Far Infrared Sauna Technology.
"Horses sweat and people perspire, my dear," who has not heard this well mannered refrain? Getting hot and then getting all sweaty, that sticky, prickly and often unsightly condition that signals overheating, excitement and sometimes fear. Many of us have an aversion to one of our body's most natural and important functions, especially in public places. In the right circumstances, perhaps with the lights out, most of us would agree that sweating can be fun, and that we often feel pretty good afterwards. Whether we are exercising, working strenuously or perhaps just experiencing a particularly hot and humid day, our bodies perspire to cool us down. What is also happening is that we are cleaning our largest single organ; our skin, as our sweat carries away toxins and impurities.
Sweating is an essential physical process, as it regulates the critical internal temperature of our bodies at around 37C. The skin has greater complexity in its make-up than any other bodily organ save the brain. Composed of blood vessels, nerve endings, pigmentation and lymph vessels, oil glands, hair follicles, cells that waterproof and prevent entry to bacteria, and our many sweat glands. Our skin is so vital that death will occur within hours if its pores and sweat passages are smothered. We have 2.3 million sweat glands embedded in our skin and these are activated by heat sensitive nerve endings, which produce the chemical, acetycholine, as an alerting agent. However not all of them respond as the aprocine sweat glands, located in our pubic and arm pit areas, are activated only by emotional stimuli. They carry a faint scent whose purpose is believed to arouse the sex drive. Nevertheless, the eccrine sweat glands, by far the most abundant, respond to heat.
Heating up the body on purpose through saunas, hot springs and steam rooms has been with us for as long as we have had recorded history. Broaching most cultures from east to west, thermal therapy has a rich and varied past. The baths of Ancient Rome and their importance to the socialisation of that particular civilisation are well documented. Bathing rituals that involved heating up the body and causing the participants to perspire and then scrubbing and massaging the skin are deeply embedded in these cultures. I suspect that the origin of these rituals had something to do with how good you felt afterwards and that feeling great impacted positively on their health.
Thermae, is from the Greek word for heat, and Roman engineers devised the hypocaust method to heat the bath air to temperatures exceeding l00 C. -so hot that bathers had to wear special shoes to protect their feet from blistering upon the floor.
Bathers would journey through three distinct chambers, beginning with the tepidarium, the largest and most luxurious in the thermae. Here, the bather relaxed for an hour or so while being anointed with oils. Then he moved into the little bathing stalls of the caldarium, providing a choice of hot or cold water for private bathing. They were usually built on the periphery of the main bathing room, under which the central fire burned. The final and hottest chamber was the laconicum where the scraping of the skin and vigorous massage was executed, amid much healthy sweating.
The oldest know medical document, the Ayurveda, appeared in Sanskrit in 568 BC and considered sweating so important to health that it prescribed the sweat bath and thirteen other methods of inducing sweat. Sauna rituals and techniques vary from culture to culture - how hot; how wet or dry and whether oils or inhalations are employed. In the Turkish bathing traditions, for example, the body sweats more profusely in the hotter (80-100 degree C) and drier (15-25%) atmosphere of the Turkish bath. In Finland & Russia immersion in very cold water usually follows the sauna experience, and this is viewed as particularly good for heart function and the pores of the skin. The sweat lodges of the Native American Indian involve hot rocks and steam and an intensely communal experience. I remember my own sweat lodge experience, in the wilds of Bermagui in southern NSW, with a seemingly sadistic, Scottish, medicine wheel guide. Sixty stark naked bodies crawled inside the hottest, stuffiest bush oven known to this man, and amid chanting and my eye balls feeling like they were cooking in their own sockets we sweated like the denizens of hell for far longer than humanly possible, in my humble opinion anyway. After slithering over half a dozen hot bodies I at last found the only entry/exit and expunged myself from there; before plunging into a shallow creek and steaming relief.
