Not much direct science exists investigating the effects of Parkinson and infrared sauna use. However, what will be clear after my reading of the scientific literature in this area, is that infrared saunas are certainly very promising as they directly engage with many risk factors related to Parkinson’s disease.
I’ll explore the basics of Parkinson’s and interrelated risk factors in the next section. Then, I’ll tell you how existing research suggests infrared saunas deal with Parkinson's risk factors.
Let’s start with the basics:
Parkinson’s Disease Basics And Risk Factors
Parkinson’s disease is chronic and irreversible right now (1; 2; 3; 4; 5). Parkinson’s is what is called a “neurodegenerative disease” - which translates into the deterioration of the nervous system, in plain English.
Parkinson’s targets a specific brain signalling compound or “neurotransmitter” called “dopamine”. Dopamine is necessary for motivation, creativity, abstract and outside-the-box thinking, and pleasure-seeking (without necessarily the reward). Motor ability is also affected by Parkinson’s disease and the most obvious sign someone is affected is if no prescription medication is taken.
The most common symptoms are tremors (shaking muscles in rest), stiffness, the inability to initiate movement or stop it, and a deteriorating posture. Prescription medication like L-dopa reduces the intensity of these symptoms or fully removes them.
Changes in a brain area called the “substantia nigra” - that controls for dopamine - is the underlying physiological reason for Parkinson's. For that reason, it’s only logical that the disease has other side effects such as depression, anxiety, and problems with cognition.
I’ll come back to these symptoms later.
Genetics plays a role in the development of Parkinson’s, but not a huge role (6; 7; 8; 9). Ageing and being of the male gender also increase the risk of getting the condition.
Other risk factors are, believe it or not, being a non-smoker, a non-caffeine consumer, chronic constipation, familiar history of neurological disorders, and having a resting tremor (shaking of a body part). However, here’s where I’ll focus on more in the rest of this blog post: pesticide exposure is also a risk factor that is quite prominent.
More research is needed regarding these risk factors though, although, preliminary evidence is quite clear that things like comorbidities and pesticide exposure play a significant role. Pesticide use, in some studies, is in fact the largest contributor. Of course, the more risk factors you have, the greater the risk.
Other studies show heavy metal exposure as a risk factor - which I’ll return to soon (10). Exposure to oils and generalized anaesthesia are risk factors too.
Conclusion? Toxin exposure in general is a risk factor. I’ll return to that topic in a second, but first, let’s explore studies on Parkinson's and saunas specifically:
Infrared Sauna Therapy For Parkinson: The Hidden Scientific Connections
After explaining the basics of Parkinson’s disease and common risk factors to you, I’ll now explore how infrared sauna therapy for Parkinson’s disease makes total sense.
First up, I’ll explore direct studies connecting saunas and Parkinson and then I’ll look at indirect connections.
Direct Infared Sauna Therapy For Parkinson Science
Before talking about Parkinson's, a quick detour in more physiology:
One of the main physiological mechanisms is the “misfolding of protein” - whereby cellular structures such as mitochondria lose their function (11; 12). Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells and are necessary to sustain life. Over time though, mitochondria are damaged and need to be recycled or replaced.
Processes include “autophagy”, the recycling of damaged mitochondria as well as others. The problem with Parkinson's is that the misfolding of proteins also plays a part. Recent studies show that by activating so-called “heat shock proteins”, you’re boosting that recycling process and keeping your cells young.
These heat-shock proteins are like thermometers of your cell that are activated in the heat and cold, among others. Recent studies link the activation of heat shock proteins with reductions in the risk of getting Parkinson’s.
Other benefits of activating different heat shock proteins exist as well. Examples are boosting the way your “neurotransmitters” - or brain signalling molecules work - and improving blood flow in the brain, enhancing muscle function, and increasing your overall metabolic health.
In Alzheimer's disease, for instance, very similar effects are found (13; 14). Brain cell death is averted and the risk of getting Alzheimer’s is cut to a whopping 33% if you spend more than four sessions a week in a sauna compared to one or zero.
(If you’re interested in reading more about these topics, then consider my earlier blog post on mitochondria.)
Then, secondly, there’s another area in which saunas shine:
Lowering Toxin Exposure: Pesticides And Heavy Metals
For many decades now, toxins have been posited as one of the main causes of Parkinson’s disease (15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20). The same is true for pesticides in particular, which have been very strongly linked to Parkinson’s, as you may recall.
