Infrared Saunas Will Not ‘Detoxify’ You (hah!)

There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding infrared saunas. Some say that they are not as healthy as you may think. Others sources say that infrared saunas provide little to no health benefits and are a medical hoax. However, other sources make completely opposite claims. With all of this opposing information, it can be a real challenge determining what information is valid and what information isn’t.

Infrared Sauna Detoxification: Benefits, Myths, and the Truth About Its Health Effects

In this post, we will take an in-depth look at infrared saunas and their ability to help with detoxing and their claims to having health benefits, including addressing some of the more popular myths surrounding this topic. We will us factual information, clinical trial results, studies, and first-hand experiences from those that have undergone detox programs to determine what is fact and what is fiction. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

Infrared Sauna Myths

To begin, let’s address some of the popular myths associated with using infrared saunas and their usefulness for detoxing to see if we can debunk them or if they have any legitimacy. There are several myths floating around the internet. However, for our purposes, we are only going to address the most popular myths that seem to be found around every corner on the internet.

You cannot sweat out toxins.

There have been numerous studies conducted, beginning as far back as the 1970s, that have proven the human body can and does extract toxins from the body via the sweat glands. In fact, a study conducted in 2010 demonstrated that more cadmium was extracted from the body by sweat than it was through urine or blood plasma. Similar results were shown with other toxins such as lead and mercury. While there are other toxins typically found within the human body, more studies are needed to determine if they can be extracted through the skin.

Infrared saunas offer no health benefits.

Infrared light, the same used in infrared saunas, has been used for over half a century in medical settings. It has been used for premature babies to help regulate their body temperature and as a passive cardiovascular exercise routine for people suffering from heart disease. It has also been successfully used to detox the human body. Using infrared light as a detox method helps to rid the body of toxins such as heavy metals, Lyme and mold. Additionally, hospitals use infrared light to help remove toxic medications from patients undergoing cancer treatments.

The far infrared radiation is harmful to the human body.

Many consumers confuse infrared technology with the same type of technology used in tanning beds where the body is exposed to UV rays. UV rays, or UltraViolet, has been shown to have the potential to cause cancer with prolonged or repeated exposure. However, infrared saunas do not produce UV rays, they basically produce body heat. All living organisms produce very weak light, far infrared light, this process is referred to as biophoton emission. The human body produces 9.4 microns of far infrared light which is the same bandwidth of light produced by infrared saunas. Basically, infrared saunas use a manufactured version of this process to increase the bodies temperature.

There is no proof that you can detox your body using this method.

We are not sure how this myth became so common among the internet community. By spending a little time on a search engine, we were able to locate several sources of factual information that covers this very topic. Be sure to check out the “Resources Used” section at the end of this article.

Health Precautions

While there have not been reports of any health-related issues or injuries resulting from the use of infrared saunas, we do advise that you seek the guidance of your primary care physician before using any type of sauna.

Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas

Now that we have debunked some of the myths surrounding infrared saunas, let’s take a look and see what type of health benefits are possible with this type of sauna.

Increased Circulation

Saunas, regardless of how they are heated, have the same effect on the human body. The heart rate will increase to between 100 and 150 beats per minute, depending on how long a person sits in the sauna and will cause blood vessels to enlarge or widen. This is the same effect on the body as moderate to low exercise.

Easing Pain and Reducing Stress

Another health benefit that stems from increased circulation is reduced pain. Reduction of joint, muscle and arthritis pain has been shown to correlate with improved blood circulation. Additionally, spending some time in a sauna can help reduce stress levels and improve a persons wellbeing.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Saunas can also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events while helping to reduce your stress levels. According to an article published by Harvard Health Publishing, the amount of evidence showing that stress can increase the risk of cardiovascular health issues is growing. By using an infrared sauna to alleviate stress, you can also help to reduce cardiac risk.

Rejuvenation of the Skin

Over time, exposure to chemicals, such as chlorinated water and the use of synthetic clothing, can clog or congest the pores of your skin. Using a sauna will slowly restore your skin’s ability to extract harmful toxins from the body.

Possibly Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s

We say possibly because the study to determine if using a sauna helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s is still ongoing. However, according to an article located on the website medicalnewstoday.com, researchers in Finland have conducted a 20-year study that actually linked the use of a sauna with a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Of the 2,315 men observed during the study, those that used a sauna two or three times a week were 20 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and 22 percent less likely to develop dementia. Additionally, those that used a sauna four to seven days a week were 65 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and 66 percent less likely to develop dementia. While these numbers do look promising, keep in mind that further studies are still ongoing to confirm these findings.

Other Health Benefits

The use of a sauna may also help those that suffer from asthma since it can open airways, reduce stress, and loosen phlegm. Those that suffer from psoriasis could also try using a sauna to alleviate their symptoms.

