Staying healthy in our modern world can feel overwhelming – especially with our seemingly endless exposure to pollutants, processed foods, and plastics. From eating a balanced diet to simply getting to the gym, there seems to be a never-ending list of health to-dos. But I will let you in on a secret. Sauna use can act as an “insurance policy” against minor hiccups in your healthy lifestyle routine.

Like our real insurance, sauna use doesn’t “cover” everything. You can’t sauna-away an unhealthy lifestyle. But ample scientific evidence shows that it can give you a significant boost when your lifestyle routine has been veering off-track.

In this article, I’ll be sharing the top five evidence-based benefits of sauna use:

  • Detoxification of phthalates, BPA, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins
  • Inflammation regulation
  • Cardiovascular health benefits
  • Longevity
  • Disease prevention

In the next section, I will discuss how, when, and where to engage in sauna bathing. So sit back, relax, and explore the fascinating world of sauna science with me.


Sauna Use

Sauna Bathing for Detoxification of Environmental Toxins

You may have heard about environmental toxins like BPA, microplastics, and pesticides. Unfortunately, these are just a handful of the myriad of harmful toxins that modern life exposes us to on a daily basis (1).

Environmental toxins are ubiquitous. They are in our plastic food packaging, nonstick cookware, cosmetic products, water supply, and even our household dust. It certainly can be overwhelming! It’s no wonder that it is hard to know where to start when it comes to protecting yourselves and your families.

If you’re eager to learn how to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, check out my blog titled Environmental Toxicants: What They Are and How to Avoid Them (2). Avoiding them is doable. I promise!

Now, you might be asking: why is exposure to environmental toxins so concerning? How bad could it be?

Unfortunately, toxicants (environmental chemicals) have been shown to increase the risk of developing a long, depressing list of health issues, like (3-9):

  • Fatigue
  • Cancer
  • Cognitive decline
  • Neurological impairment
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Dementia
  • Autism development
  • Impaired learning and IQ in children
  • Infertility
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Mental health issues such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Increased risk of neonatal mortality
  • Precocious puberty
  • Decreased sperm count and quality
  • Sexual dysfunction like ED
  • Organ damage (kidneys, liver)
  • Disrupted hormone function
  • More!

Not surprisingly, the European Union has banned 1300 of these chemicals in cosmetics alone, citing health risks. However, the United States has banned only 11 (10).

This is where the sauna comes in.

Ample Scientific Research

Of course, identifying and reducing your exposure to environmental toxins is an essential part of your detox strategy, but it should be combined with sauna use to reduce your toxin load most effectively.

Ample scientific research shows that high heat activates your body’s detoxification pathways and flushes out harmful toxins through sweat.

Scientists at the University of Alberta recently conducted the Blood Urine and Sweat (BUS Study) study to investigate effective excretion of environmental toxins. As the title suggests, the study examined subjects’ biomarkers for toxin levels before and after undergoing sauna detoxification.

This study and others found that sauna therapy helps you excrete the following toxicants and toxins:

  • PBDEs/PBBs, Flame retardants (3)
  • Heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, and aluminum (4)
  • Phthalates (5)
  • Bisphenol-A (BPA) (6)
  • Organochlorine pesticides (7, 8)
  • Some PCBs (9)
  • Solvents: hexachlorobenzene and toluene (9)
  • Mycotoxins (mold) (9)

Let’s take a closer look at some of these chemicals. Remember, with each toxicant’s intimidating side effect comes a silver lining: you can help to remove them from your body by using the sauna!

Check out the reference links if you’d like to learn more about any listed toxins I haven’t discussed today.


bucket in steam room

Excretion of PBDEs/PBBs: Flame Retardants

PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are a family of chemicals that have been used as flame retardants since the 1960s (3). PBDEs are found in everyday products like plastics, clothing, bedding, and electronics. Though they reduce flammability, they are terrible for our health!

They pose profound health consequences, particularly for children. Unfortunately, they also bioaccumulate, meaning they collect in your body. This makes excreting them profoundly challenging. Even more concerning is that PBDEs and other flame retardants can be excreted in breast milk (20)! Research suggests that flame retardants (3):

  • Disrupt hormone function
  • Impair learning and IQ in children
  • Damage cells
  • Lead to the development of autism and other developmental disorders
  • Are neurotoxins that cause damage to the brain and nervous system
  • Contribute to dementia

The BUS study by the University of Alberta found that induced perspiration through sauna use increased the body’s excretion of five types of PBDEs. Though more research should be conducted on the topic, these results suggest that using saunas may help protect you and your family from PBDEs’ health risks.

