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FIR (Far Infrared) Infrared Saunas

adapted from Dr. Aaron M. Flickstein

Far infrared (FIR), also known as radiant heat, is simply a form of energy that heats objects directly through a process called conversion. The infrared segment of the electromagnetic spectrum is divided into 3 segments by wavelength, measured in microns or micrometers (a micron = 1/1,000,000 of a meter); 0.76 - 1.5 microns - near or close; 1.5 - 5.6 = middle or intermediate; 5.6 - 1,000 = far or long wave infrared. The infrared segment of the electromagnetic spectrum occurs just below or "infra" to red light as the next lowest energy band of light. We cannot see this band of light with the naked eye, but we can feel this type of light in the form of heat. Our sun produces most of its energy output in the infrared segment of the spectrum. Our atmosphere has a "window" in it that allows IR rays in the 7-14 micron range to safely reach the earth's surface. When warmed, the earth radiates infrared rays in the 7-14 micron band with its peak output at 10 microns.

Molecules of water and organic substances absorb Infrared easily, since it is their resonant frequency, consequently they vibrate vigorously at that frequency and become the radiator of the frequency, as well as the receiver. Far infrared penetrates organic substances and water two to three inches so that the warming effect is very uniform. When organic substances are heated by near infrared waves (0.76 to 5 microns), the surface gets hotter than the interior, and the interior gets heated by conduction means from the surface.

We live in a FIR temperature range. Our skin radiates 9.36 micron far infrared wave since our body temperature is 97.7 degrees Farhenheit. This is very close to the resonant frequency of a water molecule. This makes perfect sense, since about 70% of our body is water. The army has far infrared binoculars to spot the enemy at night.

We have many different wave lengths radiated at us and some frequency wave bands pass through us and others are reflected away. For instance, the visible light spectrum with very short wave lengths is reflected away, while a radio frequency with a long wave length just passes through the body. Some wave bands are absorbed by the substance and the temperature of the substance rises. For our body and many other living organic substances, the far infrared waves are the heat generating waves. We live in an environment of far infrared waves and our body receives and radiates them. Among the energy spectrum coming from the sun, the far infrared waves are the safest and the most beneficial electromagnetic energy sources available.

World Wide Reports on Infrared Sauna Use

Over the last 25 years, Japanese and Chinese researchers and clinicians have completed extensive research on infrared treatments and report many provocative findings. In Japan, there is an "infrared society" composed of medical doctors and physical therapists dedicated to further infrared research. Their findings support the health benefits of infrared therapy as a method of healing.

There have been over 700,000 infrared thermal systems sold in the Orient for whole-body treatments. An additional 30 million people have received localized infrared treatment in the Orient, Europe and Australia with lamps, which emit the same 2 to 25 micon wave bands as employed in a whole-body system. In Germany, physicians in an independently developed form have used whole-body infrared therapy for over 80 years.

Infrared Heat for Cardiovascular Conditioning

In the August 7, 1981 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) reported what is common knowledge today: many people who run do so to place a demand on their cardiovascular system as well as to build muscle. What isn't well known is that it also reported the "regular use of a sauna may impart a similar stress on the cardiovascular system, and its regular use may be as effective as a means of cardiovascular conditioning and burning of calories as regular exercise.”

It has been found that the infrared sauna makes it possible for people in wheelchairs, those who are otherwise unable to exert themselves, and those who won't follow an exercise/conditioning program, to achieve a cardiovascular training effect. It also allows for more variety in any ongoing training program. Blood flow during whole-body hyperthermia is reported to rise from a normal five to seven quarts a minute to as many as 13 quarts a minute.

Because infrared rays penetrate the body over 1-1/2 inches, there is a deep heating effect in the muscle tissue and internal organs. The body responds to this heat with a hypothalamic-induced increase in both heart volume and rate, leading to a beneficial heart stress and sought-after cardiovascular training and conditioning effect. Medical research has confirmed that the use of a sauna provided cardiovascular conditioning as the body tries to cool itself. Extensive research by NASA in the early 1980's led to the conclusion that infrared stimulation of cardiovascular function would be an ideal way to maintain cardiovascular conditioning in American astronauts during long space flights.

In its Wellness Letter, October 1990, the University of California Berkeley reported that "the 1980's was the decade of high-impact aerobics classes and high-mileage training. Yet there was something elitist about the way exercise was prescribed: only strenuous workouts would do, you had to raise your heart rate to between X and Y, and the only way to go was to "go for the burn." Such strictures insured that most ‘real’ exercisers were relatively young and in good shape to begin with. Many Americans got caught up in the fitness boom, but probably just as many fell by the wayside. As we've reported, recent research shows that you don't have to run marathons to become fit - that burning just 1,000 calories a week is enough. Anything goes, as long as it burns these calories.

Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology reports that producing one gram of sweat requires 0.586 kcal. The JAMA citation above goes on to state that "A moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 grams in a sauna, consuming nearly 300 kcal - the equivalent of running two to three miles. A heat conditioned person can easily sweat off 600 to 800 kcal with no adverse effect. While the weight of water loss can be regained by rehydration, the calories consumed will not be." Since the Health Mate infrared sauna helps generate two to three times the sweat produced in a conventional hot air sauna, the implications for increased caloric consumption are quite impressive.

