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Bone Density and Sauna Use: Bone Metabolism, Heat, and Longevity

Bone density and the health of bone tissue has wide reaching effects on overall well being as well as on longevity. It is easy to forget that bone is an ever changing, evolving, living tissue that is directly impacted by its environment. Furthermore, bone tissue is in constant relationship with other systems within the body: Bones provide a storehouse for minerals, a plethora of exchange of hormones, and proteins that all directly affect other organs in the body as well as other complex networks, such as the endocrine system.

Your bone health is imperative to the maintenance of overall health and ensuring that bone metabolism is at its optimal operative capacity will have a deep impact on your personal longevity. The fragility of the bones negatively impacts the elderly because a fall may break portions of the skeletal structure easily, and may contribute to earlier mortality. Surprisingly, the impact of fragile bones on health moves well beyond the skeletal structure and can negatively impact cardiovascular health, immunity, and protein production. This means that long before bones start to break, the rest of the body may be operating at a less than optimal level due to poor bone metabolism. 

Ensuring the health of your bone tissue is of two-fold importance: Healthy bones means that the bones are healthy, and moreover, healthy bones means that the necessary and active exchange between the body’s systems and bone tissue can remain regulated. Bone health is an integral part of the overall health of the mind and body. 

So, what can we do to contribute in actionable ways to ensure healthy bones late into life? A healthful diet that is chalk full of minerals and vitamins, getting enough sunlight every day, quality sleep, and, perhaps surprisingly, heat exposure via a sauna, can all create a cocktail that may contribute to healthy bone tissue. 

Sauna use may help bone health by inducing heat shock protein production, improving the production of the proteins collagen and elastin, and by influencing human growth factors. While it is important to support bone health in a variety of ways, it may be worth including saunas as a portion of your bone health protocol.

Is It Possible to Change Bone Structure Throughout a Human Lifespan: How Elastic and Malleable are Bones?

“Contrary to commonly held misconceptions, bone is a relatively dynamic organ that undergoes significant turnover compared to other organs in the body. Bone metabolism is a dynamic process that involves simultaneous bone formation and resorption, controlled by numerous factors. Bone metabolism comprises the key actions.” (1)

For anyone existing outside of the biomedical field it can be easy to imagine our bones as static, almost rock-like structures. In reality, while bones provide a more robust cellular make-up to support the skeletal system, they are ever changing and remodeling themselves and are, therefore, susceptible to both positive as well as negative changes in our environment. 

Bone tissue is highly adaptive and regenerative given the right conditions, and this is important because much of the health of the body relies upon bone-derived factors. (1)

A peer reviewed journal published by the National Library of Medicine writes the following to illustrate the ever changing nature of bone tissue: 

“Bone is a living tissue that undergoes opposing processes of remodeling and formation and destruction (resorption). The remodeling process continues throughout life, with varying intensity.” (1)

Maintaining positive bone metabolism is necessary for bones to remain fluid and flexible throughout a person’s lifetime. Reducing the chances of bones breaking later in life may affect longevity by decades in some cases. (3) 

According to the Healthy Longevity Clinic, bone health directly impacts longevity when they write in their recently published article:

“Studies show that people with healthy bones have longer lifespans compared to those with impacted bone health. Therefore, taking care of bone health is critical for health and longevity.” (3)

Heat therapy either via a traditional sauna, infrared sauna, sweat lodge, and even very hot baths, can improve circulation and may directly impact the function of the endocrine system which in turn can affect the health of bone tissue. Further statements from the National Library of Medicine on bone health explain that:

“Bone growth and its role as a mineral store depend on the proper working of circulating hormones that interact with site-specific regulatory agents. Bone function is dependent on the action of the endocrine system, but it can also affect other organs of the body.” (1)

Surprisingly for some, just finding a way to get into a sauna as regularly as possible can positively affect circulation as well as other biological functions to upregulate bone growth and density. While there are many factors that ultimately affect healthspan and longevity, bone health is certainly at the top of the list. 

Heat Shock Proteins & Bone Health

Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) are a group of proteins that are present in all human cells, and during periods of relative stability, all cells maintain a baseline level HSPs. HSPs play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of protein structure and are better understood as protein ‘chaperones’. The more HSPs that a person is able to produce, the better the chance that proteins have of maintaining the integrity of their form. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD, writes extensively on the importance of HSPs in preventing serious degenerative conditions in the body and brain. 

Saunas induce a healthy heat stress on the body that promotes the production of Heat Shock Proteins, thus their given name. If an individual can increase the baseline level of HSPs in each cell then the chances of disease is much lower. (4)

Dr. Patrick writes about the necessity of HSPs in the maintenance of overall health here: 

“Intrinsically disordered proteins are common features in cardiovascular diseases, and damaged, dysfunctional proteins, which can aggregate, or clump together, are strongly implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease.Increased expression of HSPs prevents protein disorder and aggregation by repairing proteins that have been damaged, and, in fact, animal evidence suggests that HSPs may offer protection against neurodegenerative diseases.”

