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Infrared Sauna and Autism

The wide spectrum of symptoms, behaviors, and expressions that fall under the auspice of autism means that each individual case is entirely unique. While some individuals may consider autism as a gift, or a way of being in the world that is unique and special, others, depending on symptom expression may be looking for treatments to improve the quality of life. 

This article by no means suggests that autism is a condition that needs to be fixed or cured. If, however you are looking to improve the quality of life for yourself or your loved one, there is substantial scientific evidence to suggest that regular sauna bathing alters the biochemistry of the autistic individual to minimize symptom expression.

Whole body heat therapy as experienced in an infrared sauna is known to improve BH4 levels in individuals for whom deficiency of this compound was associated with heightened autistic symptoms. Additionally, regular sauna bathing improves the quantity of heat shock proteins in connection to BH4 disbursement throughout the tissues of the body. Also. Sauna bathing helps to detoxify the body from potentially harmful heavy metals.

This article will explore in detail how sauna bathing affects biochemistry to improve the quality of life for individuals deficient in BH4, rather than looking to cure or fix the broad band width of the autistic spectrum.

Autism From An Epigenetic Perspective: Modifying Environmental Influence To Reduce Symptom Expression

The cause and even correlative factors contributing to the expression of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remains largely mysterious. Without knowing specifically what causes a disorder it can be difficult to treat its symptoms. Furthermore, ASD is a general  umbrella term that classifies many symptoms of distorted or stunted neurological developmental. 

No two cases of Autism are exactly the same. It is believed that a combination of genetic as well as epigenetic factors contributes to its expression. Both environmental factors and heredity seem to contribute to this developmental disorder. (1)

Expert Tip: What is epigenetics? Epigenetics is the modification of genetic expression without altering the DNA itself. Typically environmental factors, both internal and external, play a role in gene activity or expression. Epigenetics can work in both positive and negative ways. This means that environmental exposure to pathogens, toxins, and heavy metals may impact the expression of certain disorders that may not have been activated had environmental elements been healthier. 

Further, epigenetics empowers the individual to create an environment, both internal and external, that fosters the healthful expression of genes. Some scientists believe that Autism is an epigenetic disorder, although there is no conclusive evidence. (2

Here is what a journal published by the National Institute of Health tells us about the relationship between epigenetics and Autism:

“Currently, epigenetic and its complex mechanisms are presented as the most momentous mediator in the environment and genome interactions. Environmental factors can affect the quality and quantity of gene expression without changing the DNA sequence through epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation, changes in histone proteins, and expression of noncoding RNAs. This way, they can be transferred to the next cellular generation or even the next organism generation…

As a result, exposure to harmful environmental factors can change the expression of developmental key genes in critical periods of embryo formation and increases the risk of genomic imprinting diseases such as autism. Given that autism is an epigenetic disorder in which environmental risk factors are the most momentous mediators in its pathogenesis, detection of these factors can help parents avoid the danger of autism onset in their children. By following the mentioned tips, parents can provide a lower risk condition for the outbreak of autism.” (3)

Regardless of the cause or correlative factors contributing to the expression of ASD, research suggests that by modifying exposure to certain elements positively impacts how symptoms are expressed in individuals living with Autism. 

Research suggests that the following three environmental factors may contribute to increased manifestation of Autistic characteristics: 

  • BH4 (Tetrahydrobiopterin) Deficiency
  •  Heavy metal toxicity 
  • Lack of Heat Shock Protein Production (Specifically HSP 90)

While there is little any parent or individual can do to alter DNA coding, it appears that it may be possible to modify the biochemical atmosphere to reduce Autistic characteristics for individuals living within the spectrum to make daily life more enjoyable.  

Recent research into the correlative factors contributing to ADS indicate that regular sauna bathing may increase BH4, detoxify the body of heavy metals, and improve Heat Shock Protein production.

BH4 Deficiency And Autism: Can Sauna Bathing Improve Tetrahydrobiopterin Levels In The Body

Infrared therapy can potentially improve Tetrahydrobiopterin levels in the body of autistic children

Tetrahydrobiopterin, or BH4 (and sometimes THB) is a necessary component for a variety of enzymes in the body, most importantly those involved in the formation of nitric oxide (NO), and specific neurotransmitters such as: Dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. This means that BH4 plays a vital role in overall health and very specifically in stabilizing mood and improving cognitive ability. (4)

Clinical research has demonstrated that BH4 deficiency in the spinal fluid of individuals diagnosed with Autism is a correlative factor in the worsening of specific Autistic traits such as verbal expression, eye contact, and desire to interact with others. Conversely, a study performed on six children diagnosed with infantile ASD demonstrated that by augmenting levels of BH4 in the spinal fluid the children,over a three month time period, showed improved social skills, more eye contact, and heightened cognitive function. (5)

So how can parents or individuals diagnosed with Autism improve BH4 levels?

There is a rapidly growing number of diseases associated with BH4 deficiency which has given way to more extensive research to figure out how to improve BH4 levels in non-invasive, as well as easily accessible ways. (6)

Regular Sauna Bathing Improves BH4 levels in two primary capacities:

  • Improved levels and circulation of BH4 throughout the tissues of the body via vasodilation
  • Augmented Levels Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) maintains the integrity of nitric oxide synthesis (6)

Sauna Bathing To Improve BH4 Circulation Throughout The Body:

As the body’s temperature rises during a sauna session a variety of biochemical changes begin to occur, including vasodilation (the dilation of blood cells). This process induces a more positive flow of circulation throughout the body relieving any blockages of blood flow. Where circulation is inhibited, often disease ensues as body tissues lack essential nutrients delivered via blood. (7)

Full body heat therapy serves to evenly distribute BH4 to all tissues by creating higher levels of BH4 synthesis on the surface tissues of the body. As BH4 disbursement occurs, portions of the body that have been deficient in BH4 will receive the nourishment of this essential cofactor enzyme.