From one extreme to another the advent of the infrared-ray sauna has greatly improved the efficiency and accessibility of the sauna experience. This dry sauna uses infrared heating elements that are enclosed in a lightweight timber box, creating a small room or closet of varying size. Now available for self-assembly and only needing a domestic power point it has ushered in the era of the home sauna. Where once saunas were very much a communal experience, the infrared sauna is a relatively affordable private health option. No longer do you need to spend vast amounts of money on plumbing or building structures, but rather it is now available in the 'flat pack,' erect it yourself and then just plug it in mode. The sauna has become a home health tool for the time and space poor big city inhabitant.
How does the infrared sauna work? It utilises infrared radiation, which is defined as electro-magnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than visible light but shorter than radio waves, and which we experience as heat. Far infrared radiant heat is a naturally occurring energy that heats objects by direct light conversion, meaning that it warms the object but not the surrounding air. This is the main point of difference between traditional saunas and infrared sauna, the air within the chamber is not heated and so breathing is easier and the heating is more energy efficient.
So what exactly are the health benefits of infrared thermal-therapy? We have known for sometime, through the use of infrared ray lamps, that infrared heat can relieve pain and accelerate healing. It achieves this by expanding blood vessels and increasing the circulation of blood and thus oxygen to the injured area of the body. In our increasingly polluted city environments and in combination with our more sedentary lifestyles the therapeutic value of the infrared sauna has become more acute. Recently hyperthermic or sweat therapy has been studied quite extensively and a body of research papers have been published in the scientific press. Through these studies it has been established that saunas can assist in the elimination of accumulated toxins from the body. Toxic heavy metals including mercury as well as organic toxins such as PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) and pesticide residues are excreted in high quantities during the sweating induced by the sauna experience. Heat causes toxins to be released from the cells. The toxic molecules then move temporarily to our lymph fluid, and because sweat is derived from this lymph fluid, the toxins are then carried out of the body. As the liver and kidneys are not involved directly in this process, it can allow detoxification to occur in those with impaired kidney or liver function.
During a 15-minute sauna, sweating can perform the heavy metal excretion that would take the kidneys 24 working hours. Ninety-nine percent of what sweat brings to the surface of the skin is water, but the remaining one percent is mostly undesirable wastes. Excessive salt carried by sweat is generally believed to be beneficial for cases of mild hypertension. Sweating is such an effective de-toxifier that some doctors recommend home saunas to supplement kidney dialysis. Sweat also draws out lactic acid, which causes stiff muscles and contributes to general fatigue. Sweat flushes out toxic metals such as copper, lead, zinc and mercury, which the body absorbs in polluted environments.
Even in Australia, a hot climate country, many of us in this sedentary age simply don't sweat enough, as we move from our air-conditioned homes, offices and cars. Antiperspirants, artificial environments, pollution, synthetic clothing, toxic and physically idle lifestyles all conspire to clog skin pores and inhibit the healthy flow of sweat. When you have a sauna your skin temperature may increase by as much as 10C but your body's internal temperature will only increase from 1C to 3C. Still the sauna induces the body to mimic a feverish state, which can kill off harmful bacteria and also provides a workout for your body's organs, as if you were jogging or stretching. During a 15 minute sauna you can excrete on average a litre of perspiration, and this sweat from the eccrine glands is usually clear and odourless. Any odour present would be from bacteria.
In Japan at the Graduate School of Medicine at Kagoshima University in the Department of Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Metabolic Medicine, they have been testing systematic thermal therapy on patients with congestive heart failure caused by lifestyle related illnesses. The patients were exposed to 15 minutes of infrared sauna at 60C for 2 weeks and the results showed considerable improvement in a number of areas. Heart function was positively stimulated for those unable to exercise and weight loss resulted in the obese.
Hyperthermic therapy is also one of the few means in which to bring about a significant rise in the level of growth hormone, and this hormone helps us to maintain lean body tissue including muscle. Ghrelin is the natural ligand of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor and strongly stimulates growth hormone secretion. Ghrelin is actively involved in balancing food intake and weight gain. Energy intake and body weight are controlled by circuits in the hypothalamic region of our brain and the hormone leptin is involved in providing feedback to this system. It has been posited that leptin may regulate satiety, energy expenditure and weight gain, and leptin deficiency may be a cause of obesity. It was noted in the Japanese study that the responses of plasma ghrelin to food intake and repeated infrared sauna therapy were different between obese and non-obese subjects. The ghrelin levels fell in the non-obese but remained the same in the obese group. The obese subjects decreased their body weight substantially without any physical exercise during the study period.
