Saunas have been a staple of wellness culture for centuries, offering a relaxing and rejuvenating experience for both the mind and the body. But do saunas help with inflammation? This burning question has sparked numerous debates and research efforts. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what science has to say about whether saunas can help reduce inflammation, delve into what we know about inflammation, the importance of reducing muscle inflammation for athletes, and how sauna sessions can help achieve this goal.
Do Saunas Reduce Inflammation: What Do Experts Say?
Many people swear by the soothing powers of a good sauna session, but is there any truth to the claim that it can help with inflammation? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes! Many recent studies have shown that regular sauna use can indeed reduce inflammation markers in the body, promoting overall health and well-being.
- A recent study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology found that regular sauna use was associated with lower levels of markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), suggesting a potential reduction in inflammation.
- One study found that sauna bathing two to three times a week not only helps to reduce inflammation but also helps our cardiovascular system by improving mitochondrial function and overall lipid profile.
- A different study discovered that sauna therapy decreased indicators of oxidative stress, which can be a possible cause of inflammation.
- Research has shown that exposure to heat, such as that experienced in a traditional sauna, can stimulate the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs). These proteins help to repair damaged cells and tissues, reduce inflammation, and protect the body against further stress.
Additionally, sauna use has many benefits that can help us holistically reduce inflammation. Namely, it can reduce stress levels by increasing endorphins and decreasing cortisol, improve blood circulation and cardiovascular health, and increase white blood cell count. All of these things can play an important role in helping to mitigate inflammation and improve recovery from training sessions.
What is Inflammation?
In the simplest terms, inflammation is when your immune system responds to an injury or infection. When the body senses something harmful or irritative, the immune cells produce chemical messengers that cause inflammation. These chemical messengers signal your cells to release substances that cause blood vessels to dilate, increase blood flow, and attract immune cells to the site of the injury or infection. This process leads to the classic signs of inflammation, including redness, pain, warmth, and swelling.
The Difference Between Chronic and Acute Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a short-term response to an injury or infection. It usually lasts for a few hours to a few days and serves to protect the body from further harm. In contrast, chronic inflammation is a prolonged response that can cause damage to healthy tissues and lead to the development of chronic diseases.
While acute inflammation is generally beneficial, chronic inflammation can be detrimental to an individual’s health. For athletes, managing inflammation is crucial to maintaining peak performance and avoiding long-term health complications.
Why Do Muscles Get Inflamed When We Workout?
During strenuous exercise, tiny tears can occur in muscles and connective tissues as they are pushed beyond their limits. This damage is a natural and necessary part of the muscle-building and strengthening process. When muscle fibers are damaged, the body initiates an inflammatory response to help repair the affected tissues. If the intensity or duration of training increases too quickly, excessive inflammation can lead to delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), fatigue, decreased performance, and increased risk of injury.
Role of Inflammation in Muscle Recovery
For athletes, inflammation is a necessity. It serves several essential functions in the muscle healing and recovery process:
Removal of damaged tissue
Inflammation helps to remove damaged muscle fibers and cellular debris from the injury site. This process is essential for clearing the way for new, healthy tissue to be formed.
Recruitment of immune cells
Inflammatory signals attract various immune cells, such as neutrophils and macrophages, to the site of injury. These immune cells help to clean up damaged tissue and produce growth factors that promote the regeneration of muscle fibers.
Provision of nutrients and oxygen
Inflammation increases blood flow to the injured area, ensuring that essential nutrients and oxygen are delivered to support the healing process.
Activation of satellite cells
Satellite cells are specialized muscle stem cells that play a crucial role in muscle repair and regeneration. In response to muscle damage and inflammation, satellite cells become activated, proliferate, and differentiate into new muscle fibers to replace the damaged ones.
Promotes the formation of new muscle tissue
As more nutrients and oxygen are directed to your damaged muscle fibers, the body can start to rebuild them with new muscle tissue. This process helps to strengthen and restore function to your affected muscles.
