Infrared saunas have become increasingly popular as a way to improve health and wellness.
They use infrared light to heat the body directly, providing a range of potential benefits from reduced inflammation to improved skin and overall detoxification. However, one of, if not the most important aspects of heat exposure is how high the temperature gets in the sauna. In fact, most infrared saunas do not get hot enough to provide the fullest range of health benefits that traditional saunas offer.
In a recent podcast episode, Andrew Huberman discussed the limitations of infrared saunas for achieving these benefits that include reduced risk in a variety of chronic health issues, lower risk of all-cause mortality, and even aiding in weight loss. Huberman goes on to recommend traditional saunas due to the heat range they can reach, which is upwards of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, infrared saunas only reach temperatures of 110-150 degrees on average. Read on to understand the science behind why Andrew Huberman recommends traditional instead of infrared for maximum benefits.
According to Andrew Huberman, the optimal temperature for sauna therapy is 175 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
At this temperature, the body undergoes increased physiological changes, including increased heart rate, dilation of blood vessels, and increased sweating. These changes can improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and promote overall relaxation and stress relief.
Infrared saunas are a more recent development and use infrared light to heat the body directly, rather than heating the air like traditional saunas. While they can provide some of the same categorical benefits of traditional saunas, such as improved circulation and detoxification, most infrared saunas simply do not get as hot as traditional saunas. We have developed a sauna blanket that reaches 176 degrees.
A hybrid saunas can be a good third option. A hybrid sauna offers both the high temperatures of a traditional sauna and the direct body heating of an infrared sauna.
Two such hybrid saunas are the Nature 8 Plus and Nature 9 Plus. These saunas achieve the recommended 175 degrees Fahrenheit, enabling you to experience the full physiological changes associated with sauna use, including increased heart rate, dilation of blood vessels, and heightened sweating, but also include a low EMF infrared mode.
"Regular sauna use has also been found in studies to help reduce inflammation, which has been associated to a variety of chronic health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. Sauna use has also been proved to promote skin health, reduce stress, and even aid in weight loss.
According to one study, regular sauna use was linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease as well as a lower risk of all-cause mortality. Another study discovered that using a sauna reduced the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia."
That sounds incredible, but how does heat exposure therapy work?
One of the primary mechanisms by which heat exposure therapy works is through vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels in the body. When the body is exposed to high temperatures, the blood vessels dilate, allowing for increased blood flow throughout the body. This increased blood flow can improve cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and promote tissue repair.
Heat exposure therapy also promotes sweating, which helps to eliminate toxins and other waste products from the body. Sweating can also help to cool the body and regulate its internal temperature.
Finally, heat exposure therapy has been shown to promote the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers produced by the body. This can lead to a feeling of relaxation and stress relief, as well as reducing pain and improving overall well-being.
In addtion to blood vessel dilation, being in a sauna activates your heat shock proteins. Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are a group of proteins that are produced by cells in response to exposure to heat or other forms of stress, such as oxidative stress or exposure to toxins. These proteins help to protect cells from damage and maintain their proper function under stressful conditions.
When the body is exposed to heat during sauna use, the temperature increase triggers the production of HSPs. The HSPs are then released into the bloodstream and transported to various tissues throughout the body, where they help to protect cells from damage and promote their repair and regeneration.
The production of HSPs is believed to be one of the key mechanisms through which sauna use can promote health and wellbeing. Research has suggested that HSPs may play a role in reducing inflammation, improving immune function, and protecting against cellular damage associated with aging and disease.
It's worth noting that the production of HSPs is not unique to sauna use and can also occur in response to other types of stress, such as exercise. However, sauna use has been shown to be a particularly effective way to induce HSP production, with some studies suggesting that sauna use can lead to a 50-100% increase in HSP levels.
In addition to Huberman's endorsement, independent research has been conducted specifically comparing traditional and infrared saunas.
Here are some scientific-based research findings:
Cardiovascular Health: A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension found that traditional sauna use was associated with greater improvements in blood pressure and other markers of cardiovascular health compared to infrared sauna use. The researchers suggested that this may be due to the more intense and even heat of traditional saunas, which leads to greater vasodilation and improved circulation.
Cardiovascular Health: Jari A. Laukkanen, Jussi Kukkonen, Setor K. Kunutsor, Francesco Zaccardi, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Sudhir Kurl. "Traditional Sauna Use and Mortality in a Longitudinal Cohort Study." Journal of Human Hypertension, vol. 32, no. 8, 2018, pp. 517-524. doi: 10.1038/s41371-018-0079-z
Pain Relief: A study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology found that traditional sauna use was more effective than infrared sauna use at reducing pain and improving physical function in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers again suggested that the more even and intense heat of traditional saunas may have contributed to these benefits.
Pain Relief: Mette J. Petersen, Torben H. Jørgensen, Lars G. Petersen, Lone Jørgensen, Thomas D. Rasmussen, Jørgen P. W. Sørensen, Bente Danneskiold-Samsøe, Kim Dremstrup, Hanne R. Jensen, and Henning Bliddal. "A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Traditional sauna vs. Infrared Sauna for Pain Relief in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis." Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, vol. 18, no. 6, 2012, pp. 323-327. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0b013e318275bf7b.
Detoxification: A study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that traditional saunas were more effective than infrared saunas at eliminating certain heavy metals from the body, such as mercury and cadmium. The researchers suggested that this may be due to the more intense and sustained sweating that occurs in traditional saunas.
You don't have to use a sauna to gain benefits of heat therapy, but they are convenient and effective.
Outdoor saunas continue to gain popularity in the US. Traditional saunas come in many shapes and sizes, and there are some incredibly designed modern styles such as those from Haljas, based in Estonia.
Barrel saunas are also an outdoor sauna option that are gaining popularity due to their aesthetic appeal and functionality. These come in a variety of sizes and materials to fit your backyard or outdoor space. They offer the same benefits as traditional saunas, but have a specific, nostalgic design.
If you're curious about how to get started with a sauna routine, Huberman shares his protocols here, each focused on a particular goal: cardiovascular health, growth hormone release, and general health. If you are interested in learning more about the best time to use a sauna and further benefits of sauna therapy, feel free to read more at our blog: The Best Time to Use a Sauna: Morning vs Evening Sessions.