An interesting side note I want to share: the BUS study also showed that participants with chronic illnesses had higher levels of PBDEs in their blood than healthy participants. Whether this finding is correlative or causative is unknown. However, what makes sense to me is that those folks with chronic illnesses will likely need to incorporate sauna and other forms of detoxification into their health journeys!


Sauna Use

Phthalate Excretion in the Sauna

Phthalates are a family of chemicals found in consumer products like plastics, cosmetics, and food packaging. They are potent endocrine disruptors, meaning they act like hormones in the body (5).

Human studies have associated phthalate exposure with numerous harmful health effects, including (11):

  • Precocious puberty
  • Premature menopause
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Endometriosis
  • Abnormal genitalia in boys
  • Reduced semen quality
  • Obesity
  • Asthma in children
  • Infertility

Maternal exposure can cause changes in fetal reproductive development, which can also decrease fertility in subsequent generations! Some researchers believe that phthalates may be contributing to the current infertility crisis by disrupting hormonal function and impairing reproductive health in both men and women (12, 21).

Luckily, the BUS study revealed some promising results yet again. Participants excreted phthalates like MEHP and DEHP upon induced perspiration in the sauna.

Since phthalates are ubiquitous, be sure to take detox measures in addition to your efforts to avoid phthalates.


empty steam room

BPA Excretion in the Sauna

You might recognize the abbreviation BPA from advertisements on our plasticware: “BPA-free!” Governments have begun to take notice of BPA’s adverse health effects and have even banned it from certain products, like baby bottles (6).

Though BPA has been banned from certain items, it has not been banned from everything. BPA is commonly found in can linings and thermal paper receipts, so do your best to avoid these.

Unfortunately, we also need to be careful of BPA-free items. Companies often substitute BPA with similar chemicals that are also harmful. Sometimes they’re even worse than BPA!

Let’s look at the dangers of BPA. Though the list is long and depressing, think of this as a good thing; the sauna will help you avoid them! BPA can cause… (6)

  • Abnormalities in reproductive organ function
  • Placental dysfunction in pregnancy
  • Increased risk of miscarriage
  • Increased risk of neonatal mortality
  • Precocious puberty
  • Sexual dysfunction (like ED)
  • Neurological impairment
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Mental health issues such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety
  • Autism development
  • Cognitive decline
  • Memory impairment

This is a long and sad list. The upside is that the body excretes a significant amount of BPA when sweating in the sauna. I know, sauna almost sounds too good to be true!


Sauna Use

Toxic Metals and Human Health

Ever wonder why doctors tell pregnant women to avoid eating tuna? It’s for a good reason: exposure to toxic metals like mercury (4).

Toxic metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic can harm human health, causing symptoms such as fatigue, memory problems, and even organ damage (4).

Yet again, the sauna can come to our rescue. Research suggests that using the sauna can help the body excrete toxic metals present in your system (4).

A recent study showed that sauna use significantly decreased levels of mercury in participants who tested positive for high levels of mercury prior to sauna therapy (4). Another study found that sauna use could increase lead, cadmium, and arsenic excretion in people with high levels (4).

Unfortunately, even wild-caught fish has detectable levels of toxic metals these days. Consuming them can cause toxic metal level elevation. Ate some sushi this week? It’s time to hop in the sauna!


accessories laying on wooden bench

Sauna Use for Longevity, Cardiovascular Health, and Disease Prevention

Beyond detoxifying our bodies, sauna therapy is also fantastic for cardiovascular health, longevity, and disease prevention. Below, I will highlight the positive findings of this sauna research!

A recent study found that using a sauna 2-3 times per week can lower the risk of all-cause mortality by 27% (and by 40% when using it 4-7 times per week for over-achievers) (13).

Sauna use can also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (13). Research shows that those who use the sauna 2-3 times per week have a 20% lower risk of developing the disease.

Sauna use and exercise have similarities in that they can raise core body temperature, leading to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output. It seems to mimic moderate aerobic activity and increase heart rate variability, which is indicative of the heart’s ability to respond favorably under stressful conditions (14, 15).