With regards to toxins, lots of research has been carried out within animal studies, whereby it’s more ethical to study the causal effects of toxins. In such animal studies, toxins do indeed play a direct causal role in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Nevertheless, human research exists as well. One group of researchers write:
“In North America and Europe, early onset [Parkinson’s Disease] appears to be associated with rural residence. Factors associated with this include vegetable farming, well water drinking, wood pulp, paper and steel industries. In China, living in industrialized urban areas increases the risk of developing [Parkinson’s Disease].”
Also, with regards to pesticides, no single compound can be blamed for them. Examples are Rotenone, Paraquat, and Maneb. Many of these are still in use.
Some studies show that the risk of Parkinson’s disease increases by 70% with chronic pesticide exposure (21; 22; 23; 24; 25). Moreover, pesticide exposure is also potentially responsible for genetic alterations associated with Parkinson’s disease. The longer the duration of exposure in general, the worse the effects will be.
More research is needed though - few studies exist that have the highest quality - although many studies have been carried out.
Next to pesticides, heavy metal exposure is a frequently mentioned cause as well, even though it’s less strongly correlated with Parkinson’s disease.
Now here’s why all of those statements matter:
I’ve written extensively about spending time in the sauna and detoxification, specifically that of the liver, and an infrared sauna detox protocol.
So here’s the overview of that research:
Your body prefers to remove some toxins through your internal organs, such as your gastrointestinal tract, urinary system, and liver, and other toxins through your skin. The toxins that the body prefers to detoxify through the skin very specifically include several heavy metals, some pesticides, and other toxins like plastics.
Nevertheless, please observe that it’s the Parkinson’s Disease specific toxins that are preferentially removed through your skin. The role of an infrared sauna, therefore, is to maximise sweating and thereby allow for optimal detoxification.
If you’d like to learn more about these topics, read the detox protocol and my blog post about building up to a daily infrared sauna routine. With Parkinson’s Disease, you have to be very careful not to overburden your body.
Nevertheless, these outcomes are very promising. And, I’m not done yet - there are many other indirect mechanisms by which spending time inside a sauna counters the risk of Parkinson’s Disease or counters symptoms:
Depression, Anxiety, And Cognitive Decline
As stated before, common Parkinson's symptoms include depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline (an overall reduced ability to think).
Well, here’s the kicker:
Infrared saunas deal with all of these areas. In the past, I’ve written extensive blog posts about this topic, such as on 8 lessons I’ve learned on infrared saunas and depression, and five reasons why an infrared sauna anxiety management habit makes sense.
I won’t go into too much detail here again - if you want more information, read the very elaborate blog posts. Suffice it to say, that infrared saunas can work wonders for countering depression and anxiety - two main Parkinson's disease symptoms.
Preventing Parkinson’s And Lowering The Risk Of Comorbidities
Remember that comorbidities increase your risk of getting Parkinson’s. And, even though preventing the development of these comorbidities might not reverse the condition, it might lower your risk of developing Parkinson’s in the first place.
Diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease are two of the most common health conditions preventable by lifestyle interventions.
And guess what?
Using a sauna has a huge impact on blood sugar management and your likelihood to develop blood and heart vessel issues. I’ve showcased the extent of these effects in blogs such as on the immediate effects of sauna therapy on blood pressure and heart health, and a blog illustrating how saunas are an excellent tool for managing blood sugar.
How about inflammation? Chronically elevated levels of inflammation - which is interrelated with many modern diseases - are also lowered by using a sauna. Next up, saunas also improve sleep quality–poor sleep quality is an underlying risk factor for almost any disease.
The bottom line?
By using an infrared sauna regularly you dramatically lower your risk of getting comorbidities. And, by lowering your comorbidity risk, you’re lowering your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Conclusion: More Research Is Needed But Infrared Saunas Are Extremely Promising For Parkinson’s Disease
Even though more research is needed, I hope you see my message is extremely promising. Infared sauna therapy for Parkinson works at several levels, such as removing toxins, stimulating “heat shock proteins” that lower the likelihood of Parkinson’s, keeping your brain healthy, and much more.
Sure, more research is needed, but that’s universally true for neurodegenerative diseases. Whether you’re talking about Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, or another neurodegenerative disease, scientists understand far too little. I’ll take promising outcomes over alternatives any day…