turning up the heat: infrared saunas

Using the infrared sauna at Revitalab, in River North, Chicago.

Using the infrared sauna at Revitalab, in River North, Chicago.

Over the course of the past two months, I’ve been stepping up the frequency of what I like to call “heroic methods” to help my body detox the Lyme spirochetes. While some people tend to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Lyme disease, I prefer to try one treatment at a time so I can track what’s actually working!

Similar to when a fever is fighting an infection, raising body temperature in an infrared sauna increases blood flow and sweating which helps to remove toxins (including heavy metals), enhance immune function, and stimulate endorphin production. Treating Lyme disease requires not only killing whatever microbe(s) might be present, but also restoring the immune system to a functional state.

For those of us with Lyme disease, brief episodes of elevated body temperature can diminish microbe reproduction, reduce joint inflammation, and enhance the effectiveness of other therapies.

Other benefits include weight loss (increased temperature leads to an increase in heart rate that burns calories), skin benefits such as boosting collagen production, and stress reduction. It turns out that when you are exposed to high temperatures, your body releases endorphins, aka feel-good hormones.⁣ The increased production of endorphins helps you achieve deep relaxation. It also helps to eliminate the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles, which tends to make you feel tense. ⁣

I found a local health and wellness center called Revitalab in River North, Chicago that offers infrared sauna sessions. Given that my vasovagal syncope tends to be exacerbated by high heat (as well as high altitude), I was a bit apprehensive about these sessions.

However, I soon learned that compared to traditional saunas or steam rooms that heat air, an infrared sauna only heats your inner core body temperature – the light turns into heat as soon as it hits your body.

I also learned that the temperature of the dry sauna can be very specifically regulated, allowing it to gradually increase as my tolerance improves. In addition to temperature control, infrared saunas offer chromotherapy – medical grade color therapy. The color options align with the chakras (the seven energy centers in our body through which energy flows), providing various medical benefits. Pictured to the right, you can see that I chose the crown chakra embodied through violet, a color used to calm the nervous system, sooth organs, and relax muscles. I admit this chromotherapy sounds a little out there, but I’m open to just about anything on my journey to wellness!

I started this detox method with a 20-minute session at 125 degrees Fahrenheit. I know that sounds crazy hot, but I swear it’s do-able! Today, I’m able to tolerate 40 minutes at 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can also adjust the intensity of the heat – e.g. I started at 75% capacity, and by my third session I was at 100% capacity. I definitely sweat, but it’s nothing extreme - more like an oily sweat rather than a sticky sweat you’d see from working out. Admittedly, there was one session when I stepped out of the sauna and got light headed but looking back, I think this was because I hadn’t eaten much prior to the session. Don’t let this happen to you!

I’ve read that most people see faster progress when the sessions are done less intensely, and instead more consistently, ideally on a daily basis. Since I can never predict what my symptoms will be like tomorrow, I shoot for three sauna sessions a week so I can work around my symptoms. A hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate salts) is an at-home option with similar benefits. Personally, I struggle with hot baths – I wish I enjoyed them but I just get too overheated. This also backs my commentary that the heat within an infrared saunas isn’t too intense!

In the interest of relaxing, I normally bring a book or magazine to read (the space is a little too small to lay down and take a snooze), and leave my sessions feeling totally zen.

I like to think of my sauna sessions as a whole body facial that detoxes my immune system, leaves my skin glowing, and helps me sleep soundly through the night.

Overall, I’d recommend trying out an infrared session for yourself!*

* Please note that I’m sharing this with you as a point of reference, not as a recommendation because session length and heat intensity varies per person and is dependent upon state of health and stamina.