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Article: Why Sauna Use is Good for Your Immune System

Why Sauna Use is Good for Your Immune System

Why Sauna Use is Good for Your Immune System

Written by Chris Lang

Using saunas to improve health isn’t a new concept. Even our ancestors relied on rudimentary saunas thousands of years ago to rid their bodies of toxins and support well-being otherwise.

But besides eliminating impurities, can you experience any other health improvement through regular visits to a sauna? Immune system gains might very well be possible.

Let’s see how you can support your immune system with regular sauna bathing.

The Basics of Sauna Use and Its Popularity

Before we take a closer look at the relationship between saunas and the immune systems, you should first understand how saunas work. However, keep in mind that there are multiple types of saunas, all of which utilize different methods to deliver wellness. The two forms of sauna we’ll consider are traditional and infrared saunas.

On the one hand, traditional saunas are saunas that increase your core temperature by heating the air around you. You can typically find wood-burning and stone saunas. As the name suggests, wood-burning saunas burn wood to create desired temperatures, whereas stone saunas feature stones heated by electricity, gas, or fire.

On the other hand, infrared saunas are saunas that heat your body directly through infrared rays. The rays penetrate the skin to deliver a deeper relaxation effect without raising the temperature of the rest of the room.

There are many other differences between infrared and traditional saunas. For instance, the average temperature of an infrared sauna is 115-135 degrees Fahrenheit, while standard saunas ramp up the heat to 170-195 degrees. Likewise, infrared saunas have little to no humidity, while some forms of conventional saunas (steam rooms) are 95%-100% humid.

In addition to their unique design, saunas also have a massive cultural significance, especially in the country where their modern version was invented – Finland. When the nation gained independence over a century ago, most of its citizens were poor. They had little to feel good about, so they looked for any kind of relief from their bleak reality.

That’s where saunas came into play. Sharing saunas with their friends and family made people feel better about their everyday lives. In fact, the sauna experience became so ingrained in the culture that some Finnish women gave birth to their children in saunas.

Saunas only grew in importance over time and are still a staple in Finland. The rest of the world adopted the trend and incorporated saunas to relax, bond, and improve health.

Understanding the Immune System

Speaking of improving health, your immune system plays a pivotal role here. To understand how sauna use can benefit your immune system, let’s deconstruct it and take a look at its basic components:

  • White blood cells – Cells that identify and obliterate any foreign molecules or infections in your body

  • Monocytes – A form of leukocyte that tracks down and destroys pathogens in your body while destroying the affected cells

  • Lymphocytes – Another type of white blood cell that helps combat cancer cells and prevent viruses and bacteria from invading your body

  • Antibodies – Blood protein released in response to a particular antigen, combining chemically with the antigen to neutralize it

  • Neutrophils – Cells that scour your organism for signs of bacterial infection, capture bacteria, and eliminate the pathogens to stop further harm

If you have adequate levels of all these components, chances are, you have a robust immune system. Keeping it that way is essential because it decreases your risk of illnesses, and one of the ways to do so is through frequent sauna use.

The Interplay Between Sauna Use and Immune Function

At first, it might be hard to establish a link between a stronger immune system and saunas. But when you dig deeper into how your immune system works, it’s fairly easy to see a relationship.

The secret to improving your immune system with saunas lies in the heat stress. By elevating your temperature, saunas put your body in a state similar to when you’re under the weather. It basically tricks your immune system into thinking you’re under attack, causing it to react.

This way, saunas stimulate your immune system, which can make it react faster and more vigorously when facing a real threat (e.g., a pathogen).

The Heat Shock Response

Heat exposure is the main driver of how a sauna can boost your immune system. More specifically, spending enough time inside one can release a large number of heat-shock proteins (HSPs). The higher the number of these proteins, the greater your ability to prevent and combat diseases.

The ability of saunas to elevate HSPs isn’t just an assumption. It’s been backed by numerous studies, including this one by Kaemmer N. Henderson et al. According to the findings, frequent sauna use can increase the number of HSPs by a whopping 50%.

