The Importance of a Daily Sweat
In many traditional cultures the utilization of induced sweating for relaxation, health and spiritual purification is older than recorded time. The ancient peoples intuited what modern science is beginning to understand. The health benefits, including the neurological health benefits of sauna are real. Large epidemiological studies have shown that sauna bathing, specifically Finnish type saunas which are typically dry with a temperature between 80-100°C, is associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as all-cause cardiac mortality. (1) Men and woman who take frequent saunas have a significantly reduced risk of new onset stroke and protection against hypertension. (2) And, studies report improvement in other conditions including pain, arthritis, headache, skin and lung conditions. (2,3)
The reasons for the benefits of sauna are still unclear but are postulated to be secondary to improved cardiovascular fitness, similar to the mechanisms of physical exercise, as sauna has been shown to reduce blood pressure. There are also positive effects on blood lipids, the immune system and autonomic nervous system. One study of over 2,000 men found an inverse association between C-reactive protein (CRP), an important inflammatory marker in the blood, and the frequency of sauna use. (4)
An additional consideration is that we all carry a body burden of environmental toxins, and there is scientific evidence to suggest that some environmental pollutants may be found in higher concentrations in sweat than urine, thereby making sweat a more efficient way of eliminating these toxins. These include metals like cadmium, aluminum and lead, BPA (an endocrine disruptor and epigenetic modifier found in plastics), flame retardant chemicals and pesticides. (6)
Therefore, induced perspiration may be utilized as a therapeutic route of elimination of toxic heavy metals and other toxins that are ubiquitous in our environment and stored in our body tissues. Urinary excretion is the most important mode of toxin elimination, accentuating the importance of keeping well-hydrated. Plentiful hydration with pure filtered water is likely the best way to assist your body with elimination of toxins whether through sweat or urine.
Whether the benefits of sauna are secondary to the cardiovascular effects of heat therapy or from the benefits of preferential elimination of certain toxins through sweat is unclear, but what is clear is that regular and frequent sauna bathing is associated with improved cardiovascular and neurological health, and studies would suggest a benefit with 4 -7 sauna sessions per week or at least 45 minutes total/week in the sauna. (1) Talk to your doctor before starting sauna therapy. Sauna is recommended as a safe therapeutic intervention for most healthy individuals, but there are some contraindications.
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1. Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK, Khan H, Willeit P, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study. BMC Med. 2018;16(1):219.
2. Kunutsor SK, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen T, Willeit P, Laukkanen JA. Sauna bathing reduces the risk of stroke in Finnish men and women: A prospective cohort study. Neurology. 2018;90(22):e1937-e1944.
3. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(8):1111-1121.
4. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33(3):351-353.
5. Genuis SJ, Birkholz D, Rodushkin I, Beesoon S. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011;61(2):344-357.
6. Genuis SJ, Lane K, Birkholz D. Human Elimination of Organochlorine Pesticides: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. Biomed Res Int. 2016;2016:1624643.