Improved distribution of BH4 positively impacts neurotransmitter activity in the brain including dopamine production and serotonin stability.

While many forms of vigorous exercise are known to improve BH4 production, a sauna session provides a platform for individuals who may be vigorous exercise prohibited. Additionally, the passive stance of sauna bathing may better serve the autonomic nervous system as well as the entire endocrine network. 

Sauna Bathing To Improve Heat Shock Protein Production:

Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) are in fact protein chaperones, their presence within human physiology allows for the positive transportation of proteins as well as in keeping the intracellular communities healthy. An increase in HSPs has demonstrated to aid in the prevention of serious neurological conditions, as well as other chronic autoimmune disorders.

HSPs are created when organisms are subjected to fluctuations of temperatures extreme enough to move beyond habituated temperature in either direction. There are many, many variations of HSPs, specifically HSP 90 has been proven to play a vital role in the disbursement of BH4. From the National Institute of Health’s published journal on BH4, HSP90, and Autism:

“ A second mechanism involves the heat shock protein Hsp90, which is induced by even modest heating of mammalian tissues. Sauna heating of these surface tissues may act via Hsp90, which interacts with the GTPCH-I complex and is reported to produce increased GTPCH-I activity by lowering its degradation. The increased consequent availability of BH4 may lead to lowered nitric oxide synthase uncoupling, such as has been reported for the eNOS enzyme. Increased BH4 synthesis in surface tissues of the body will produce increased circulating BH4 which will feed BH4 to other body tissues that may have been BH4 deficient. Similar mechanisms may act in vigorous exercise due to the increased blood shear stresses and possibly also heating of the exercising tissues and heart.” (8)

While improving the quantity of HSPs is important for maintaining intracellular health for all people, it may well prove to be essential in improving the quality of life for children and adults living with autism. 

Sauna Bathing, Detoxification From Heavy Metals, And Autism

A child with Autism enjoys the benefits of the sun, similar to infrared sauna therapy

Certainly, there is simply not enough data to suggest that heavy metal toxicity causes autism, or increases symptoms; however, some leading experts in the field of integrative medicine suggest that there may be a correlation.

A correlative factor is not the cause of, but possibly may contribute to genome activity. As it is believed that autism may begin in utero, an interesting study was recently released where the baby teeth of children were analysed to find out if higher levels of heavy metal toxicity was correlated to Autism.

Cindy Lawler, PHD., head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Genes, Environment, and Health Branch, writes about the in utero experience of children diagnosed with Autism:

“We think autism begins very early, most likely in the womb, and research suggests that our environment can increase a child’s risk. But by the time children are diagnosed at age 3 or 4, it’s hard to go back and know what the moms were exposed to. With baby teeth, we can actually do that.”

The Medical News journal goes on to state:

“The study revealed that children with ASD had much higher levels of lead throughout their development.”

Still, there is not enough data to prove that toxic metals influence autistic expression. However, any individual looking to carry a child in the future would do well to engage in a regular sauna therapy practice to detoxify the body before impregnation.

Further, although the evidence is not conclusive,  there seems to be a correlation between heavy metal bodily pollution and autism. Certainly regular sauna bathing is a powerful means by which to detoxify the body and therefore potentially reduce symptom expression.

Parents often want to take any steps necessary to improve the quality of life for their children. If there is a chance that detoxifying the body of heavy metals with sauna bathing to render the daily life experience of an autistic child easier, then certainly it would be worth it. 

Sauna Bathing And Children: A Few Precautions

If parents decide that sauna bathing is an appropriate treatment for their children, there are a few precautions to consider. The developing bodies of youngsters are more sensitive to heat, so it is worth considering infrared sauna therapy over other types of heat therapy modalities for the reason that atmospheric temperature is significantly lower.

It does not take extreme elevated temperatures to improve BH4 distribution and increase HSP production, which would be the goal in treating an autistic child. 

Children should never be left unattended in a sauna. It is important that a trusted adult remain with the child at all times. 

Lastly, children should not stay in saunas for as long as adults would. Taking a fifteen minute sauna three times a week is adequate to increase HSP production, circulate BH4, and detoxify the body. 

*** Before beginning sauna therapy parents should check with their primary care physician.

Sauna Bathing To Improve The Quality Of Life For Individuals Living With Autism

Happy child with autism who receives infrared sauna therapy

Autistic Spectrum Disorder means many different things for many different people. In fact, for some it is not a disorder at all, just a different way of being in the world.

If you are the parent of a child with autism and you feel that you would like to improve the quality of life for your child, then regular sauna bathing does promise to improve BH4 levels, as well as HSPs, and further detoxify the body of potentially harmful heavy metals. 

Autism may be correlated to BH4 deficiency and it stands to reason based on scientific research that improved levels of BH4 lower the level of symptoms experienced and expressed, including, but not limited to improved social interactions, heightened cognitive abilities, and eye contact.

When children are participating in sauna bathing of any type, every precaution must be taken to ensure their safety.

Autism is not necessarily a condition that needs to be ‘fixed’. Many individuals consider this ‘disorder’ to be a gift. All of the recommendations and studies presented in this article are for individuals who are suffering in some capacity due to autistic expression.

Sauna therapy, particularly infrared saunas, do promise to improve overall health and quality of life for individuals of all walks of life including those within the autistic spectrum. 



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