What makes HSPs so good for the immune system isn’t 100% clear, but most researchers believe it has to do with white blood cells. As your body releases HSPs, white blood cells usually follow, which play a pivotal role in disease prevention.

Sauna Use and the Common Cold

It’s crucial to use saunas all year long if you want to experience long-term benefits, but sauna bathing is especially important during the cold and flu season. That’s because frequent use can make you more resilient to the viruses that cause these two illnesses.

This goes back to the ability of saunas to trigger white blood cell production. The higher the number of these cells, the less likely you are to catch a bug.

Many studies confirm this claim, such as research by Ilkka Heinonen and Jari A. Laukkanen. According to the paper, hot sauna bathing can decrease your susceptibility to colds and other infections if you don’t have any chronic health conditions.

Sauna Sessions and Fever

When you’re sick, one of the ways your body may react to the disease is to increase the temperature. The higher the temperature, the harder it is for any pathogen to survive.

A similar thing happens in a sauna. Only this time, there are no pathogens to worry about. You raise your body temperature in a controlled environment due to stoves or infrared rays, depending on your type of sauna.

Once again, this replicates the condition of your body when facing a disease. By elevating your temperature, a sauna triggers the release of white blood cells and other immune cells. The next time a virus or bacteria enters your body, you should be able to cope with it more easily.

Scientific Research on Sauna Benefits

We’ve mentioned several pieces of research on sauna use that support the effectiveness of sauna therapy in bolstering the immune system. Those aren’t the only studies that indicate you can boost your immunity through saunas.

For example, take a look at this 2022 paper by Wanda Pilch, which aimed to examine the effects of saunas on various immune system parameters. The authors hypothesized that higher body temperatures would enhance the functioning of the immune system and kick-start the production of HSPs. They also anticipated the response would be different in trained and untrained participants.

Some of their assumptions proved true, whereas others surprised them. For instance, the research showed that sauna-induced heat therapy promotes the release of HSPs and supports the immune system by activating several immune cells.

However, they expected trained individuals would be more susceptible to these effects, but the research showed otherwise. It appears that saunas are good for your immune system, whether or not you’re an athlete.

Still, this doesn’t mean that you can reinforce your immune system after just one or two sessions. The study observed the effects on the participants after 10 sauna uses.

This brings us to the biggest takeaway of the paper – regular sauna bathing is key to improving your immune system through heat shock.

Cortisol and Stress Response

The main reason you’re interested in saunas might be to strengthen your immune system. As the research suggests, you can do just that if you attend saunas regularly. Better still, you can reap the immunity positives of saunas to a greater extent if you have a sauna of your own.

Here at Komowa, we offer a wide variety of traditional and infrared saunas that are easy to use and eliminate the need to share the space with 9-10 people. Check out our collection here and discover an array of saunas that can bolster your immune system.

That said, a better immune system isn’t the only potential health benefit of saunas. They can also make a world of difference for your stress levels. How can a sauna bust your stress, you might ask?

The answer, yet again, lies in heat. After about 10-20 minutes in a sauna, your body receives enough heat exposure to lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is your primary stress hormone, and the lower its presence, the less stressed out you’ll feel.

Not only that, but the heat generated during a sauna bath can also trigger the release of serotonin and endorphin, the two hormones most commonly associated with pleasure and happiness.

Knowing the chemistry behind stress is important, but you don’t have to dig that deep to understand why saunas are good for stress. All you need to consider is the sauna experience, which is:

  • Quiet – Saunas are quiet because you’re not supposed to talk while inside. If others are distracting you, consider wearing sauna-friendly headphones to maximize the stress-busting effect.

  • Relaxing – Whether you go to a traditional or infrared sauna, muscular relaxation is one of the biggest differences you’ll notice after a few sessions. The heat helps relieve any tension in your neck muscles and other regions, which can directly lower stress.

  • Conducive to sleep – After alleviating muscular tension and spending some time in a quiet room, you’ll be more likely to get a good night’s sleep. That’s exactly why sauna and sleep are a marriage made in heaven. Furthermore, saunas help decrease stress by regulating your sleep cycle.

