Sauna Therapy and Mental Health
By Jenna Greenfield MD
Mental Health Disorder Epidemic
Mental health disorders are epidemic in the United States, with over half of people diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, and one in five Americans experiencing a mental health disorder in any given year. Mental illnesses are the third leading cause of hospitalizations among young adults between 18 and 44 years of age, and adults with serious mental illness have on average a 25 year lower life expectancy (1). Anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year (2). We are currently experiencing an unprecedented level of collective anxiety across the country and the world, with fears for our health and the health of our loved ones, mandatory social isolation, and a sudden recession with dramatic increases in unemployment and financial uncertainty. It is more important that ever at this time to take care of our mental health and well being.
Heat Therapy Raises Endorphins
Heat therapy and hyperthermia, as experienced in an infrared sauna, increase the release of beta endorphin into our brains and blood (3-5). This rise in endorphins corresponds to a feeling of pain relief and well being reported after a sauna session (6). Endorphins produce a feeling of calm, happiness, and well being, and have been shown to be important in mitigating symptoms of depression and anxiety (7). There was also a decrease in cortisol in one study after sauna therapy, a stress hormone associated with depressed immune function and diseases of chronic stress (8).
Sauna Therapy Alleviates Depression and Anxiety
Studies have found that sauna therapy and other forms of whole body heating boost mood and alleviate depression (9,10) and anxiety (11). One study treated subjects with major depressive disorder with a single session of whole body heating and followed them for 6 weeks after the heat therapy. Even 6 weeks after treatment, subjects showed a small but significant improvement in scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (12). Another study showed that whole body heating with infrared light five times a week for four weeks alleviated appetite loss associated with depression, as well as other somatic symptoms, and significantly improved relaxation (13).
Far Infrared Changes the Brains of Depressed and Anxious Animals
There are brain changes with anxiety and depression that have been shown to be reversed by far infrared heat treatment in animal studies. The antidepressant and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) effects of heating with infrared light was examined on rats who had been conditioned to exhibit behavioral signs of depression and anxiety. After 10 infrared therapy sessions, rats showed significantly reduced levels of depression and anxiety behaviors. The infrared therapy increased new brain cells in the hippocampus of rats brains. After just one session, the number of new brain cells was significantly increased compared to controls, measured by the number of cells with bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporated into the cells (15). Mice that are physically restrained demonstrate the acute behavioral and physiological response that models anxiety, a behavioral model called acute restraint stress. This stress leads to subsequent anxiety behaviors and cardiovascular changes in mice. It also causes molecular changes in the brain, including an increase in c-Fos immunoreactivity, that parallel increased oxidative stress in brain cells, as well as increases in the levels of the stress hormone corticosterone levels. It was shown that far infrared therapy significantly reduces the levels of oxidative stress in brain cells and levels of corticosterone induced by acute restraint stress (16).
High Tech Health Far Infrared Sauna for Mental Health
In this difficult and stressful time of social isolation that we are dealing with, consider adding a High Tech Health far infrared sauna to your home to help with depression and anxiety that naturally accompany this trying time.
- Hyperthermia and endorphins. Vescovi PP, Coiro V. Biomed Pharmacother. 1993;47(8):301-4
- Circulating opioid peptides during thermal stress. Vescovi PP, Gerra G, Pioli G, Pedrazzoni M, Maninetti L, Passeri M. Horm Metab Res. 1990 Jan;22(1):44-6
- Rise in plasma beta-endorphin, ACTH, and cortisol in cancer patients undergoing whole body hyperthermia. Robins HI, Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Martin PA, Shecterle LM, Barksdale CM, Neville AJ, Marshall J. Horm Metab Res. 1987 Sep;19(9):441-3
- Neuroendocrine changes in patients undergoing whole body hyperthermia. Robins HI, Kalin NH, Shelton SE, Shecterle LM, Barksdale CM, Martin PA, Marshall J. Int J Hyperthermia. 1987 Mar-Apr;3(2):99-105
- The beta-endorphin role in stress-related psychiatric disorders. Merenlender-Wagner A, Dikshtein Y, Yadid G. Curr Drug Targets. 2009 Nov;10(11):1096-108
- Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath. Kukkonen-Harjula K, Oja P, Laustiola K, Vuori I, Jolkkonen J, Siitonen S, Vapaatalo H. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1989;58(5):543-50\
- Changes in mood state following whole-body hyperthermia. Koltyn KF, Robins HI, Schmitt CL, Cohen JD, Morgan WP. Int J Hyperthermia. 1992 May-Jun;8(3):305-7
- The impact of whole-body hyperthermia interventions on mood and depression – are we ready for recommendations for clinical application? Hanusch KU, Janssen CW. Int J Hyperthermia. 2019;36(1):573-581
- Effects of charcoal kiln saunas (Jjimjilbang) on psychological states. Hayasaka S, Nakamura Y, Kajii E, Ide M, Shibata Y, Noda T, Murata C, Nagata K, Ojima T. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2008 May;14(2):143-8
- Whole-Body Hyperthermia for the Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Janssen CW, Lowry CA, Mehl MR, Allen JJ, Kelly KL, Gartner DE, Medrano A, Begay TK, Rentscher K, White JJ, Fridman A, Roberts LJ, Robbins ML, Hanusch KU, Cole SP, Raison CL. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 Aug 1;73(8):789-95. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.1031
- Repeated thermal therapy diminishes appetite loss and subjective complaints in mildly depressed patients. Masuda A, Nakazato M, Kihara T, Minagoe S, Tei C. Psychosom Med. 2005 Jul-Aug;67(4):643-7
- Whole-Body Heating: An Emerging Therapeutic Approach to Treatment of Major Depressive Disorder. Lowry C, Flux M, Raison C. Focus (Am Psychiatr Publ). 2018 Jul;16(3):259-265
- Infrared radiation has potential antidepressant and anxiolytic effects in animal model of depression and anxiety. Tanaka Y, Akiyoshi J, Kawahara Y, Ishitobi Y, Hatano K, Hoaki N, Mori A, Goto S, Tsuru J, Matsushita H, Hanada H, Kodama K, Isogawa K, Kitamura H, Fujikura Y. Brain Stimul. 2011 Apr;4(2):71-6
- Repeated exposure to far infrared ray attenuates acute restraint stress in mice via inhibition of JAK2/STAT3 signaling pathway by induction of glutathione peroxidase-1. Tran TH, Mai HN, Shin EJ, Nam Y, Nguyen BT, Lee YJ, Jeong JH, Tran HY, Cho EH, Nah SY, Lei XG, Nabeshima T, Kim NH, Kim HC. Neurochem Int. 2016 Mar;94:9-22