Assuming one takes a sauna for 30 minutes, some interesting comparisons can be drawn. Two of the highest calorie output exercises are rowing and running marathons. Peak output on a rowing machine or during a marathon burns about 600 calories for 30 minutes. An infrared sauna may better this from "just slightly" up to 250% by burning 900 to 2400 calories in the same period of time. It might in a single session simulate the consumption of energy equal to that expended in a six to nine mile run.

Health Benefits of Infrared Heat

The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology reports "medical practitioners make use of infrared radiant heat to treat sprains, strains, bursitis, peripheral vascular diseases, arthritis, and muscle pain...”

Dr. Masao Nakamura of the O & P Medical Clinic in Japan reported success with the use of infrared heat treatment for:

• Whiplash

• Sciatica

• Menopause

• Arthritis

• Shoulder Stiffness

• Insomnia

• Acne

• Gastroenteric Problems

• Ear Diseases


Effects of Infrared Heat on Rheumatoid Arthritis

A case study reported in Sweden involved a 70 year-old man who had rheumatoid arthritis secondary to acute rheumatic fever. He had reached his toxic limit of gold injections and his Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) was still 125. After using an infrared heat system for less than five months, his ESR was down to 11.

The rheumatologist worked with a 14 year-old Swedish girl who had difficulty walking downstairs due to knee pain from the age of eight. This therapist told her mother the girl would be in a wheelchair within two years if she did not begin gold corticosteroid therapy. After three infrared sauna treatments, she began to become more agile and subsequently took up folk dancing without the aid of conventional approaches in her recovery.

A clinical study in Japan reported a successful solution for seven out of seven cases of rheumatoid arthritis treated with whole body infrared therapy.


Other Therapeutic Effects of Infrared Therapy

The following information has been summarized from Chapter 9 of Therapeutic Heat and Cold, Fourth Edition, Editors Justus F. Lehmann, MD, Williams, and Wilkin, or concluded from data gathered there.

Generally it is accepted that heat produces the following desirable therapeutic effects:

1. Infrared heat increases the extensibility of collagen tissues. Tissues heated to 45 degrees Celsius and then stretched exhibit a nonelastic residual elongation of about 0.5 to 0.9 percent that persists after the stretch is removed. This does not occur in these same tissues when stretched at normal tissue temperature.

Stretching of tissue in the presence of heat would be especially valuable in working with ligaments, joint capsules, tendons, fasciae, and synoviurn that have become scarred, thickened, or contracted. Experiments cited clearly showed low-force stretching could produce significant residual elongation when heat is applied together with stretching or range of motion exercises.

2. Infrared heat decreases joint stiffness. There was a 20% decrease in rheumatoid finger joint stiffness at 45 degrees Celsius (112°F) as compared with 33 degrees Celsius (92°F) which correlated perfectly to both subjective and objective observation of stiffness. Speculation has it that any stiffened joint and thickened connective tissues may respond in a similar fashion.

3. Infrared heat relieves muscle spasms. Muscle spasms have long been observed to be reduced through the use of heat, be they secondary to underlying skeletal, joint, or neuropathological conditions. This result is possibly produced by the combined effect of heat on both primary and secondary afferent nerves from spindle cells and from its effect on Golgi tendon organs.

4. Infrared heat treatment leads to pain relief. Pain may be relieved via the reduction of attendant or secondary spasms. Pain is also at times related to ischemia due to tension or spasm that can be improved by hyperthermia that heat-induced vasodialation produces, thus breaking the feedback loop in which ischemia leads to further spasm and then more pain. Heat has been shown to reduce pain sensation by direct action on both free-nerve endings in tissues and on peripheral nerves. In one dental study, repeated heat applications led finally to abolishment of the whole nerve response responsible for pain arising from dental pulp. Heat may lead to increased endorphin production and a shutting down of the so-called "spinal gate" of Melzack and Wall, each of which can reduce pain.

Localized infrared therapy using lamps tuned to the 2 to 25 micron wave band is used for the treatment and relief of pain by over 40 reputable Chinese medical institutes.

5. Infrared heat increases blood flow. Heating one area of the body produces reflex-modulated vasodilators in distant-body areas, even in the absence of a change in core temperature. Heat one extremity and the contralateral extremity also dilates; heat a forearm and both lower extremities dilate.

Heating muscles produces an increased blood flow level similar to that seen during exercise. Temperature elevation also produces increased blood flow and dilation directly in capillaries, arterioles, and venules, probably through direct action on their smooth muscles. The release of bradykinin, released as a conseqence of sweat gland activity, also produces increased blood flow and vasodilation.

Whole body hyperthernia, with a consequent core temperature elevation, further induces vasodialation via a hypothalamic-induced decrease in sympathetic tone on the arteriovenous anastomoses. Vasodialation is also produced by axonal reflexes that change vasomotor balance.

6. Infrared heat assists in resolution of inflammatory infiltrates, edema, and exudates. Increased peripheral circulation provides the transport needed to help evacuate edema, which can help inflammation, decrease pain, and help speed healing.