Infrared Sauna Detoxification

One of the most debated topics regarding infrared saunas is if they actually help with detoxing the body of harmful elements or if it simply an unproven medical hoax drummed up by the industry to sell their units. While the use of infrared light technology has been used for a few decades in the medical environments, the debate over its usefulness as a detox method began a relatively short time ago.

In 2003, a study called the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project was conducted after firefighters that responded to the 9/11 events showed that their bodies had high levels of toxins. This study focused on using saunas as a method of detoxification. Much of the debate seems to have started after the co-founder of the project, actor Tom Cruise, was associated with the Church of Scientology. The detoxification program the project was using was invented by L. Ron Hubbard and part of the Bridge to Total Freedom. The Bridge to Total Freedom is a metaphor used by the Church that describes the advancement of believers within the religion and is a series of soteriological steps.

L. Ron Hubbards purification program had the following basic steps:

  • Running for 7 to 15 minutes to stimulate circulation.
  • Sessions in a sauna with certain vitamins taken, typically Niacin. Sessions would be four to five hours a day for one to two weeks. Short breaks were taken between sessions to hydrate and cool down by either an ice plunge pool or a cold shower.
  • A nutritional program that included the individuals’ regular diet with an abundance of fresh vegetables and high doses of essential oils and vitamin and mineral supplements included.

Many doctors have criticized the project, or more specifically the use of saunas as a method of detoxing as medically dangerous and pseudoscientific. The program was never officially supported by any police or fire department. Frank Gibbon, the Deputy Fire Commissioner of FDNY reported to The New York Times, ”while we are aware some members of the department have availed themselves of the program, we in no way endorse it.” Initially, the Uniformed Firefighters Association provided support for the project but withdrew after the connection with the Church of Scientology and Tom Cruise was brought to light. However, while L. Ron Hubbard may not have been a doctor, his detox method may have some merit.

The Gulf War Illness

In 1990 and 1991, almost 700,000 men and women of the U.S. military served in the Gulf War. During this time, the service members were exposed to pesticides, low-level exposure to nerve agents, fumes and residue from burning oil fires, a multitude of vaccines, and pills containing pyridostigmine bromide. All of this combined to be, what is believed, the leading cause of what came to be known as the Gulf War illness. According to a a public abstract by David Carpenter at the University at Albany, “Modern medicine has few tools to address symptoms associated with low-level exposures to toxic chemicals.” The abstract goes on to state, “A regimen developed by Hubbard utilizes elements including exercise, low heat sauna, and vitamin and mineral supplements to repair and rebuild the body and to encourage the release of stored toxins through sweat and increased metabolism.”

In 1999, case histories of veterans of the Gulf War that had completed the program described above were presented to the Gulf War Research Conference held by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The final conference report indicated that treatment trials were recommended to be conducted for further examination. David Carpenter submitted to conduct the trials which began in April 2010.

The participants for the study were 32 Gulf War veterans, 22 males and 10 females with the average age being 51. During the study, participants would undergo a four to six-week regimen that included daily mild to moderate exercise for 20 minutes, intermittent sauna use with showers and breaks that would gradually be increased to four hours, and dietary supplements that included niacin, salt, water, vitamins, minerals, and oils. The results, while not as dramatic as some of the reports from supports of Hubbards’ program, were positive. Overall, the group of participants experienced less pain, less fatigue, and an improved overall scense of wellbeing.

The Rescue Workers of 9/11

After the fall of the World Trade Center, thousands of medical issues started being reported throughout New York. From skin rashes to heart problems, the cloud of toxins, chemicals, and debris that filled the air on 9/11 impacted many of the city residents. However, those most seriously affected were the rescue workers, medical personnel, and cleanup crews involved with that horrific event in U.S. history.

Joe Higgins, FDNY Firefighter

Joe Higgins was one of the many firefighters that responded to the attack on the World Trade Center. Firefighting runs in the family for Joe Higgins as his father and three of his brothers were also firefighters for the FDNY. One of his brothers, Tim, was lost when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

In an article by Bruce Boyers on the website Calmfulliving.com, Firefighter Higgins stated, “no one was really thinking about toxic exposure those first few days, we were thinking about finding people who were still alive.” Joe, like many others, worked feverishly trying to save as many people as they could. He noticed that others who were also involved with the rescue operations started becoming ill and wondered what was causing it. Less than a year after 9/11, Firefighter Higgins himself would succumb to the effects of the toxins he was exposed to.

