping that this way more of you get to experience the benefits of an IR sauna. If your location isn’t listed here, you could call nearby integrative or chiropractic clinics as well as organic beauty spas and salons to enquire – many of them offer an IR sauna walk-in.
I hope this helps!
Photo by Zhang Kenny