It seems like I've been hearing more and more lately about how saunas benefit our health. In his book The HypoThyroid Diet: Lose Weight and Beat Fatigue in 21 Days Kevin Dobrzynski advocates spending time in a sauna as one way to detox the body from chemicals that can cause thyroid disorders. And when I interviewed naturopath Decker Weiss about estrogen dominance, he said that hitting the sauna benefits our bodies by helping rid them of excess estrogen.
But yesterday I heard the most thorough argument yet for the benefits of saunas, when I interviewed Raymond Francis, an MIT-trained scientist and author of the book Never Fear Cancer Again: How to Prevent and Reverse Cancer. He explained that many of the toxic substances we're exposed to in every day life are petroleum-based, oil soluble chemicals, which the body stores easily and has trouble eliminating.
While some of these toxins can be made water soluble and come out in our sweat, he explains, sweating is actually not the most valuable part of the sauna experience: "There's a layer of fat immediately below the surface of your skin, and after about twenty minutes in the sauna that fat starts to melt and ooze out of the oil glands on your skin, taking oil soluble toxins with it," says Francis. He has been doing regular (at least twice weekly) sauna sessions for about 25 years and says that his blood tests reveal that he's just about eliminated his body's toxic load—this is quite something, because these days even babies are born with loads of chemical residues in their blood (and Francis is in his 70s).
Here are some of his tips for effective and safe sauna use:
- Start slowly and gradually work your way up to hour-long sessions.
- Stay hydrated, by drinking water before, during and after your sauna session.
- If you feel faint, dizzy or sick, leave the sauna immediately.
- After you sauna, immediately shower, using a natural soap, to remove the sweat and oil, and the toxins they might contain, from your body.
- An infrared sauna is superior to the traditional kind because it manages to heat your body more than it heats the surrounding air, which apparently makes for a more comfortable experience and leads to more toxins to be released. But if, like me, you have to use a regular sauna at the gym, Francis recommends you lie down on the lowest bench, to expose your body to the most manageable temperatures.
After talking to Francis yesterday I hit the sauna at my gym this morning, for the first time in ages. I'd forgotten to bring any reading material so as I sat there sweating I got anxious about all the things I needed to accomplish today, and bailed after 15 minutes. But I'll try to remember a magazine or book next time in hopes of lasting longer.
Sauna sessions are just one small part of Francis's plan for preventing cancer and other diseases—look for a more detailed account of my interview with him later this week.
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