There are common underlying root causes in Hashimoto’s, including nutrient deficiencies, food sensitivities, an impaired ability to handle stress, intestinal permeability, chronic infections, and an impaired ability to handle toxins. In many cases, a person will have more than just one root cause, and addressing all of these elements can help us feel better. For this article, I’d like to focus on a solution that can help with detoxification.
Back in 2014 when I spent a year living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, I experienced a Hashimoto’s flare-up after having been in remission for some time.
I had tingling in my arms and legs, fatigue, hair loss, mood changes, tremors, and brain fog…
My symptoms were very much aligned with toxicity, and though I didn’t have access to test my level of heavy metals, I decided I wanted to do something about it. I found a local gym that had a sauna, and I decided I would do a few sessions.
I came out of the women’s dressing room and opened up the sauna. Much to my surprise, I almost walked into a very tall, and very naked Dutch man, who was standing in the sauna! I turned around and ran back into the women’s dressing room and asked, “Is it customary that the sauna is co-ed, and people go in the nude?”
One of the kind ladies offered, “Yes it is, we just close our eyes if we don’t want to see.” 🙂
I have to admit, I was a bit frazzled! Instead of braving the sauna with the strange, naked men and working to get rid of toxins to heal my body, I decided to just go home!
On my next trip to the United States, I ended up learning that I had arsenic toxicity, so I used liver support supplements (including curcumin, selenium, and NAC), sauna therapy (at a gym where I wore my workout clothes and only sat with other women :-)), and spent a day swimming in hot springs with my brother in Colorado. This combination helped me recover from my month-long symptoms, in just a few days.
As soon as I came back to the United States and bought my own home, I decided to get my own sauna! I love the convenience of having a sauna right in my home when I want to use it, and as an added bonus, my husband is the only man that I may walk into when I go in to use it. 🙂 We use the sauna on a regular basis for health maintenance and whenever we feel like we’re getting sick, or feel the need to do a little more detoxification (like after a trip to Napa Valley for wine tasting).
Sweating is one of the best ways to get rid of toxins. In fact, certain toxins, like cadmium and nickel, will be more concentrated in our sweat than in our urine. You can increase your sweating through numerous ways, such as exercise, hot yoga, and hot baths. I actually like doing all of the above, but saunas tend to carry additional health benefits not found in the other therapies.
I love using saunas for detoxification, as they offer a more gentle alternative to forceful detoxification methods like chelation. In fact, saunas are recommended by integrative doctors for people who are not able to tolerate chelation.
In my survey of over 2000 people with Hashimoto’s, fifty seven percent of people with Hashimoto’s have reported that using a sauna can make them feel significantly better – about 53 percent reported feeling more energy, and additional improvements were seen in mood, skin health, pain levels and even weight! Some of the benefits may be noticeable immediately – saunas raise our core body temperature, and thus our thyroid gland doesn’t have to work as hard to manage our metabolism and warmth. But there are numerous other long-term benefits that can be seen with using saunas on a regular basis…
In the following article, you’ll discover:
- The difference between a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna
- The various types of infrared saunas
- How saunas can help with detoxification, pain relief, circulation, weight loss, aging, cardiac function, and wound healing
- How to use infrared saunas
- Who shouldn’t use saunas
What’s the Difference Between a Traditional Sauna and an Infrared Sauna?
Many of you may be familiar with traditional saunas, formally known as Finnish saunas. You may have seen one at your gym, your local spa, or at a hotel – or you may have even toured an authentic Roman bath on a trip abroad. During the days of the Roman Empire, it was commonplace to take the time to sweat out the day’s worth of toxins, and they used it as a way to de-stress and unwind. It was just as much a social occasion as it was a way to improve one’s health.
The ancient Romans might have been onto something, although they might not have realized just how beneficial saunas can be for your health, as they could not have predicted the innovations that would come.
Over the centuries, various forms of heat therapy have been employed to treat a large range of ailments. In the past 20 years, infrared sauna therapy has become popular and more widely available.
Until recently, few studies had been done to find out exactly how heat therapy can benefit symptoms such as pain, fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, and wound healing – all of which are often present in cases of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. It was simply accepted anecdotally as something that might work. However, as the infrared sauna has gained in popularity, the demand to understand how it can help those of us with autoimmune disease has increased as well.
To understand the benefits of infrared heat and how it works in the body, we must first understand the difference between the traditional sauna and the infrared sauna, as well as the various types of infrared light.
