Far Infrared Sauna Therapy and Longevity
By Jenna Greenfield MD
Far infrared is a band of light that is directly absorbed by our cells. Far infrared sauna therapy is increasingly found to have numerous health benefits. The root of many of these benefits is that it directly increases cellular health and longevity by decreasing oxidative damage. Oxidative damage over time is the root cause of aging and of all diseases of aging.
What Causes Aging?
The root cause of aging and diseases of aging is cellular damage that accumulates over time as a result of oxidative damage (1-3). Reactive oxygen species and other free radicals are natural byproducts of cellular metabolism. They are highly reactive molecules capable of damaging our cells by breaking molecular bonds. They damage cell membranes, structural proteins, and DNA. Our natural defenses against this damage decline with aging as well. Our defenses include antioxidants, molecules able to neutralize free radicals, and stem cells, cells that are able to replace old and damaged cells. Environmental toxins decrease our defenses by overtaxing our cells natural antioxidants, and thus increase the aging process. Stem cells are subject to oxidative damage, and with age stem cell function declines, leaving us less able to heal and regenerate healthy tissue (3).
Diseases of Aging
The leading causes of mortality in high income countries are heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer (4). These are diseases of aging, all resulting from the slow malfunction of our cells and tissues over time due to oxidative damage. Far infrared therapy has been shown to not only reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia, but has been shown at the cellular level to reduce oxidative damage, and in some cases completely restore cell viability in damaged cells (5-7).
Far Infrared Sauna Therapy and Cardiovascular Benefits
Cardiovascular disease is universal in the aging population. In fact, in the United States the early stages of cardiovascular disease can be seen as early as the teen years, and are universal by our third to fourth decade. It begins with dysfunction of the vascular endothelium, the cells lining our blood vessels, decades before clinical symptoms are seen. It begins with dysfunction of the vascular endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels. Far infrared therapy restores the vascular endothelial function (8), and decreases vascular inflammation (9). An animal model of congestive heart failure (CHF) found that after 4 weeks of far infrared therapy, they showed decreased markers of oxidative stress and increased cellular defenses (10). Human studies have shown that far infrared therapy significantly improves markers of heart disease (6,7). Men with cardiovascular risk factors were treated with far infrared sauna therapy for 15 minutes per day for two weeks had significant improvements in blood vessel dilation and function. Patients with congestive heart failure treated with far infrared sauna therapy showed significant improvement in exercise tolerance, and significant decreases in markers of heart dysfunction (11).
Far Infrared Sauna Therapy and Neurodegenerative Disease
Cognitive function universally declines with age, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Alzheimer’s disease is now the third leading cause of mortality in high income countries (4). Far infrared therapy has been shown to reverse damage and promote regrowth in damaged brain cells. One study used a cellular model of spinocerebellar ataxia. In spinocerebellar ataxia, like in Alzheimers disease, dysfunctional proteins accumulate in brain cells, leading to cell death. In this study, treatment of diseased cells with far infrared lead to decreased protein accumulation, and restored normal cell function. (5) Other studies have shown that treating neurons with far infrared increases the speed at which neurons grow and regenerate, and the healthy of those neurons (12,13).
See more studies related to far infrared sauna therapy and brain health on our far infrared sauna benefits overview page.
Far Infrared Sauna Therapy Reduces Oxidative Damage
Far infrared therapy decreases oxidative damage in our cells (15,16). When cells are exposed to hydrogen peroxide in a lab to induce oxidative damage, cells that are also treated with far infrared have a significantly higher survival rate. Far infrared has also been shown to activate heme oxygenase-1, an enzyme that produces antioxidants (9). In animal studies, animals treated with far infrared had significantly lower levels of inflammatory markers CD4 and CD8. And in a human study, two weeks of daily far infrared sauna therapy decreased urinary 8-epi-prostaglandin, a marker of inflammation and oxidative stress (17).
Far Infrared Therapy and Stem Cells
Far infrared therapy has been shown to increase stem cell survival and function. Stem cells have shown increased survival under oxidative stress when treated with far infrared, as other cells have. A recent experimental treatment for heart disease injects stem cells into damaged heart tissue. The treatment has shown some but limited benefits, as the tissue has high levels of reactive oxidative species and oxidative damage, and many stem cells do not survive this environment. A study in rats showed that when the stem cells are treated with far infrared, stem cell survival and migration through the damaged tissue increases (18).
Far Infrared Therapy and Heat Shock Proteins
Heat shock proteins are a family of proteins that are activated in response to elevated body temperature, as we experience in an infrared sauna. They play a large role in our cells’ resistance to stress and longevity by repairing damaged proteins, and ridding our cells of aggregates of damaged proteins that cannot be repaired. These aggregates, or “clumps” of damaged proteins are seen in aging and dying cells, and are one of the hallmarks seen in many neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimers disease. Heat shock proteins are known to prolong the life and health of our cells, and studies suggest they may prolong the life of the organism as a whole (19,20). Studies have found that in fruit flies, exposure to even mildly elevated temperatures early in life significantly prolongs lifespan (21,22). When in an Infrared sauna, our own heat shock proteins are activated, and these proteins protect our cells from damage, prolong the life of our cells, and likely contribute to longevity and optimal health as we age.
The ability of far infrared to decrease inflammation and oxidative damage has the potential to improve nearly every disease of aging. Far infrared sauna therapy has been extensively studied in humans and has not only shown widespread health benefits, but no significant adverse effects have been reported. Growing research suggests that regular far infrared sauna therapy has the potential to significantly increase longevity and quality of life.
See our far infrared sauna benefits overview page to read about the many other benefits of far infrared sauna therapy!
High Tech Health Far Infrared Saunas: Designed for Anti-Aging
High Tech Health makes the lowest total electric field and lowest total magnetic field (lowest total EMF) sauna of any sauna available. EMFs not only disrupt neural transmission at the synapse and neuroendocrine function, but also have been proven to increase oxidative damage in our cells, damaging the cell structure and DNA, and increasing the aging process. (23,24) See our page on the dangers of EMFs for more details and references.
Other saunas, besides exposing the user to high electric and magnetic fields, often expose the user to near infrared or “full spectrum” infrared energy which has been shown to photo-age the skin and increase oxidative stress. See our page on near infrared sauna dangers for more details and references.
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