Fighting a small fire in April of 2002, Joe Higgins began having troubles breathing. By May, he would be hospitalized for seven days while suffering from multiple asthma attacks. Soon after, he would begin to have nightmares and was unable to get more than two hours of sleep at night. He would wake covered in sweat from nightmares of 9/11. By this point, Firefighter Higgins was on six different medications and was convinced that he would have to spend the rest of his days living a nightmare. However, that was before he had heard about the New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project.

Once on the detoxification program, Firefighter Higgins was placed on a regiment of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to help him finally get some much-needed sleep. In only a few days, he was able to sleep up to eight hours a night and was off the inhalers the doctors had prescribed him for his asthma.

“I continue to feel great. I have also had the opportunity to see many more members of the FDNY complete detoxification and their gains have been as dramatic as mine,” Firefighter Higgins stated.

The results experienced by Firefighter Higgins has been echoed throughout the community of responders of 9/11 after using detox methods similar to his. Due to these positive results, some fire departments use infrared sauna detox as part of their routine after responding to fires or after fire drills.

In Texas, Cpt. Eran Denzler with the East Montgomery County Fire Department requires that each Firefighter that either responded to a fire or participated in a fire drill to use the shower to rinse off, wear loose-fitting clothing and start peddling on a stationary bike positioned inside of an infrared sauna.

“We go to a fire and the smoke, the chemicals, whatever, may rub against your skin and is absorbed into the body,” Denzler stated in an April 2018 article located on the ctif.org website. He added, “The sauna puts the Firefighter into a fever state and purges the toxins that he has absorbed while fighting fires.” The Indianapolis Fire Department also uses infrared saunas as a detox method. While the sauna units can be costly, around $6,000 on average, the departments feel the cost of the units are worth every penny if they help to prevent or improve the lives of their Firefighters.

Root of the Problem

So what exactly has caused so many people exposed the dust cloud on 9/11 to have medical issues? The dust cloud was filled with hundreds of chemical compounds, pulverized concrete, asbestos, steel, carpeting, and other types of material that were located within the buildings. This material would attach to silica dust which would then be inhaled and absorbed through the skin.

Some of the toxins that were released into the air included aluminum, manganese, lead, cadmium, and mercury. There was also an estimated 44,000 gallons of the synthetic chemical PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) released into the air. PCBs are very toxic carcinogens that were used in the manufacturing of electronics and environmental control units but has been banned in the U.S. for over thirty years. To make matters worse, these toxic particles were incredibly small. They were so small that most of the defenses used by personnel at the site of 9/11 had little to no effect. Additionally, many of those that rushed to the site didn’t have any protection at all.

The toxins from the World Trade Center site accumulated in fat tissue in the body. The body places these toxic residues in the fat intentionally to limit the toxins harmful properties. While it is still debated as to what is an acceptable level of toxic residues, they are foreign to the body and do not belong there and need to be extracted.

Does Infrared Sauna Detoxification Work?

With all of the information and research that we have reviewed in creating this article, we have to say that there is substantial evidence that suggests that detoxing through the use of infrared saunas is possible. Seemingly, those that oppose this method of detoxing are unable to locate any of the factual evidence we were able to locate via a visit to a search engine.

Yes, Doctor A says that it isn’t possible while Doctor B says it is. However, this is a similar situation as to eggs. Some medical professionals say eggs are bad for you and can increase your chances of heart disease while other medical professionals say they are good for you and provide the body with healthy nutrients it needs. With that said, we have to ignore what we are being told and look at factual evidence, such as the clinical trials conducted by David Carpenter, and the resources available, so that we are able to make our own educated determination. Additionally, if you take into account that over 800 people, largely those suffering from the effects of 9/11, have used the infrared sauna detoxification with many more requesting the program, there simply has to be more to this detox method other than simply being a trendy fad created by the industry to make a profit.

Resources Used

If you are interested in researching this topic for yourself, here are the resources that were used to help make our conclusion as to whether infrared saunas are a valid detox method or not. As we stated earlier, to get to the truth, you have to ignore what you are being told and look at the evidence for yourself.

International Association of Fire and Rescue Services = https://www.ctif.org/news/us-fire-departments-turning-detox-saunas-fight-cancer-threat-are-they-effective

Mercola.com =https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/04/detoxification-program.aspx

National Center for Biotechnology Information = https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15947465

Diabetes Self-Management = https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/managing-diabetes/complications-prevention/improving-blood-flow-to-the-feet/

Calmfulliving.com = http://calmfulliving.com/project/the-new-york-rescue-workers-detoxification-project/

Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review by Margaret E. Sears = https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jeph/2012/184745/#B30

Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs = https://cdmrp.army.mil/search.aspx?LOG_NOGW093066

Gulf War Illness: Evaluation of an Innovative Detoxification Program / clinicaltrials.gov = https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/results/NCT01672710

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