Long-term sauna use has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health by improving blood pressure, left ventricular function, vascular compliance, and endothelial function – all of which are markers of heart health (14, 15).

More studies have optimistic results:

  • Using the sauna 4-7x per week decreased the risk of stroke by 61% (16)
  • Using the sauna 4-7x per week resulted in a 50% reduction in hypertension risk (17)

These results are preliminary but promising regarding sauna’s benefits for longevity, disease prevention, and cardiovascular disease.


Sauna Use

Sauna Therapy for Inflammation Reduction

Excessive inflammation can range from mildly annoying to downright debilitating. You may recognize inflammation in the form of pesky joint pain, abdominal distress, or fatigue after exercising. Beyond causing commonplace annoyances, excessive inflammation can accompany more deep-rooted concerns like autoimmune conditions and age-related diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s (18).

Managing inflammation is critical to a healthy body and a long health span. Fortunately, evidence shows that sauna therapy can help us with this!

Preliminary studies show that sauna therapy can lower high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) levels and increase levels of anti-inflammatory biomarkers like IL-10 in the body (19).

IL-10 plays an essential role in reducing excessive inflammation in the body, and hs-CRP is a protein that the liver produces in response to inflammation. High hs-CRP means high inflammation. Elevated hs-CRP levels are often seen in patients with autoimmune conditions. Lower hs-CRP levels typically mean lower, healthier levels of inflammation.

Although it is not a perfect marker, I check all of my patients’ hs-CRP levels to acquire a sense of their systemic inflammation.

Since sauna therapy upregulates IL-10 and downregulates CRP, the evidence indicates that sauna therapy lowers inflammation. Therefore, it may reduce the risk of developing inflammation-related diseases. This is another reason to let the sauna work its magic on your body – and to do so frequently.


Pouring water on hot stone into heater

How to Sauna: Heat, Duration, and Location

If you’ve made it this far into the blog, you’re probably sold on sauna therapy and are ready to jump in. What’s next?

Most of us don’t have a sauna that reaches 130-170 degrees at home, nor do we have the money to pay $30 per sauna session at fancy sauna boutiques. If you do want to invest in one, I suggest you check out SaunaRay, Sauna Space, or budget for some sauna spas to find the best option for you.

Alternatively, many local gyms have saunas. Commercial gym chains like 24 Hour Fitness provide saunas that reach 180 degrees. Plus, you get the added benefit of exercise with your sauna experience!

Studies Backing Sauna Therapy

Most studies that back up sauna therapy’s benefits required the participants to use the sauna for at least 20 minutes at 170 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, 3-4 times per week. Thirty minutes seems to be better for cardiovascular benefits.

In the BUS study, participants had to collect at least 100 mL of sweat (about half a cup). So if your primary goal is to detoxify your body, try to stay in the sauna for at least 15 minutes. That’s the amount of time that most people sweat out half a cup of water.

It will take time for you to adapt to this heat. You don’t have to aim for 20+ minutes on your first try. Instead, try to stay in the sauna as long as you safely can each time you visit. Pay attention to how you feel in the hours and days following your initial sessions. If you develop headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, or other symptoms, you may have overdone it! Be gentle with yourself. Eventually, you’ll be able to achieve your goals.

Also, remember to hydrate before and after using the sauna. Hydration is critical both for detoxification and for managing heat. And don’t forget to replace your electrolytes too!


Sauna Use

The Takeaway: Sauna for Detoxification, Inflammation Reduction, Longevity, Cardiovascular Health, and Disease Prevention

Sauna use confers lots of bang for your buck. Let’s recap! Sauna use:

  • Increases the excretion of environmental toxins, such as BPA, phthalates, flame retardants, and heavy metals. These toxicants have been linked to numerous diseases and conditions, including neurological problems, infertility and hormonal issues, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases.
  • Regulates the immune system, as evidenced by decreased biomarkers of excessive inflammation
  • Benefits the cardiovascular system by mimicking exercise
  • Increases longevity by reducing all-cause mortality and decreasing morbidity (disease development)

If you want to improve your health, I welcome you to schedule a functional nutrition consultation with my nutritionist, Sarah. Visit our store for products.

And stay tuned for more information to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues, improve your nutrition, repair your body, and regain your health naturally.

You can schedule your consultation with Sarah here.

Thanks for joining us today. Share your sauna stories in the comments.