Effective Sauna Use for Mold Illness Treatment and Deep-Tissue Detoxification

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

You may have seen references to my use of sauna for mold illness treatment and for deep tissue sweating for detoxification in my previous articles. Today I want to dive into sauna “bathing” as a treatment tool a little bit deeper, because passive sweating can really help the body to shed toxins in a safe and therapeutic manner. As a matter of fact, regular sauna sessions progressed me forward in my healing process tremendously, and I also have found sauna use to be very valuable for my patients.  But, while saunas have been used for decades, primarily in Scandinavian countries, their current use in the US has not received as much attention as perhaps it should.

Sauna for Detoxification

Saunas allow for a concentrated sweat, helping to release toxins from the deep tissues of the body, primarily fat tissues, where they are stored. Sauna sweating is regarded as “passive or stationary sweating,” because it doesn’t require physical activity to induce the sweat response. Toxins, whether from mold, chemicals or hormonal byproducts bind with fat cells. If they are not excreted through urine or stool, then they store in these fat cells.  While many of the supplements that you have read about in our articles are for helping the body to detoxify through the liver and kidneys, it is hard for detox supplements to reach toxins that may have already been sequestered into the fat cells. Thus, the only way to really get them out is to sweat…. A lot!

(Note: Mold toxins can be stored in fat cells, because they are not water-soluble and must be first processed by the liver to be flushed out and excreted. Normally, when fat-soluble toxins enter the body, they are absorbed into the lymph and are neutralized by white blood cells in the lymph nodes. In the case of a lymphatic system that is congested with toxins or an unhealthy digestive system—both of which are very common for people living in a moldy environment, because they are constantly bombarded by mold toxins—the process of detoxification is severely impaired and instead of being excreted, toxins make their way back to the liver. As the liver becomes congested, it makes thicker, ineffective bile, thus creating a cycle of toxicity. The liver then begins to expel the fat-soluble toxins into the bloodstream, not out of the body. Once in the bloodstream, toxins can find their way into the fat cells, where they are stored, sometimes for many years.)

Can You Sweat?

I have had patients tell me that they already sweat, but the type of sweating that occurs with sauna is a bit different, it is stimulated from deep within the tissues, not the superficial layers.  One of my biggest concerns is that some patients who have been ill for some time have lost the ability to sweat.  In fact, this is a question that I ask each patient, “Can you sweat and if so, how much?”  Sweating is a part of the autonomic nervous system and when the body’s toxic load is too high, little sweating may be able occur.

Sauna use can help re-train the body to sweat, and therefore, greatly reduce a person’s toxic load.  It must be used cautiously and judiciously, though, because as like many therapies, it can be overdone. In the extremely sensitive, we start with just a few minutes of sauna time.  If patients do not begin to sweat within 5 minutes, then they need to come out and try again the next day. Gradually, the “sweat response” can be retrained. The goal is to get each patient’s body responding to the heat appropriately and sweating easily and comfortably.

The Type of Sauna MATTERS

The type of sauna is also important.  Please note, sauna should be DRY!  Not a steam bath.  To allow proper stimulation of sweat, dry heat is necessary.   Older dry-heat saunas required heating up to 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit, but the newer, far infrared saunas help users obtain the same benefits from lower and more tolerable temperatures in the 125-140 degree range.  As I stated before, how often and how long to remain in the sauna can vary from patient to patient depending on both their toxicity level and their ability to sweat.  Sauna is very safe and effective but starting cautiously is always a good idea.

Sauna Bathing Best Practices

Hydration during the sauna session, mineral and fatty acid replacement afterwards, and a bath or shower right after are all necessary.   (Bathing and showering must be done to remove excreted toxins from the skin to prevent reabsorption back into the system)

Saunas in health clubs may be fine, but many patients, if they are able, prefer to purchase their own sauna. They find that having one in their home makes it easier to make sauna bathing a regular and frequent practice.  Heavenly Heat Saunas makes a great one from hard poplar which does not outgas any wood chemicals, and no glues are used in its assembly.

Basic guidelines for sauna use:

(Note: If you are on blood pressure or heart medications, please clear using a sauna with your physician before starting this program.)

  • If you are well enough to exercise, then anything you can do before getting into sauna that helps to dilate blood vessels will enhance the benefits of sauna.

 

  • If you are extremely sensitive, and you are not a “sweater,” then start with 5 minutes in the sauna per day.  If you break a sweat, then it is ok to stay in for 10 minutes. If you do not sweat in 5 minutes, then come out and try again the next day.  You can gradually increase your time in the sauna as you respond more and more readily to the heat.

 

  • If you are more tolerant and can sweat, then it is ok to go ahead and start with 15 minutes.  This can be done daily.   If after 3-4 days of this you are feeling ok, then you may increase to 30 minutes per session.

 

  • If at any time, you feel like you have overdone it—evidence of overdoing it is feeling overtired or weak—then skip a day before resuming.  This process is very individual, and you may have to find what works best for you.

