(NaturalHealth365) 75 million adults in the United States currently have high blood pressure, which dramatically raises the risk of suffering a heart disease or stroke. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that high blood pressure is a primary or contributing cause of death for 410,000 Americans – close to half a million people – in 2014 alone. Unfortunately, Western medicine says practically nothing about the heart protective benefits of using a sauna – even when the evidence is clear.
For example, when it comes to lowering blood pressure, Americans would do well to take a tip from their Scandinavian counterparts. New research conducted by scientists at the University of Eastern Finland reveals that the time-honored Finnish custom of sauna bathing can help lower blood pressure and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
Sauna bathing duplicates some of the benefits of exercise
The practice of sauna bathing is highly prized in Finland for its physiological and emotional benefits. Over 3 million public and private saunas exist in a country with a population of 5.4 million people – testament to the practice’s widespread popularity.
Researchers have long known that sauna bathing has cardiovascular benefits – but weren’t sure exactly why. Recent research, however, has revealed that sauna bathing causes skin blood flow to increase, leading to higher cardiac output.
This process closely mimics what happens during low- and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – providing an important benefit for those who can’t or won’t tolerate vigorous exercise.
The ‘Sauna Effect:’ What the study reveals
The study, which was published in the Journal of Human Hypertension, analyzed the effects of a 30-minute sauna session on 102 participants.
The team measured blood pressure before, immediately after, and 30 minutes after the sauna – and found that the participants’ systolic blood pressure dropped from an average of 137 mmHg to 130 mmHg, while diastolic blood pressure went from 82 mmHg to 75 mmHg. (The systolic, or top number, represents the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats – while the diastolic measures the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.)
The team noted that the decrease was still in effect 30 minutes after the sauna was over.
In addition, the researchers assessed carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity – a measure of arterial stiffness – and found that it decreased substantially. In other words, the sauna caused a beneficial relaxation of arteries that allowed blood to flow more freely.
During the sauna, the participants’ heart rates increased to a level seen with medium-intensity exercise.
The study helped to confirm the findings of earlier research showing benefits for regular sauna bathing – including lowered amounts of C-reactive protein, a biochemical marker of inflammation.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015, researchers had found that sauna bathing was associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease.
Frequent sauna bathing slashes risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
The good news on sauna benefits just keeps on coming.
In a study published last year in Age and Aging, researchers analyzed the effects of regular 15-minute sauna sessions on over 2,300 healthy men aged 42 to 60 – and found that sauna bathing was associated with dramatic reductions in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Two to three sauna sessions a week cut risk of Alzheimer’s disease by a substantial 20 percent — an impressive result.
But, when the team evaluated participants who took four to seven sauna sessions a week, they found that odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease were slashed by an astounding 65 percent.
This result is especially significant in light of the fact that deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have skyrocketed 89 percent since the year 2000. (Of course, if a pharmaceutical drug were to achieve such a hefty risk reduction in developing the disease, the news would be trumpeted in headlines worldwide.)
Sauna bathing has anticancer effects
Sauna bathing has even been credited with providing a form of “heat therapy” that may fight cancer. Both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge heat therapy as a promising way to improve cancer treatment and reduce tumor size.
Experts say that the heat produced by the sauna creates “heat shock” proteins on the surfaces of cancer cells, thereby “softening them up” for attack by the immune system.
As if that weren’t beneficial enough, heat from a sauna helps to activate natural killer cells and macrophages, which are sworn foes of tumors. Sweating induced by the sauna also helps the body detoxify and eliminate a variety of heavy metals, environmental toxins and carcinogens.
In a review published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology, researchers credited sauna-style heat therapy with beneficial effects in boosting survival rates for cancer patients — particularly those with breast cancer and malignant melanoma.
(Of course, heat therapy is not a stand-alone therapy for cancer. Both conventionally-trained and holistic practitioners agree that it should be combined with other forms of cancer treatment.)
Plan to limit initial sessions to no longer than 20 minutes to avoid dehydration, dizziness and faintness. And, get the thumbs-up from your integrative physician before starting your sauna regimen – especially if you have a serious medical condition such as cancer or heart disease.
Then, get ready to enjoy an experience that is truly therapeutic, relaxing – and even “heart-warming.”
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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