In my own experience with infrared sauna, I was lucky enough to have a trial period of 10 weeks, in which the sauna was erected at my home, and I had a daily sauna of 20 minutes. After initial experimentation I had the temperature of the sauna at between 55C & 60C during the 20 minute period. Like all new things there was a time of adjustment and at the very beginning I found the infrared heat quite intense and had to get used to the enclosed feeling. I made a few mistakes like not drinking enough water and trial and error gave me a headache or two.
Reading the recommendations and instructions that are posted inside the sauna with a greater degree of care was a definite move in the right direction. There it was, "always drink plenty of water, prior to your sauna, during your sauna and after your sauna." I had seriously underestimated the amount of water required, but now with practiced familiarity I take in a 1.25 litre bottle of purified water, along with my morning newspaper and a towel. Drinking water during the sauna is a necessity, and when you consider that you are sweating out a litre in 15 minutes at 60C it is a natural re-balancing of the body's H2O levels. Quite often a quick trip to the toilet post sauna will result in a big clean out, especially if I have over indulged the night before. This flushing, reminds me of the results after a colonic irrigation, obviously the heat is speeding up my body's processes. If I have drunk enough water then I feel fantastic after this expunging of wastes and ready to meet the day.
Another instruction is do not use the sauna under the effects of alcohol, as this can have dire consequences in relation to the thinning of your blood by both the sauna and the effects of alcohol. There went my fantasy of sipping champagne in the nude in my own sauna on the balcony. In actual fact the discipline of not drinking around the sauna has been an unexpected health benefit as well. So often in the city I find that I turn to a glass of wine after work to unwind, as it is such a hassle to find a park or go to a gym to get that space to exercise. However with the sauna I found that I could speed up my heart rate, detoxify and stay in the nude on my own balcony.
I took a niggling physical injury into my infrared sauna trial, a strained Achilles tendon that was the result of some injudicious domestic furniture moving, and I was surprised to realise a few days later that it had completely disappeared. Also since the regular thermatherapy treatments have begun I have not experienced any strains from my sporadic forays onto the tennis courts, which is unusual. My skin is cleaner and seems to have a healthier glow or colour to it, and the number of friends who commented on how well I looked, made me think, that I probably really needed this. All in all I am feeling more alive and positive about things.
I have lost weight and although I could do with losing some more, I am not that fussed about this aspect of it. I am not going to go the way of the horse jockey and stay in the sauna forever, and again the instructions state, "do not exceed 40 minutes inside the sauna." I find also that the sweating process continues long after I have departed the box and that a shower and more liquid replenishment is required. A hot shower or bath is recommended prior to your sauna to get things moving quickly. When you first turn on the infrared sauna it will begin at room temperature and the five infrared heating elements soon increase this. There is a temperature control button so that you can set the limit and a timer so that you know how long you have been in there. The timer automatically shuts everything down when it reaches the end of its cycle, for safety reasons I presume.
My wife who also took part in a daily thermatherapy regime reported to me that her skin felt cleaner and more toned, and that she loved the resultant relaxing of her body's muscles. In particular when pre-menstrual she felt that the sauna relieved her of water retention problems. I noticed that she also lost weight and that she was generally more relaxed.
The actual arrival and erection of the sauna on my balcony was a fairly traumatic occasion, as they literally do come as flat -packs. Two enormous rectangular cardboard boxes were delivered to my residence by a chap in a decidedly small Ute, who shared with me the fact that he had recently cracked one of his ribs and that he would be unable to help me get the flat-packs up my stairs or indeed off the back of his Ute. I pondered at this time about the age we live in, where it seemed that all household purchases now came in flat-packs, whether it be king sized beds, cupboards, bookcases and now even saunas, and that the savings one made were equally dependent upon one's innate engineering skills, and how some Swedish bastard called Ikea was responsible for all this and that one day I would find him.