Now, you might be wondering, what does lowering stress have to do with improving my immune system? Surprising as it may sound, the two are directly related. By decreasing your cortisol levels, you limit the number of immunosuppressants in your body, making your immune system more potent.

Cardiovascular and Circulatory Systems

The next time someone asks you, what are the main benefits of going to a sauna, immune system gains and stress relief will be your answer. Still, the health advantages of sauna therapy go beyond this. Through frequent use, you can also experience the soothing effects of saunas on your cardiovascular health, which is vital for your immune system.

To find out why that’s the case, you need only consider the immediate effect of saunas – expanding your blood vessels. The high heat of a sauna dilates your veins and arteries, allowing the heart to supply the rest of your body with valuable nutrients.

More importantly, blood vessels transport immune cells to different body parts in case of an infection. By helping expand them, saunas help ensure more immune cells reach the affected area and promote faster healing.

Besides relieving hypertension, saunas can also help prevent a disease closely linked to cardiovascular problems – diabetes. As discussed above, sauna bathing is a great way to release HSPs. Some studies have correlated the high presence of HSPs with reduced glucose levels, which is essential in lowering the risk of diabetes.

Practical Advice for Sauna Users

Yes, you can stimulate the immune system with regular sauna use, but this doesn’t mean you should jump into a sauna on the spur of the moment. Instead, follow these tips to maximize safety and make the most of a sauna’s ability to reinforce your immune system:

  • Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol – The high temperatures of a sauna can increase the risk of dehydration, especially if you drink alcohol before your sauna session. To prevent this, drink at least one to two glasses of water before or during the visit. Drink more water after the session, or, even better, consider a sports drink to replenish any potassium and calcium.

  • Consult a doctor – If you have elevated blood pressure, consult a cardiologist before your sauna therapy. Likewise, see a dermatologist if you have eczema or any other skin condition to avoid exacerbating it.

  • Take it easy in the beginning – When starting out your sauna therapy, you want to minimize the number and duration of sessions so your body can acclimate. Two 5-10-minute sessions per week for the first couple of weeks are the usual starting point for most novice sauna goers.

  • Step outside if necessary – The key to maximizing sauna benefits is to stay inside long enough for certain health effects to kick in. However, there’s nothing wrong with taking an occasional 30-second break if you can’t cope with the heat.

  • Recover after a workout – Using a sauna immediately after a workout can be too much for your body. Therefore, rest for at least 20-30 minutes after exercising to prepare your body for the sauna.

  • Let your body cool down gradually – You want to let your body return to normal temperature gradually after each session. Rather than jump into freezing water, take a lukewarm shower to prevent too much shock.

Conclusions and Safety Considerations

If you’re tired of over-the-counter medicines and want to boost your immune system safely, saunas can be the answer. As previously discussed, saunas can be the ultimate support for your entire well-being, not just your immune system. Here are some of the most important health benefits of saunas:

  • Elevating the number of white blood cells

  • Supporting your heart by making it more resilient to disease

  • Helping lower blood pressure

  • Potentially reducing stress

But bear in mind that you can only experience these benefits if you use your sauna carefully:

  • Stay hydrated before, during, and after your sauna.

  • Avoid alcohol.

  • Take a break if it gets too hot.

  • Let your body recover after a workout before using a sauna.

  • Consult a doctor if you have cardiovascular conditions, skin issues, or any other health problems.

Harness Sauna Bathing and Lay the Groundwork for Good Health

The answer to “Is sauna good for your immune system?” is a resounding yes. By raising your core temperature, the experience triggers your natural defense mechanisms to stimulate the immune system. With frequent use, you can dramatically boost your response to various diseases.

That’s especially true if you have a home sauna. It’s superior to public saunas because you can access it anytime and adjust the temperature according to your preferences.

If you’re ready to support your well-being with a cutting-edge sauna, Komowa is here for you. Head to our website and check out our stunning collection of powerful, safe, and easy-to-install saunas that will help bolster your immune system and deliver other soothing effects.

 

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