Traditional saunas have either wood stoves or electric heaters that heat the air to approximately 160-210°F (70–100°C). The humidity is usually 10-20 percent. Most people who participate in a Finnish sauna bath will stay for approximately 5-20 minutes. The warmed air that is created in the sauna is what heats the skin, but the heat only penetrates the skin by a couple millimeters. (8)
Infrared saunas, on the other hand, are only heated to 104-140°F (40-60°C). They heat the body directly versus using air as a means to create heat. The resulting heat penetrates much deeper and also stimulates a much more vigorous sweat than the traditional sauna. Whereas the traditional sauna penetrates a few millimeters, the infrared sauna reaches 3-4 centimeters into the fat tissue and neuromuscular system. It achieves this even when using less heat than its traditional counterpart, providing a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, the demand on the cardiovascular system is significantly less, so the body does not have to do more work in order to get the added benefits. (8)
Are There Different Types of Infrared?
Infrared light is an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, and its wavelength is longer than that of visible light. You may have heard of other terms associated with infrared such as far-infrared, middle-infrared, or near-infrared. These different terms correspond with the varying wavelengths of infrared radiation. What is most important for you to take away from this is that the different wavelengths of infrared radiation serve different purposes in regards to Hashimoto’s.
In this article, I am describing eight key benefits of infrared saunas, but keep in mind the benefits mentioned correspond with differing wavelengths in the infrared spectrum.
For instance, far-infrared, which is the most widely-known term, is responsible for the deep detoxification and weight loss benefits of the infrared sauna. Middle-infrared light helps reduce pain and addresses inflammation. Near-infrared is most often associated with skin renewal and wound healing.
Different goals call for different types of infrared saunas, so try to remember this as you search for the appropriate sauna for your personal needs.
Are Infrared Rays Bad for Me?
Before we go any further, let’s clear up any myths or confusion about infrared rays. Infrared light is experienced as heat. It’s invisible and part of the sun’s spectrum that penetrates cell tissue; and the reaction from that penetration results in multiple health benefits. The studies I cite in this article repeatedly confirm that there are no known side effects to infrared heat.
However, a note of warning: as with any detoxification treatment, it is best to start gradually and work your way up to a longer length of time in the sauna. Just as you have heard me suggest you do when starting a workout program, keep in mind that after sitting in the infrared sauna, you are supposed to feel better, not worse. If you feel worse after your sauna sessions, it is likely that you stayed in for too long and should adjust your treatment plan accordingly. There can be too much of a good thing!
Did You Know That Infrared Saunas Can Help with All of the Following?
- Relaxation and Stress Relief
- Detoxification and Cellular Health
- Pain Relief
- Circulation Improvement
- Weight Loss
- Skin Cleansing/Anti-Aging
- Improvements to Cardiac Function and Blood Pressure
- Wound Healing
As you can see, this is a very expansive list. And the best news about it? It’s all scientifically proven! You can get all these benefits from doing just one thing: using an infrared sauna regularly.
1. Relaxation and Stress Relief
If you’ve followed my work, you’re familiar with the importance of addressing stress in a healthy way in order to keep the adrenal glands functioning at their optimal level. Sitting in an infrared sauna is a relaxing experience. As it turns out, there is a scientific explanation for why.
The sympathetic nervous system and HPA-axis (which sends out hormones in response to stress) try to respond when the body is stressed by the body temperature rising. When a person is in the infrared sauna, their levels of norepinephrine (a type of stress hormone) rise, but the body’s other stress hormones, epinephrine and cortisol, do not.
Growth hormone, beta-endorphins, and prolactin also increase. Beta-endorphins account for the reason a sauna session feels so pleasurable. The muscles also relax, allowing the body to release any tension and be free of stress.
During this time, the body’s parasympathetic nervous system has taken over, putting the body into a state of complete relaxation. When your body is in a state of complete relaxation, you are able to tap into your body’s inner healing mechanism, which is an important part of treating any autoimmune disease.
Infrared sauna use may also come with a bonus benefit: in my 2015 survey of 2332 readers with Hashimoto’s, 74 percent of people reported that using a sauna boosted their overall mood.
2. Saunas Aid in the Detoxification Process
Whenever possible, I like to start my clients on gentle liver support because of the way it positions the body for optimal success. When our bodies are under stress from something like Hashimoto’s, we’re unable to handle an extensive detox, so I prefer a more gentle detox to start out. The infrared sauna is a great way to do this because it promotes the clearing of toxins without overstressing our already strained bodies.
