The topic of "inflammation" is widely misunderstood in the health and wellness space. For that reason, I’ll first explore what inflammation is. Then I’ll explain how saunas in general and infrared light specifically influence inflammation levels in your body.
Let’s start with the basics:
What Is Inflammation? Inflammation 101
Before considering the topic of using an infrared sauna for inflammation, let’s first consider what “inflammation” fundamentally is.
“Inflammation” and its role is widely misunderstood. And contrary to what many people in the natural health and wellness industry believe, not all inflammation is fundamentally bad. In fact, inflammation is a natural response whereby “the immune system recognizes and removes harmful and foreign stimuli and begins the healing process” (1; 2).
Inflammation can originate through many different mechanisms. In fact, nutritional deficiencies, stressors, microbes, allergens, and toxins, can all be causes that trigger the immune system and therefore result in inflammation (3).
Inflammation is thus more of a symptom than a direct cause of disease. An example to understand this principle is that your skin becomes red if you’ve got a sunburn - the inflammation didn’t appear spontaneously. Ultraviolet light here is the cause of the resulting inflammation characterised by skin reddening (4).
Or, alternatively, you trained hard in the gym and might get sore and inflamed (5). Here, the inflammation is the response and not the cause. And, the inflammation is very useful too as it’s part of the process that helps you get stronger.
Chronically elevated inflammation levels are problematic though. In case you have chronically elevated inflammation levels, the root cause of the problem needs to be dealt with. You might have irritable bowel syndrome or a nutritional deficiency, for instance, that causes chronic inflammation. Or, you might have been exposed to too many heavy metals such as mercury or cadmium, to which your immune system responds with chronic inflammation.
In such cases, it’s smart to find a way to improve your overall health and lower inflammation. An infrared sauna is a useful tool in that toolbox to improve your overall health - let’s consider the infrared sauna inflammation link within the currently published science:
Is Sauna Good For Inflammation? It’s Complicated
Remember the earlier example about exercise lowering your overall inflammation levels in the long-term, but increasing them right after a workout? So, once you’re considering whether is sauna good for inflammation you’ll have to distinguish between the short and long term consequences. So let’s explore the science of both options with regard to saunas:
In the short term, sauna bathing actually increases the levels of some inflammatory biomarkers, like “Interleukin-6 (IL6)” (6). IL6 only increased to statistically significant levels after a 20-minute session and not a 10-minute session, so there’s a dose-response relationship.
It’s plausible to assume that if you’re sitting inside a sauna for 30 or 45 minutes, these inflammatory biomarkers go up even more - that dynamic wasn't investigated in the current research.
However, just like with exercise, I’m mostly interested in the long-term effect;
While imperfect in setup, at least three recent studies (2018-2022) have investigated the effects of sauna bathing on inflammation over time (7; 8; 9). I’ll break these studies down below:
A Finnish study from 2018 showed that with more frequent sauna sessions, C-reactive protein levels go down (7). C-reactive protein is one of the most important biomarkers for inflammation. People using a sauna 4-7 times a week had C-reactive protein levels of 1.65 on average, while those using a sauna only once a week had C-reactive protein levels of 2.41.
C-reactive protein, just like IL6, is one of the most important biomarkers for overall inflammation in the body. The Finnish study shows that just by frequenting a sauna, you can lower your overall inflammation by a whopping 33%!
The same Finnish research group published another study in 2018 on the same topic (8). Here, the researchers conclude that the decrease in chronic inflammation is similar to that of exercise - that outcome also explains why sauna bathing has so many health benefits.
One more study showed that engaging in 2 to 7 sauna sessions per week attenuated the consequences of having high inflammation when looking at pneumonia risk compared to people who use 1 sauna session per week or fewer (9). This outcome means that even if you have higher levels of chronic inflammation, using more sauna sessions lowers your risk of chronic health conditions by making the higher inflammation less destructive to your overall health.
These outcomes on long-term inflammation levels are extremely promising. But, so far I’ve only considered traditional sauna studies. In the next section, I’ll venture into the infrared sauna for inflammation science:
Why An Infrared Sauna For Inflammation May Have Additional Benefits
In the past, I’ve made extensive comparisons between the effects of traditional saunas and infrared saunas. For instance, the method of heating and temperature is different for both options, the extent to which your core body temperature increases, and other methods of comparison.
So, next up, I'll consider some specific effects of infrared light on inflammation:
In lab studies with cell cultures and animal studies, far infrared light exposure can reduce levels of several different inflammatory biomarkers, for instance (10; 11; 12). Study quality is low though, but the outcomes are promising. These outcomes do need to be confirmed in high-quality human studies.
Fortunately, similar effects are found in studies specifically investigating near-infrared light (13; 14; 15). Many of these effects of near-infrared light are, fortunately, confirmed in studies with human participants. As a result, the True Wave™ full-spectrum heaters and Clearlight® Light Therapy Tower can both supply these near-infrared wavelengths to your body if you want to normalise excessive inflammation to the maximum extent.
Also, all our saunas are automatically equipped so that you'll get the optimal dose of far infrared exposure. With these setups, you thus not only get the benefits of heating your body as with a traditional sauna, but also the additional benefits of infrared light.
Conclusion: The Infrared Sauna And Inflammation Science Is Very Promising
Fortunately, the first studies researching the infrared sauna and inflammation link have finally been studied. Several studies show that in the long-run, inflammatory biomarkers like C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 go down with more frequent sauna sessions. Infrared light likely improves upon that effect.
How exactly you should use an infrared sauna for inflammation depends on your unique circumstances. For the best results, go slow, and always monitor how you’re doing both during and after your sauna session. Then, if you’re feeling great and recovering well, expand the frequency of your sauna sessions over the course of the week. Again, engaging in 4-7 sauna sessions per week currently shows the most promising effects for countering excess inflammation.