Should you use an infrared sauna? Can it help you burn fat?
Infrared saunas differ from traditional saunas in that the heat comes from infrared light waves generated by lamps that heat your body, not the surrounding air. As a result, you can stay in them longer and sweat a lot more than you can in a regular sauna, where 10 to 20 minutes is all you need to work up a good sweat.
I’m a sauna (and steam room) enthusiast, and I often recommend “sweat bathing” to help cleanse the skin, soothe sore muscles, or simply relax. Sweating in a sauna can also be beneficial to patients with arthritis, asthma or respiratory infections, and is an effective way to help recover from overindulgence in food or drink. The sweating rids the body of excess sodium and other unwanted substances. It also helps eliminate drugs and some toxins and by doing so can take some of the workload off the liver and kidneys.
However, I question some of the claims made for infrared saunas – specifically that they promote weight loss, increase circulation and detoxify the body. I’ve seen assertions online that because the heat in infrared saunas penetrates deeper, it can mobilize and burn fat; there is no evidence to support this. No device burns fat. In fact, the only published study looking at the effects of infrared saunas on obesity produced only weak evidence that they could help provide any benefits. The few studies investigating the health effects of infrared saunas found some benefit for normalizing blood pressure, as well as for treating congestive heart failure and chronic pain. However, because all these studies were small, additional research is needed to confirm the findings.
While saunas and steam baths can help eliminate toxins, the best ways to protect yourself are to avoid taking toxins into your body in the first place, and to keep the natural mechanisms of elimination and detoxification in good working order. For example, the kidneys are a key component of our blood-purifying apparatus, and you can best protect their health by drinking enough pure water and avoiding dietary stressors such as coffee, alcohol, and excessive protein. In general, I favor relying on the body’s own self-cleaning and self-purifying systems. (I discuss these systems in my book Natural Health, Natural Medicine).
If you’re concerned about your weight, I suggest avoiding processed, refined, and manufactured foods that rank high on the glycemic index, meaning their carbohydrate content is quickly digested, raising blood sugar levels and stimulating insulin release. They’re the foods that are most likely to lead to weight gain.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
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