How is bone health related to the production of HSPs? A recent study published by the National Library of Medicine has found that there is a direct link between HSPs and bone metabolism. In this journal ‘Role of the Heat Shock Protein Family in Bone Metabolism’  the authors discuss the relationship between bone mineral density and HSPs:

“Normal bone tissue is maintained by bone metabolism, particularly by the balance between osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which are physiologically regulated by multiple hormones and cytokines. In recent years, studies have reported the vital role of HSPs in bone metabolism.” (5)

One very simple way to improve the levels of HSPs is to get into a sauna regularly, and if the heat is too much to handle, it is also possible to improve HSP production via cold exposure, or both. So, whether you prefer heat or the cold, exposing yourself to extreme temperatures for specific amounts of time will improve the production of HSPs and have a positive impact on bone tissue health. 

If you are looking to increase HSPs in your body via sauna use take a look at the chart below created by Dr. Rhonda Patrick to see the direct correlation between time spent in a sauna and HSP activity.

Heat Shock Protein Activity and Time Spent in a Sauna:


Infrared Sauna Use and Collagen Production to Improve Bone Health

Another key element to improving overall bone tissue health is the presence of the protein collagen. Collagen helps to create a webbing within the bone structure that allows the skeletal structure to be both sturdy as well as flexible. Infrared light, and specifically near infrared light paired with the visible color red light, have been shown to improve the production of both collagen and elastin proteins. This is important not only in maintaining youthful looking skin, healthy connective tissues, but also positive bone mineral density. 

The article Structural and Metabolic Changes in Bone, published by the National Library of Medicine writes of the importance of collagen in bone health here:

“The other very important element of the matrix is protein collagen. Other proteins of the bone can contribute to the reinforcement of the matrix. Type I collagen is synthesized in osteoblasts and is secreted and precipitated.” (1)

(*osteoblasts are 1 of 3 different types of bone cells)

While collagen production may not be influenced as much by a traditional sauna, an infrared sauna that includes the visible color red spectrum of light may positively affect collagen production and therefore contribute to long lasting bone health. As stated above, collagen is an intrinsic element to the health matrix of human bones. 

Increasing Human Growth Hormone can Positively Affect Bone Health: This Requires a Unique Sauna use Protocol 

Finally, by improving Human Growth Hormone (GH) production, it is possible to positively affect bone health. GH affects the support of the overall skeletal structure and a lack of GH in an individual’s system can negatively impact bone health, and possibly lead to an increase in bone fractures. If you are using a sauna to improve GH, the methodology that is used will be a very different protocol than that used to increase HSPs or collagen production. 

It is important that if you decide to use a sauna for the purpose of improving Human Growth Hormone that you follow a specific recipe: You may need to take 1-2 weeks off of sauna use, then choose a day where you are free from work or family obligations and dedicate the time to using a sauna at least 3 times in a single 24 hour period. You will get in the sauna at a fairly intense heat for at least 20 minutes, cool off, rest, and repeat. (7)

Using a sauna for the purpose of improving GH is not for everyone and requires an incredible dedication to hydration, as well as a time commitment of spending a significant portion of a day just using a sauna. For all of the details on how to use a sauna for the specific purpose of increasing Human Growth Hormone you may find more details here:

By improving the production of Human Growth Hormone as you age, and certainly well beyond puberty, it may be possible to avoid the degradation of bone reformation later in life. The article Structural and Metabolic Changes in Bone writes:

“GH is essential for growth because it accelerates growth during adolescence, while with age the reduced production of GH and IGF-1 may be responsible for the inability of older people to form bone quickly.”  (1)

Based on the information stated above, it may be very important to spend some time improving GH throughout your lifespan, and one way to do this is to use a sauna every so often in a very specific, yet intense, manner. Remember that using a sauna frequently throughout the week may improve all other aspects of health, however, the protocol for improving GH is uniquely different and may take away from other health benefits derived from consistent sauna use.

Bone Health may Lead to Longevity: Consider Sauna use as a Pathway to Greater Health Span

  • Innate Malleability of Bone Tissue
  • Increased Heat Shock Protein Production
  • Improved Collagen Release
  • Human Growth Hormone Factors

The combination of the ability of bones to regenerate and restructure based on environmental input means that there are significant, actionable items that we can each take to improve bone health and longevity.

The use of a sauna, particularly an infrared sauna, triggers a cocktail of biochemical changes. These changes include increased production of Heat Shock Proteins, improved release of collagen, and enhanced Human Growth Hormone factors. Such effects may positively influence overall bone metabolism, leading to bone marrow that is rich in proteins and minerals, which in turn enhances bone health and overall bodily health. It is important to note that bone tissue is in constant exchange with the body’s other systems.

So remember, healthy bones means healthy bones, but healthy bones also mean a healthy body! The improvement of bone health may directly impact longevity in this way.

If you do suffer from bone related degeneration or disease, please consult with your medical professional before beginning a sauna treatment protocol. 

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