Could sauna therapy be your best friend this winter?
Detoxification methods such as fasting, juicing and raw food diets are less suited to the cooling temperatures of autumn and winter. To maintain and enhance good health during the winter months, it’s best to support and nourish our bodies and not present challenges such as restricted eating regimes and cooling, raw foods. For example, hearty soups and slow-roasted vegies are a better detox option and even more delicious by a cosy fireplace. Additionally, a good dose of sauna therapy could be in order. Sweating it out is a wonderful method of removing toxins from the body.
Sauna, or “thermal therapy”, breaks down fats in the body. Think butter on hot toast. When the toxic burden overwhelms the innate detoxification processes of the body, toxins are deposited and stored in fat cells. When fatty acids are broken down to smaller fats (free fatty acids) during a sauna, any toxins stored within them are liberated into the fluids of the body. These are then excreted from the body, predominantly through sweat, but also via the other excretion vehicles — urine, bile and breath.
Toxins that are excreted include mercury and other toxic metals, medical drug residues, many vitamins and minerals, narcotics and most xenobiotics. If fact, most toxic compounds can be excreted in sweat. Removing toxins through the skin is less likely to cause injury, unlike excretion processes through the kidneys or liver. Structures within these organs are easily damaged by toxins passing through them for excretion, but skin tends to withstand these toxins better. Additionally, skin is constantly shedding and regenerating, unlike our precious kidneys.
Traditional naturopathic doctors, such as Kellogg and Lindlahr, used sweating as a part of their “depuration” processes. Depuration means to make pure or, clinically speaking, to reduce the burden of harmful materials in the body. At the beginning of last century, JH Kellogg used incandescent light bulbs in a thermal chamber, one of the early modern saunas. He recorded how the urine levels of uric acid and chlorines were higher in his subjects who didn’t have a sauna compared with those who did, suggesting these toxic metabolites were secreted in the sweat.
The history of saunas dates further back than Dr Kellogg, of course. Most people throughout the world have used sweating as a form of hygiene and/or healing for eons. Best known are the indigenous American Indians’ sweat lodges, the ancient Roman bathing complexes and the Scandinavian sweathouses, all of which ritualised methods of use, aligning it with an expulsion of physical as well as metaphysical toxins.
The founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard, developed a detoxification program that uses nutrition, exercise and regular saunas to clear residual drugs and other toxins from the system. Narconon, also known as Narcotics Anonymous, adopted his program a few decades ago due to its successful health outcomes. Indeed, the Hubbard program is substantiated with many detailed references to reduced levels of many compounds, including chlorinated insecticides, poly-chlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, solvents and other volatile toxins. In terms of drug withdrawal, it considers that biochemical remnants of the drugs affect psychological aspects and interfere with accessing the spiritual essence of the self. Again, the psychospiritual cleansing effect of thermal therapies is acknowledged.
Technology has now advanced so that we can experience infrared and far infrared radiation in a sauna environment. These differ from steam and dry saunas in the way they heat the body and the ratio of sweat to toxin removal. There is little heat discomfort from the infrared rays. It’s more reminiscent of lying in the sun. The heat is penetrating and the sweat that breaks out seems to come from deeper within. The physiological effects, such as increased heart rate, blood circulation and body temperature, are similar to what the body experiences during exercise. Yet, unlike with exercise, there is no lactic acid waste that needs to be mopped up. Additionally, studies suggest the level of toxins released during infrared saunas are about six times higher than during steam or hot rock (dry) saunas.
With any thermal therapy, be careful not to overdo it. I baked myself for 30 minutes at 60 degrees in an infrared sauna, and six hours later suffered the most intense, long-duration detox headache. It made me wonder if I had actually baked some of my proteins. Think egg white on a skittle. I have read reports of severe adverse reactions in people undergoing an intense Hubbard program after hours of sauna use repeated each day for a week. Yet there are also many people who have no adverse reactions to such exposure and only reap the rewards.
Because everybody has a different toxic fingerprint, different genetic makeup, varying nutritional status and individually tuned detoxification enzymes, everyone will experience detoxification processes differently. My advice with saunas, particularly the infrared ones, whose warmth can lure you to remain longer than may be appropriate, is to start with shorter periods of exposure and lower temperatures, then gradually increase from there as a regular practice.
It’s not only toxins that are excreted during thermal therapy. Vitamins and minerals can be lost along with the water. It’s crucial to hydrate well before with lots of pure water to avoid dehydration stress. Additionally, replenish your fluids with an electrolyte-rich vegetable broth, miso soup, pure coconut water or vegetable juice with ginger afterwards. It will leave you shining all winter.
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