Diabetes and Saunas?

We’re fortunate to have a sauna in our rented holiday house. I got out of it after a forty minute sweat feeling refreshed especially after a “coolish” shower. It got me thinking if there is any research out there about he benefits or dangers of saunas for diabetics.

There’s been some research carried out showing that infrared saunas improved the quality of life in test subjects who were diabetic. This was determined through a health survey of the participants. What would that mean for a diabetic specifically? I don’t know because I’m not paying fifty-one bucks to get through the paywall. My guess is that this would be the same for non-diabetics. There’s certainly nothing touted in the abstract about lowering blood glucose or blood pressure, etc.

Another study suggests that thermotherapy reverses the negative effects that fatty meals have on narrowing the arteries in the skin. However, the study did not use saunas, and it does not mention what kind of fat was consumed. Everyone who regularly reads my articles should know that not all fats are equal. Still, the study argues that thermotherapy reverses the narrowing of the arteries brought on by an unhealthy (?) meal. So this suggests there could be benefits to cardio-vascular health perhaps.

So the studies above are not hugely helpful to me. The first was a subjective “how do you feel now” and the second was very narrow and did not offer much in the way of conclusions or recommendations. However, the last study I found is much more interesting since it gathered data from forty previous studies which examined the benefits and dangers of saunas since 2000. Only one study concluded that saunas had negative benefits.

One of the more interesting studies which was reviewed involved 2315 Finnish men who were followed for twenty years. After adjusting for confounding factors, like smoking and diabetes, this study found a 66% risk reduction of dementia, a 65% risk reduction of Alzheimer’s disease, a 63% risk reduction of sudden cardiac death and a 40% risk reduction of all-cause mortality. Of course, diabetics are at a greater risk of developing or dying from the above diseases. This is a very encouraging find.

The conclusion of this meta-study speaks for itself:

Regular infrared and/or Finnish sauna bathing has the potential to provide many beneficial health effects, especially for those with cardiovascular-related and rheumatological disease, as well as athletes seeking improved exercise performance. The mechanisms for these effects may include increased bioavailability of NO (nitric oxide) to vascular endothelium, heat shock protein-mediated metabolic activation, immune and hormonal pathway alterations, enhanced excretions of toxicants through increased sweating, and other hormetic stress responses.

Currently there is insufficient evidence to recommend specific types of sauna bathing for specific clinical conditions. While regular sauna bathing appears to be well-tolerated in the clinical setting with only minor and infrequent adverse effects reported, further data on the frequency and extent of adverse effects is required. Further studies are also required to explore the mechanisms by which sauna bathing exerts physiological, psychological, and metabolic effects, as well as to better define the benefits and risks of distinct types of saunas and the optimal frequency and duration of sauna bathing for beneficial health effects.

Conclusion

Of the studies that are out there, the evidence is overwhelming that saunas are beneficial for diabetics and non-diabetics alike. However, it looks like a lot more research needs to be done for specific diseases including diabetes. Unfortunately, I don’t live near any saunas. Maybe at some point I’ll build my own!

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