I recently learned about a toxin test offered by the Great Plains Lab that can identify highly problematic toxins that can build up in the body, through a simple urine test.
These toxins can accumulate from gasoline additives that may leach into groundwater, plastics, household chemicals, paints, styrofoam, vehicle exhaust, glues, detergents, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.
I was very pleased that many of the toxins have been found to clear quicker from the body with the use of sauna therapy.
Here are a few sauna responsive toxins that the lab tests for (the lab also provides additional toxins and ways to get rid of each one):
- 2-hydroxyisobutyric acid (from exposure to gasoline additives that may leach into groundwater): may cause hepatic, kidney, and central nervous system toxicity, peripheral neural toxicity, and cancer
- Monoethyl phthalate (from exposure to phthalates that make plastics flexible, and are found in countless household products): may cause reproductive damage, depressed leukocyte function, and cancer; may also impede blood coagulation, lower testosterone, and alter sexual development in children
- Methylhippuric acid (from exposure to the solvent xylene, found in paints, lacquers, cleaning agents, pesticides, and gasoline): may cause an increase in oxidative stress with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, central nervous system depression, and death
- Phenylglyoxylic acid (from exposure to styrene, found in plastic and styrofoam containers used for food and beverages): may adversely impact the central nervous system and cause concentration problems, muscle weakness, fatigue, and nausea; may irritate the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat
- N-acetyl phenyl cysteine (from exposure to the solvent benzene in cigarette smoke, gasoline, and vehicle exhaust; it also out-gasses from synthetic fabrics, glues, and detergents): may cause symptoms of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lack of coordination, central nervous system depression, and death
- 2-hydroxyethyl mercapturic (due to exposure to vinyl chloride, used in the synthesis of major commercial chemicals): leads to an increased incidence of breast cancer and leukemia
- Dimethyl phosphate (which indicates exposure to an organophosphate insecticide): may lead to overstimulation of nerve cells, causing sweating, salivation, diarrhea, aggressive behavior, depression, and autism spectrum disorder
- 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (which can result from exposure to common herbicides used in agriculture and residential properties, and is used as a part of the chemical mixture called Agent Orange!): is an endocrine disruptor that can block hormone distribution and cause glandular breakdown; can also cause neuritis, weakness, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, peripheral neuropathy, stupor, seizures, brain damages, and impaired reflexes
- 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (from exposure to pyrethroid insecticides, commonly found in pet shampoos): may affect neurological development, disrupt hormones, induce cancer, suppress the immune system, and double the likelihood of autism in an exposed fetus
The infrared sauna’s role in detoxification involves our body’s sweat mechanism. Our skin is our largest organ, and when we sweat, it expels the toxins that have built up in our body. This includes cellular waste from what we may eat or drink, heavy metals, and any other toxins our body may have absorbed – such as pesticides, herbicides, fluoride, or chemicals in body products.
Toxins tend to reside deep inside our tissues (especially heavy metals), and when sitting in the infrared sauna, the infrared light heats us from the inside out, which enables us to release these toxins with ease. Removing the toxic burden makes room for us to receive the right nutrients, regenerate correctly, and have more energy.
If you have Hashimoto’s, you have probably noticed that you’re not sweating as much as you did when you were healthier. Hypothyroidism results in a decreased ability to sweat. Unfortunately, this causes a buildup of toxins that our body is unable to release. But, the infrared sauna takes the pressure off of the thyroid to heat the body.
If you’ve read my book, Hashimoto’s Protocol, I have a whole section dedicated to the importance of ridding the body of heavy metals, that you may be familiar with. The use of a sauna could potentially really help you with this — especially if you have reached a roadblock in your healing journey.
3. Pain Relief and Hashimoto’s
Like many of you, I experienced joint pain before I put my Hashimoto’s into remission. Pain can make us feel years older than we actually are – and while our diet plays a vital role in joint health, saunas are known to help in this as well!
Infrared saunas are known for natural pain relief, and the natural medicine community widely accepts them. They warm up aching muscles and joints, and soothe the pain that many of us struggle with from Hashimoto’s.
A recent Japanese study published in the journal Internal Medicine, showed that chronic pain patients experienced a significant reduction in pain levels (nearly 70 percent) after the first session of infrared sauna therapy. Pain scores also decreased significantly and remained low throughout the observation period. Researchers concluded that infrared heat therapy is effective for chronic pain treatment.
