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Infrared Sauna as a Therapy in the Treatment of Hashimoto’s Disease

The most common cause of an underactive thyroid gland is Hashimoto’s disease. This autoimmune disorder affects 2% of the American population, most of whom are women. In addition to the health concerns that Hashimoto’s disease presents, the very symptoms of this debilitating condition may present an array of challenges that are difficult for sufferers to manage without support. (1)

Difficulty conceiving a child, weight gain, hair loss, brittle fingernails, joint pain, and lack of energy are all symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland, and can lead many individuals into states of depression and feelings of hopelessness. (2)

Fortunately, there are a vast array of treatments available for individuals living with Hashimoto’s disease. This orchestra of treatment protocols may involve pharmaceutical prescription drugs, nutrition, and a variety of alternative treatments including, perhaps, regular infrared sauna use.  While many forms of heat therapy may improve symptoms, infrared saunas use both the medicine of heat and light to ameliorate thyroid function in both direct as well as correlative capacities. 

This article will discuss infrared sauna, not as a singular modality in the treatment of Hashimoto’s disease, but rather as one portion of a holistic concert of therapies to incorporate into your daily and weekly protocol to improve thyroid function.  

Endocrine Disruptors & Hashimoto’s Disease: Induce Sweating for Individuals Who Have a Hard Time Perspiring Naturally for Full Detoxification

While many of the benefits afforded to Hashimoto patients by infrared saunas are powerful, they may only be correlative, however, distinct from this grouping is the unusual power of a far infrared sauna to detoxify the body of endocrine disruptors. This may be among the most important reasons why someone with an underactive thyroid would want to add infrared sauna use to their treatment protocol. 

A peer reviewed journal published by the National Library of Medicine entitled, ‘Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Thyroid Cancer’, explains in detail what exactly an endocrine disruptor actually is:

Endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDC) are known to alter thyroid function and have been associated with increased risk of certain cancers.” (4)

Unfortunately, this same journal goes on to explore the variety of endocrine disruptors in our collective environment, and the data is not great. From pesticides, to nanoplastics (microplastics consumed and stored in the body), to heavy metals, airborne pollutants, as well as harmful substances found in food and drinking water can all serve as endocrine disruptors. (4)

Regardless of whether an individual is living with a thyroid dysfunction, the reality is that endocrine disruptors are unavoidable on our planet today. The positive news is that the human body is designed to detoxify itself from harmful substances. The issue is when there is a toxic overload. This problem is compounded when an individual is living with Hashimoto’s disease because sweating is typically problematic, and constipation can also be present at times.  

There are four main ways individuals are able to detoxify their bodies from harmful toxins: Urine, Stool, Respiration, and Sweat. The first two rely heavily on the kidneys and liver to detoxify the body. As mentioned previously it can be difficult for individuals living with hypothyroidism to sweat at the same rate as others. Active perspiration is an excellent way to detoxify the body, and relieve the internal organs from all of the heavy lifting. 

Far infrared saunas are excellent for individuals living with Hashimoto’s disease for detoxification for two primary reasons. Firstly, the source of heat is an invisible light frequency that heats the body up from the inside out. This allows the internal body temperature to maintain an “artificial fever” of 101.5 degrees for an extended period of time and encourages perspiration to occur in individuals who otherwise would not be able to sweat.

The second reason why infrared saunas are so important for individuals needing to rid the body of endocrine disruptors is because when sweat is examined after an infrared sauna compared to exercise, there are significantly more toxins found in the sweat of someone who has used a far infrared sauna, than someone who has perspired from exercise. 

This ability to detoxify is the reason why far infrared saunas have been incorporated into fire halls across the nation as part of a fire fighter’s detoxification protocol after a fire call. The reality is that far infrared saunas are better at ridding the body of endocrine disruptors through sweat than any other method of inducing the process of perspiration. (5)

For someone who must preserve the integrity of their thyroid function, it is paramount that they rid the body of endocrine disruptors in the most efficient and effective way possible, and research has shown that the most effective way to do this is through far infrared saunas. (5)

*** The research presented by the National Institute of Health measured the urine of firefighters after a practice (while this was not a “true” 911 call, the fire and toxic exposure were real) call. The control group did not take a far infrared sauna as a portion of the post call fire wash down, while the other group did. When the urine samples of the firefighters were examined the control group (no sauna) had significantly higher levels of toxins present then those who did take the sauna. As a result of this study, the entire city of Minneapolis supplies far infrared saunas to their municipal fire halls. As a side note, offers the same saunas used in the study mentioned above. (5)

Improve Experience of Hashimoto’s Symptoms with These Sauna Benefits:

  • Reduced Inflammation
  • Boosting Weight Loss
  • Improved Mitochondrial Metabolism
  • Autonomic Nervous System Balance
  • Improved Sleep
  • Activating Immune Response

If you are looking to improve the overall quality of life for someone living with Hashimoto’s disease, infrared saunas may help directly by aiding in the expulsion of endocrine disruptors, and indirectly by helping to improve many of the body’s natural healing processes.

Reduce Inflammation: Lessen Joint Pain

The process of taking any sauna, regardless of the source of heat, will elicit the engagement of a strong cardiovascular response as the body works to cool itself off. This process mimics moderate exercise, despite a sedentary position. As the heart rate increases, more blood is circulated throughout the body. Where there is positive blood circulation there is a reduction of inflammation. 

As inflammation is reduced, the individual will notice a significant reduction in the experience of pain around the joints. Furthermore, during an infrared sauna session, cytokines are released that help to reduce inflammation. A reduction of the presence of inflammation in the body may augment thyroid function. (6)

Some individuals early in the stages of treating Hashimoto’s disease may find exercise to be challenging, so having access to a sauna can help to mimic many of the biological benefits of exercise.