Shelving these musings I lumped this truly enormous box on my shoulders and dragged it off the Ute's tray and onto my front step, before repeating this Herculean feat again with the second flat-pack. All the while being watched by the indifferent delivery driver. Once inside I confess that my wife and I broke up the boxes and carried the timber panels singly up the stairs and out onto the balcony. Thoughts of great follies committed by historical figures tumbled through my head. Would we really be able to put together a sauna by ourselves on our balcony? The answer luckily was no, as our flat mate from downstairs, who had trained in tanks in the Australian army, was soon on hand to direct proceedings. Several hours later amid the odd broken thing we had a spiffy looking sauna, standing like a Finnish sentinel on our balcony. Would it actually work and who would be the first to try it? I could not avoid the odd errant thought of being cooked alive inside this box with five elements. However by this time we had dinner guests about to arrive & as our dining table abutted the sauna we used its in-built CD player first as our entertainment station.
In retrospect it is all fairly laughable and I would probably pay the extra to have a professional put it all together. It is however all still working perfectly 3 months later and the sauna has become one of our indispensable healthy lifestyle accessories. That it fits into my small home and as I have not felt so good in years has turned me into a big fan of therma-therapy.
The Journal of American Medical Association states: "A moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 grams in a sauna, consuming nearly 300 kcal, which is equivalent to running 2 to 3 miles". The Infrared Thermal System might stimulate the consumption of energy equal to that expanded in a 6 to 9 mile run during only one single session of 30 minutes. The Infrared Thermal System can play a pivotal role in both weight control and cardiovascular conditioning.
TITLE : Electromagnetic Wave Emitting Products - Potentiate Human Leukocyte Functions
AUTHOR : Niwa Y; Iizawa O; Ishimoto K
SOURCE : Int. J. Biometeorol 1993 Sept; 37(3):133-8
Repeated Sauna Treatment Improves Vascular Endothelial and Cardiac Function in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure
Kihara T, Biro S, Imamura M, et al
Journal of the American College of Cardiology
March 6, 2002 (Volume 39, Number 5)
Sadatoshi Biro, Akinori Masuda, Takashi Kihara and Chuwa Tei1
Department of Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Metabolic Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Kagoshima University, Kagoshima 890-8520, Japan
Health Effects of PCBs
PCBs have been demonstrated to cause a variety of adverse health effects. PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals. PCBs have also been shown to cause a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. Studies in humans provide supportive evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs. The different health effects of PCBs may be interrelated, as alterations in one system may have significant implications for the other systems of the body. The potential health effects of PCB exposure are discussed in greater detail below.
EPA uses a weight-of-evidence approach in evaluating the potential carcinogenicity of environmental contaminants. EPA's approach permits evaluation of the complete carcinogenicity database, and allows the results of individual studies to be viewed in the context of all of the other available studies. Studies in animals provide conclusive evidence that PCBs cause cancer. Studies in humans raise further concerns regarding the potential carcinogenicity of PCBs. Taken together, the data strongly suggest that PCBs are probable human carcinogens.
PCBs are one of the most widely studied environmental contaminants, and many studies in animals and human populations have been performed to assess the potential carcinogenicity of PCBs. EPA's first assessment of PCB carcinogenicity was completed in 1987. At that time, data were limited to Aroclor 1260. In 1996, at the direction of Congress, EPA completed a reassessment of PCB carcinogenicity, titled "PCBs: Cancer Dose-Response Assessment and Application to Environmental Mixtures" [PDF]. In addition to Aroclor 1260, new studies provided data on Aroclors 1016, 1242, and 1254. EPA's cancer reassessment reflected the Agency's commitment to the use of the best science in evaluating health effects of PCBs. EPA's cancer reassessment was peer reviewed by 15 experts on PCBs, including scientists from government, academia and industry. The peer reviewers agreed with EPA's conclusion that PCBs are probable human carcinogens.
Appeared in WellBeing Magazine