 

  • During sauna sessions, sip on an electrolyte replacer. I like Klean Hydration as it tastes good and has no artificial chemicals, colors or sugars (unlike popular sports drinks, which I do NOT recommend). The important thing here is to sweat, but to not allow the body to be depleted of electrolytes or minerals that are crucial to detoxification, and energy and fat metabolism. Key ingredients to look for in an electrolyte replacer are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium with a small amount of carbohydrates to support the uptake of fluid from the intestine into the plasma.

After sauna:

 

  • Shower and scrub your skin.

Additional Notes and Research on the Benefits of Sauna

There have been many comprehensive and multi-year studies done on the benefits of sauna for the treatment of various medical conditions. I will briefly highlight some of those studies, should you wish to do a deeper dive into the medical literature and learn more about the topic.

  • Regular Finnish sauna therapy improved lung function in a group of 12 men from the Netherlands with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These men did not experience adverse effects from the sauna, had significant improvements in respiratory volume and capacity, and reported that they did not have to expend as much effort to breathe. (https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-018-1198-0)

 

  • Forty-six patients who were hospitalized for chronic pain (of at least six-month duration) were divided into two groups. Twenty-four subjects participated in a multidisciplinary protocol (cognitive behavioral therapy, rehabilitation, and exercise therapy) without additional saunas, while 22 subjects were enrolled in the same program but also had 15 minutes of 140°F Far Infrared Sauna (FIR sauna) therapy five days weekly for four weeks. At the end of the treatment program on discharge, the sauna group exhibited diminished pain behaviors and had statistically lower anger scores. A two-year follow-up revealed that 77 percent of the sauna group had been able to return to work, compared to only 50 percent of the non-sauna group. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531513105017504?via%3Dihub)

 

  • Twenty-eight patients with mild depression, general fatigue, and appetite loss were divided into treatment and control groups. Fourteen subjects participated in 20 FIR sauna sessions over a four-week period. Each session lasted 15 minutes in a 140°F unit followed by 30 minutes of bed rest with a blanket. When compared with the control group, FIR sauna treatment produced statistically significant improvements in somatic complaints, hunger, and ability to relax. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16046381

 

  • In one study by the late Dr. William Rea (Environmental Health Center, Dallas), 210 highly reactive and chemically sensitive patients with a variety of symptoms did only one or two 40-minute sauna sessions a day for one month. Even a program this short yielded impressive results. Within one month 63% measurably decreased their levels of toxic chemicals and 31% improved their symptoms. (Rea WJ, Pan Y, Johnson AR, et al. Reduction of chemical sensitivity by means of heat depuration, physical therapy and nutritional supplementation in a controlled environment. J Nutr Environ Med 1996;6:141-148.).

 

 

For links to purchase supplements mentioned in this article, please visit https://wellevate.me/susantanner/.  To send us a question or to comment on this article, please write to us below or email us at newsletter@sinusitiswellness.com.
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About the Author:

Catherine Fruechtenicht is a freelance writer, blogger, and former magazine editor. She currently dedicates her time and resources to running her blog www.moldfreeliving.com, where she discusses practical tips for health and wellness for the growing population of people dealing with mold- or environmentally-triggered illness. Having dealt with chronic and debilitating symptoms caused by mold in her own home, she shares expert information, tips, and experiential knowledge from her and her family’s journey back to wellness on her blog to help others find hope and healing.

2 Comments

  1. Kathleen Williams September 30, 2019 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I don’t know if you are still checking comments for this article, but I am glad to have read its contents, and I have a question. I’ve been ill with toxic mold for about 3 years, and I react to almost all of the ingested remedies that are known to help, so have made no progress. I now have a portable infrared sauna and for three and a half weeks I’ve been using it daily for a few minutes at a minimum temperature. I have not sweated even in hot summers for a number of years, and I don’t sweat in the sauna at all. But after about ten days of sauna, when we had a hot day in New York in September I did sweat a bit around the middle! I think this might go on indefinitely, in which case the sauna will be a wasted investment.

    Is there anything else I can try? (My daughter tells me she never sweats in her wooden sauna until after 15 minutes of use.)

    • Catherine October 3, 2019 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      Are you dehydrated chronically, but peeing a lot? You may have low anti-diuretic hormone. If this is the case, you body is likely holding onto to toxins and not able to readily sweat. You may need to really focus on bile flow and opening detox pathways first, so that you body can release and get rid of toxins. Are you currently working with a practitioner? You may need a full hormonal work-up to see what is going on there as well. I don’t think you should give up, though. Sweating is something that the body can be primed to do and it is very important. Passive sauna sweating can take time for some people. Go slow, and for short intervals, but do raise the temp a bit. Each time, as you can tolerate it, tack a bit more time on. Also, make sure you are getting and replenishing electrolytes. That will help your body know it is ok to release sweat. Does that help? I hope so.

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