7. Infrared heat introduced in cancer therapy. More recently, infrared heat has been used in cancer therapy. This is a new experimental procedure that shows great promise in some cases when used properly. American researchers favor careful monitoring of the tumor temperature; whereas, the successes reported in Japan make no mention of such precaution.

8. Infrared heat affects soft tissue injury. Infrared healing is now becoming a leading edge care for soft tissue injuries to promote both relief in chronic or intractable "permanent" cases, and accelerated healing in newer injuries.


Chinese Studies Report Positive Effects of Infrared Heat

Researchers report over 90% success in a summary of Chinese studies that assessed the effects of infrared heat therapy on:

• Soft tissue injury

• Lumbar strain

• Periarthritis of the shoulder

• Sciatica

• Pain during menstruation

• Neurodermatitis

• Eczema with infection

• Post-surgical infections

• Facial paralysis (Bell's Palsy)

• Diarrhea

• Cholecstitis

• Neurasthenia

• Pelvic infection

• Pediatric pneumonia


Speculation About Infrared Heat Effects on Blood Circulation

All of the following ailments may be associated to some degree with poor circulation and, thus may respond well to increased peripheral dilation associated with infrared treatments: Arthritis; Rheumatism; Sciatica; Strained muscles; Backache; Fatigue; Hemorrhoids; Stretch Marks; Nervous Tension; Menstrual Cramps; Children’s Overtired Muscles; Varicose Veins; Neuritis; Bursitis; Leg and Decubitis ulcers (that fail to heal using conventional approaches); Post-operative edema (treatment has proven so effective, hospital stays were reduced by 25%); Peripheral occlusive disease (“the goal is to maintain an optimal blood flow rate to the affected part…. In general the temperature should be maintained at the highest level, which does not increase the circulatory discrepancy as shown by cyanosis and pain.” Therapeutic Heat and Cold, pp. 456-457).


Infrared Heat and Coronary Artery Disease, Arteriosclerosis and Hypertension

Finnish researchers, reporting the regular use of conventional saunas state "there is abundant evidence to suggest that blood vessels of regular sauna-goers remain elastic and pliable longer due to the regular dilation and contraction" of blood vessels induced by sauna use, such as the Health Mate Sauna.

In 1989, German medical researchers reported in Dermatol Monatsschr a single whole-body session of infrared-induced hyperthermia lasting over one hour had only beneficial effects on subjects with State I and State II essential hypertension. Each subject experienced a rise in core body temperature to a maximum level of 35.5 degrees Celsius (100.5°F). All the subjects in one experiment had significant decreases in arterial, venous, and mean blood pressure that lasted for at least 24 hours and linked, according to researchers, to a persistent peripheral dilation effect. An improvement in plasma viscosity was also noted.

Another group of similar hypertensive patients was also studied under the same conditions of hyperthermia, with an eye toward more carefully evaluating the circulatory system effects induced by this type of whole-body heating. During each infrared session, there was a significant decrease of blood pressure, cardiac ejection resistance, and total peripheral resistance in every subject. There was also a significant increase of the subjects' heart rates, stroke volumes, cardiac outputs and ejection fractions. The researchers cite these last three effects as evidence that stimulation of the heart during infrared induced hyperthermia is well-compensated, while the prior list of effects show clear detail of the microcirculatory changes leading to the desired result of lowering blood pressure.


Ear, Nose, and Throat Conditions Relieved with Infrared Heat

In Japan, ear, nose, and throat conditions were relieved with infrared heat treatments:

• Chronic middle-ear inflammation or infection (in one study of chronic serous otitis media no pathogenic bacteria were isolated in 70% of the subjects studied after the use of heat)

• Sore throats

• Tinnitus (chronic severe case cleared with 10 infrared treatments)

• Nose bleeding (reduced)

• Infrared therapy is used routinely in burn units throughout Asia

• Skin conditions improved in Japan and China with the use of infrared heat application.

• Nettle rash

• Clogged pores (unplugged of cosmetics, unexcelled skin texture and tone)

• Poor skin tone (restored to a more youthful level)

• Scars and pain from burns or wounds (decreased in severity and extent)

• Lacerations (healed quicker with less pain and scarring)

• Acne (three to four treatments may open pores that have been nonfunctioning for years, forcing out clogging cosmetics, and loosening dry outer skin)

• Teenage skin problems (clearing acne and blackheads)

• Body odor (improved functioning of the skin especially body odor, induced by occupational exposure to odorous chemicals)

• Eczema and Psoriasis (respond well)

• Sunburn (According to the Clayton’s Electrotherapy, 9th Edition, "infrared radiations are the only antidote to excessive ultraviolet radiations.")

• Ketoids (form at a reduced rate in those prone to their formation and may be softened by infrared heat if they have formed)

• Dandruff (increased blood flow through the scalp)


Mikkel Aaland’s book Sweat (Capra Press, 1978) Quotes a Finnish Doctor

"The best dressed foreigner can come into a doctor's office, and when his skin is examined, it is found to be rough as bark. On the other hand, as a result of the sauna, the skin of any Finnish worker is supple and healthy.”

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