Many of my clients and readers with Hashimoto’s can attest to this. When I surveyed them in 2015, 41 percent of them found that saunas were helpful in reducing their pain!
4. Circulation Improvement
A lot of us have experienced intense coldness in our extremities as a symptom of hypothyroidism. Before I was in remission, I was always turning up the thermostat in our house… and my husband, Michael, was always turning it down. It was a thermostat duel!
In one study done in 2005 at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, 25 men that had coronary risk factors were compared to a control group of 10 men, before and after infrared sauna therapy. They did 15 minute sauna sessions followed by 30 minutes of relaxation under warm blankets, daily for 2 weeks. Other than this sauna therapy, they maintained their normal daily routine.
Blood flow increased by a remarkable 68 percent after 15 minutes of sauna therapy. This is awesome news for those of us with Hashimoto’s! I was always cold when I was sick, and the sauna is like a warm hug.
Sauna therapy can help to increase our internal body temperature, giving our thyroid a much-needed break from trying to increase it for us.
5. Weight Loss
It’s really quite incredible how the sauna can encourage weight loss. Essentially, as you heat up and sweat, toxins leave and you burn calories, thus triggering weight loss. In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one infrared sauna weight loss session burned up to 600 calories.
Dr. Richard Beever studied the effects of the infrared sauna on patients who had diabetes. Subjects were asked to attend 20 minute sauna sessions, three times a week, over a 3-month period – and to not make any other lifestyle changes. Waist and hip circumference were measured within 1-3 days of the final sauna session. There was a trend toward 2.33 centimeters lost in waist circumference. This was after only three months!
Consistent use is the key to achieving weight loss benefits, gradually working up to longer and more frequent sessions.
While not a magic bullet, 20 percent of people with Hashimoto’s in my survey of 2332 readers, reported improved weight after using a sauna!
6. Anti-Aging Benefits to the Skin
When we’re sick and our bodies are not detoxing well, our skin is at risk of aging. While aging is a very natural and beautiful process, it’s important to take care of ourselves both inside and out! Saunas penetrate the tissue underneath the skin and produce an anti-aging benefit that is safe and effective.
A study done in Seoul, Korea, analyzed infrared radiation’s effect on the skin, specifically on collagen and elastin production. Twenty females with facial wrinkles and hyperpigmented lesions were enrolled and received 15-20 minute daily treatments of far-infrared radiation for six months. After this period, the skin biopsies that were taken prior to the start of the study and also one month after treatment, were compared.
Once again, the results showed yet another benefit to infrared radiation. The content of both collagen and elastin in the skin increased after infrared radiation. The patients reported (51-75 percent) improvements in skin texture and roughness; and fair (25-50 percent) improvement in the color tone of their skin. Furthermore, the improvements to collagen and elastin levels increased as the amount of time the skin was exposed to infrared treatment increased.
Overall, 42 percent of people with Hashimoto’s that I surveyed, saw improvements in their skin with sauna therapy. I love that saunas provide us a non-invasive way to keep our skin glowing and youthful!
7. Improvements to Cardiac Function and Blood Pressure
Cardiac issues can often co-occur in people with thyroid issues. The Journal of Cardiology discovered that far-infrared sauna therapy improves clinical symptoms and cardiac function. It also found that infrared light decreased the heart size in patients with chronic heart failure, and that repeated exposure to sauna treatments improved patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. They concluded that saunas play a preventative role for arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of artery walls).
The researchers in this study also suggested that there might be multiple mechanisms at play that allow the infrared sauna to lower oxidative stress, but more research needs to be done in this area.
Additionally, many people with Hashimoto’s have low blood pressure. Saunas are reported to lower blood pressure, at least temporarily. If you tend to have low blood pressure, you would want to be sure to monitor for lightheadedness and other signs that your blood pressure may be getting too low.
8. Wound Healing and Cell Regeneration
Inflammation, hypothyroidism and autoimmune disease can be associated with poor wound and skin healing. While the role of thyroid hormone in wound healing is currently controversial in scientific literature, one thing can be certain: infrared technology has been proven to be incredibly helpful in promoting speedy skin recovery.