Why is it Important for Athletes to Reduce Muscle Inflammation?
Although inflammation is part of the muscle healing process, as athletes we still want to get it under control. The key is to achieve a balanced amount of inflammation. Too much inflammation can be damaging and impair the muscle healing process, while too little inflammation can lead to impaired muscle growth.
Reducing muscle inflammation is essential for athletes because it can:
- Accelerate recovery: Less inflammation means a faster healing process, allowing athletes to return to their training routine sooner.
- Reduce pain: Inflammation is often accompanied by pain, which can limit an athlete’s ability to perform at their best.
- Prevent injury: Prolonged inflammation can weaken muscles and increase the risk of injury.
- Improve performance: Reduced inflammation allows for better muscle function and improved athletic performance.
How Saunas Work to Reduce Inflammation
Now, let’s get to why we are all here – how do saunas help reduce inflammation? Heat therapy is an effective tool for reducing muscle inflammation because it helps:
- Increase blood circulation: When exposed to heat, the blood vessels in the body dilate or widen. This dilation leads to increased blood flow, which helps to deliver oxygen and essential nutrients to damaged or inflamed tissues. Enhanced circulation also aids in the removal of waste products and toxins, further promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
- Release heat shock proteins: Heat shock proteins (HSPs) are a group of proteins that the body produces in response to various stressors, including heat. These proteins serve as “molecular chaperones,” helping to maintain cellular integrity, repair damaged cells, and reduce inflammation. Traditional sauna use stimulates the production of HSPs, which can help the body recover from inflammation more efficiently.
- Produce endorphins: Endorphins are natural pain-relieving compounds produced by the body in response to stress, pain, or intense exercise. Sauna sessions can lead to the release of endorphins, which not only help to alleviate discomfort associated with inflammation but also contribute to a sense of relaxation and well-being.
- Reduces stress hormones: Prolonged stress can lead to an overproduction of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can exacerbate inflammation. Sauna use has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, allowing the body to better manage inflammation. Additionally, the heat from the sauna encourages the release of “feel-good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which can further help counteract the negative effects of stress on the body.
How Many Sessions Do I Need to See Results?
The number of sauna sessions needed to see results will vary depending on factors such as an individual’s overall health, fitness level, and the severity of the inflammation. However, research suggests that consistent sauna use can lead to noticeable improvements in inflammation and overall well-being.
To start, consider using the sauna 2-3 times per week for 15-20 minutes per session. Over time, you may increase the temperature and duration of your sauna sessions based on your individual needs and tolerance. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a sauna routine, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
Combining Sauna with Other Anti-Inflammatory Strategies
While using a sauna for inflammation can provide significant benefits, it’s essential to combine this practice with other anti-inflammatory strategies to achieve optimal results. Here are a few suggestions:
- Adopt a Healthy Diet: Consume foods rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to fight inflammation.
- Exercise Regularly: Engage in moderate physical activity to improve circulation and reduce inflammation. Bonus: sauna after you exercise to help muscle recover even more.
- Get a Massage: Massage can help reduce muscle tension and alleviate inflammation. Studies show that a lymphatic drainage massage can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation. Try dry brushing before a sauna to get the best results.
- Manage Stress: Practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, to reduce stress and decrease inflammation.
- Get Adequate Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
So, Does Sauna Help With Inflammation?
The evidence is clear: saunas can play a pivotal role in reducing inflammation and promoting overall health. By incorporating regular sauna sessions into your wellness routine, alongside other anti-inflammatory strategies, you can experience numerous benefits, including pain relief, stress reduction, and improved cardiovascular health. For athletes looking for a competitive edge, sauna sessions can improve their performance, speed up recovery time, and prevent injury.
However, always remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any sauna regimen, and follow proper sauna safety and best practices to maximize your experience. With the right approach, you can harness the power of saunas to help alleviate inflammation and enhance your well-being.
If you are looking for a holistic way to reduce inflammation and improve your overall health, sauna use may be the perfect solution.