Sauna use drastically decreases risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia
(NaturalHealth365) The number of Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease exceeds 6.5 million – a number that could reach 13.8 million by 2060. In recent years, there have been notable declines in the rates of certain degenerative conditions; however, one particular condition has witnessed a significant increase in mortality: Alzheimer’s disease. This alarming trend has prompted researchers and scientists to intensify their efforts in search of effective methods for treating and preventing this debilitating disease. Among the various avenues explored, the use of a sauna has emerged as a potential approach in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
A study shows that a time-honored and relaxing Scandinavian tradition can drastically reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In truth, many traditional cultures – like the Native Americans – understand the physical (and spiritual) value of sweating inside a sweat lodge or sauna.
Frequent use of a sauna is great for detoxification and lowers risk of dementia
In a Finnish population study spanning 20 years and involving 2,315 healthy middle-aged men, researchers examined the relationship between participants’ sauna habits and their odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
The study – the first to examine the effect of sauna bathing on rates of dementia – was helmed by Professor Jari Laukkenen of the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland and published in Age and Aging.
The use of saunas is an extremely popular and widespread cultural tradition in Finland, with over 3 million public and private saunas existing in a country of 5.4 million. The study participants – all regular sauna users – were divided into three groups: those who enjoyed a 15-minute sauna session four to seven times a week, those who used a sauna two to three times a week, and those who did so only once a week.
What the researchers discovered was eye-opening: the most frequent sauna users enjoyed a dramatic 66 percent decrease in their risk of dementia and a 65 percent decrease in Alzheimer’s risk – when compared to the weekly users.
Those who used a sauna two to three times a week also lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – cutting their odds by roughly 20 percent. But they didn’t enjoy the same robust level of protection as the most frequent sauna users.
And the benefits of frequent sauna use don’t end there. Dr. Laukkenen noted that the heat generated by saunas seems to protect not only the memory but the heart as well.
Lifesaving effect: Frequent sauna use cuts the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death
In an earlier study published in 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that those who used a sauna four to seven days a week had significantly lower mortality rates from heart disease, sudden cardiac death, and stroke than did weekly users – a pretty substantial benefit for merely relaxing for 15 minutes in a heated room!
The team went on to report that frequent sauna use improves cardiovascular health – along with the condition and function of blood vessels – and is associated with lower blood pressure and enhanced left ventricular function.
Not surprisingly, the researchers lauded frequent sauna use as a “recommendable habit.”
Sauna bathing offers cardioprotective and neuroprotective benefits similar to that of exercise
Although researchers still aren’t certain of the exact mechanisms by which saunas improve health, they report that saunas may offer cardiovascular conditioning that is surprisingly similar to that resulting from aerobic exercise. This is extremely good news, especially for those people suffering with low energy and difficulty with exercise.
Researchers in the JAMA study noted that sauna bathing causes skin blood flow to increase – leading to higher cardiac output and paralleling what happens during low and moderate-intensity physical exercise. Of course, we ought to state the obvious: that exercise has been shown to lower the risk of both Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Specifically, aerobic exercise can help minimize Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain and do so more effectively than any medication currently on the market. In one particularly significant study, exercise helped people with mild cognitive impairment to substantially decrease their levels of tau protein, a chemical in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The takeaway? The experience of sweating in a sauna actually mirrors the benefits and neuroprotective effects of physical activity – a boon to people who can’t or won’t commit to regular exercise routines.
More lifesaving benefits: Regular sauna use promotes tumor death and helps eliminate carcinogens
As if these sauna benefits weren’t impressive enough, recent research supports the cancer-fighting effects of frequent sauna bathing. In a review published in Lancet Oncology, the authors credited heat therapy with beneficial effects in controlling cancers and boosting survival rates.
Because cancer cells are less tolerant of heat than healthy cells, the heat produced in a sauna can create “heat shock” proteins on their surfaces, causing them to be more susceptible to attack by the immune system. Research has shown that heat therapy also activates natural killer cells and macrophages – part of the body’s defense system (and mortal enemies of tumors).
In short, raising body heat promotes tumor death – while sweating helps the body detoxify and eliminate assorted carcinogens, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins.
Thankfully, conventionally-trained medical experts and organizations are beginning to take notice. The American Cancer Society acknowledges heat therapy as a “promising” way to improve cancer treatment, while the National Cancer Institute notes that heat therapy has been shown to reduce tumor size.
Of course, those experts (educated by the pharmaceutical industry) emphasize that heat therapy must be combined with other forms of cancer treatment to be effective, like chemotherapy. But, wouldn’t it be great to study the anticancer effects of sauna – along with natural therapies?
The upshot of the emerging sauna research seems to be this: while there is no substitute for actual physical exercise, sauna bathing seems to offer many great health benefits.
Of course, you should get the go-ahead from a trusted integrative physician before beginning a sauna bathing routine – especially if you’re dealing with a life-threatening health condition. Then, prepare to enjoy this relaxing, therapeutic, and soothing custom – while slashing your risk of dementia and heart disease at the same time.
For more information about sauna therapy, listen to this presentation created by Jonathan Landsman, founder of NaturalHealth365, on the best sauna he uses – every day.
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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