A study by NASA involving light-emitting diodes (LEDs) found that near-infrared light therapy can significantly improve human tissue growth, as well as promote faster cell regeneration and wound healing, by delivering light deep into tissues of the body. In fact, in some cases, human cell growth increased by 155 to 171 percent, and wound size decreased by up to 36 percent in the study’s rat models.
This finding shows that near-infrared light therapy may help with significantly enhancing the wound healing process of those with Hashimoto’s, leading to healthier looking skin and a stronger barrier to protect your body from harmful toxins.
Tips for Using an Infrared Sauna
As you can see, there are so many benefits to using infrared saunas. I love using my sauna time as an excuse to unwind and relax. The sauna is a great place to meditate, read, journal, and listen to music.
I recommend starting 5-10 minutes once per week at a temperature of 105°F, then slowly working your way up to 20 minute sessions. After one month of safely doing a 20 minute session and feeling great afterwards, you can go up to two sessions per week.
Ideally, you will want to use the infrared sauna daily to get the most benefit. Over time, if you feel comfortable, you can slowly increase the temperature to as high as 140°F. (If the high temperature is not comfortable for you, don’t worry about it — do what is comfortable for your body.)
The goal is to work up a good sweat without feeling faint, fatigued, dizzy, weak, or dehydrated. If you feel light-headed or unwell, get out. Just like a good workout, as I mentioned, you are supposed to feel better after using the infrared sauna, not worse. I do not recommend pushing through and struggling in the name of detoxification! Slow and steady wins the race!
Also, remember to stay hydrated. You’re going to be sweating quite a bit, so it’s easy to get dehydrated. I recommend drinking purified water, so you know you’re not putting toxins back in through water. Adding in some electrolytes, such as Rootcology Electrolyte Blend, can also help ensure your body is well hydrated after a good sweat session.
Do NOT use a sauna if you…
- Are taking medications that may impact your heart, your ability to sweat, or your level of alertness – such as diuretics, some heart medications, opiates or sedatives (check with your doctor or pharmacist)
- Have a heart condition that includes unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, or severe aortic stenosis
- Are someone who’s prone to bleeding
- Have a fever
- Are menstruating
- Have breast implants
- Are pregnant
Sauna use may not be recommended in other specific circumstances as well. You can learn more about infrared sauna contraindications on Sunlighten’s website.
Who should NOT use a sauna:
- Elderly people
- Pregnant mothers
You might find that the infrared sauna helps one symptom or a myriad of symptoms. It’s going to be different for every person. The important thing to remember is this: do what’s beneficial for you and your body. Be safe, talk to your functional medicine practitioner, and keep your chin up. You’re on a great path toward remission, and though it might not be easy, it’s definitely worth it!
My Sauna of Choice
The more I’ve researched saunas, the more I’ve realized that not all infrared saunas are created the same. I’m a lover of research, case studies, and facts, which is one reason why I like Sunlighten saunas. Their products are based on extensive research combined with personal experience.
Healthy lifestyle interventions are not a one-size-fits-all approach. Sunlighten totally understands that and works to find the best fit for you. They have the following options available:
- Far-infrared saunas
- 3-in-1 saunas (which have all three spectrums of infrared light)
- Low EMF technology (you can see the third-party test results here)
- ADA compliant saunas
- Portable saunas
Sunlighten saunas have a timer you can set when you’re ready — that way, you don’t have to wait for yours to heat up. If you’re a planner or busy like me, then this feature is going to be a favorite. There are even options to play music, so you have the best experience possible, catered to your exact needs.
Once again, we all have different root causes and differing levels of inflammation, and we are at different places in our healing journey. Remember… every protocol you decide to follow must be as unique and special as you are!
I know an infrared sauna is a large purchase and may not be possible for everyone. Many local spas have infrared saunas available, and they are often Sunlighten saunas. They usually charge by the minute or have discount session packages available. A simple Google search will help you find one.
Sweating can be a powerful tool for health, and an infrared sauna offers many benefits to people with Hashimoto’s, including stress relief, detoxification, pain relief, improved circulation, weight loss, clearer skin, lowered blood pressure, and wound healing.
It’s important to know the benefits and contraindications of the various types of saunas, so that you can find the one that helps you the most on your healing journey. Though purchasing a sauna can be a big investment, I can personally attest to the many benefits I have received from using an infrared sauna on a regular basis, and feel that it is well worth the money spent for my well-being.
Have you tried the infrared sauna yet? If so, what have been your results? If not, do any of the above benefits speak to you?
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Originally published in February 2018, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.