Elicit Weight Loss

Some individuals living with Hashimoto’s disease may experience challenges in attaining an ideal weight. This is due to a maladaptive response of the thyroid gland, as well as chronic inflammation. Saunas can be a great way to lose weight without putting too much stress on the adrenal glands and other portions of the endocrine system. During a sauna the internal temperature of the body will increase, so very quickly a variety of the body’s systems will begin to work towards cooling the body down. This process requires significant amounts of energy. So, contrary to popular belief, saunas may help an individual to lose unwanted weight because of the energy used during a sauna, not the fluid lost through sweating. 

Improve Mitochondrial Metabolism

If the goal is to improve mitochondrial metabolism via a sauna, then your sauna will need to include near infrared heating panels (these can be found in a full spectrum infrared sauna), as well as color light therapy or chromotherapy. The color light must be turned to the visible spectrum of red. The combination of near infrared light and red light causes a phenomenon known as photobiomodulation. The membrane of the mitochondria has photoreceptors that are sensitive to red and near infrared light, and the net effect of exposure to these wavelengths of light positively alter the life-death cycle of cells. 

Many professionals believe that one root cause of some auto-immune disorders may be an imbalance in mitochondrial metabolism that affects how quickly specific cells are regulated. The most apparent example of this is seen in psoriasis where the skin cells are replicating too quickly, cell replication must be in balance for health to exist in the body. It is possible that photobiomodulation may be helpful in taming other autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease.

Balance the Autonomic Nervous System

Behind many autoimmune disorders is a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. Colloquially speaking, individuals will notice a rapid increase in symptom expression when they are under a lot of ‘stress’. This means that their body is in a state of biological stress response and is releasing stress hormones to an excessive amount, hindering normal functioning. 

Pushing the toggle switch back from states of high stress in sympathetic dominance and back into states of rest, relaxation, and healing, known as parasympathetic dominance, can be challenging when the body is flooded with stress hormones. The thyroid gland is an integral portion of the endocrine system, and a lack of engagement can make relaxation difficult to attain. 

Any type of heat therapy will elicit heat stress, or hormesis, which is a positive and controlled level of stress on the body. By engaging the body in the hormetic effects via a sauna session, it is as if the slingshot is pulled back in a steady and controlled manner into levels of stress, only to toss the nervous system back into parasympathetic dominance where the body’s natural healthing mechanism can begin to engage. 

Improve Sleep

Regular sauna use may improve sleep not only by encouraging the autonomic nervous system back into states of relaxation, but also by working with the body’s circadian rhythm. To improve sleep via sauna use it is recommended to use your sauna in the evening. By increasing the internal body’s temperature before bed, the falling asleep process may happen more easily. 

A significant portion of falling asleep is actually the body’s temperature dropping down, and waking up is related to the elevation of the body’s temperature. After a sauna session, the sleepiness that an individual may experience is the lowering of the internal body temperature.

If you do plan to use a sauna to help fall asleep at night time and to improve thyroid function, make sure that you take the sauna an hour before bedtime. Shower off, and slip into your nightwear – engaging only in relaxing activities. 

Ameliorate Immune Function 

Hashimoto’s disease is an immune mediated disorder, and among several benefits that all sauna use may have on overall immune function is the ability to upregulate Heat Shock Protein (HSP) production. There are many different types of heat shock proteins, and just like their name suggests, they are produced when the body is put into situations of heat stress (as well as cold stress). HSPs are directly related to T-Cell activation, which may positively affect those living with autoimmune disorders. (7)

The journal Frontiers in Immunology published a multi-authored study that dives deeply into inflammatory autoimmune disorders and discusses at length the importance of the healthy production of HSPs:

“the conclusion is that HSPs are responsible for the activation of innate immune cells as well as T cells through TLR signaling pathways” (7)

Regardless of whether an autoimmune disorder is present, anyone looking to improve both the innate as well as the adaptive immune system, would do well to engage in some form of thermal therapy (including cold) as well as, or in addition to, regular sauna use. 

The depth of the complex nature of the thousands of HSP categorizations and their specific function as it relates to Hoshimoto’s disease is well beyond the purpose of this article, and for individuals wishing to read the full publication they can do so by reviewing the sources cited below, or by clicking on this link:

The Use of Infrared Saunas May Help to Improve the Overall Quality of Life for Individuals Living With Hashimoto’s Disease

There is significant research available today that indicates that the regular and ongoing use of infrared saunas may directly and indirectly benefit the lives of individuals living with Hashimoto’s disease, or any thyroid adjacent dysregulation. 

Certainly, far infrared saunas have been shown at the clinical level to far exceed any other modality in the area of detoxification of endocrine disruptors, which is necessary for the best possible function of the thyroid gland. 

In addition, there are several other correlative benefits to using a full spectrum infrared sauna regularly, which means habitually using a sauna for at least 20 minutes 3-4 times per week to receive maximum benefit. 

It is crucial that if anyone plans to take on the habitual use of saunas that hydration becomes a priority. The average individual will lose a pint of fluid for every 20 minutes that they spend in the sauna. This may be less for individuals who have difficulty sweating, but nevertheless, proper hydration with high quality fluids is essential when using a sauna. 

This article is not a substitute for professional medical care, nor should saunas be viewed as the only treatment for Hoshimoto’s disease. The information shared in this article is meant to be used in conjunction with a concert of modalities, both pharmaceutical and otherwise, as directed by your medical team. 

If you are uncertain about the risks involved with using a sauna, please always consult with your primary care physician or medical specialist. 

Sources Cited:


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