Long term effects: still to be determined.
The decision to purchase an FIR sauna didn't come easy. I felt I was already chasing a number of treatments and was reluctant to add yet another. But it was one of those situations where I kept being confronted with people touting the benefits and it became hard to ignore. First, one of my CFS doctors (Dr. W) had been urging me to buy a FIR sauna for several months. He said that many of his clients cite their FIR saunas as their most effective treatment. Then I kept stumbling upon message board threads in which other PWMEs praised the benefits of FIR saunas. Then a personal friend recommended it. So I finally decided to take a chance.
Here's what I've figured out about FIR saunas so far:
What is a portable FIR sauna?
Infrared saunas are simply saunas that generate their heat in a different way, which proponents claim heats the body at a deeper level. As Wikipedia describes it:
An infrared sauna uses infrared heaters to emit infrared radiant heat which is absorbed directly into the human body, unlike traditional saunas which heat the body indirectly via air or steam.In the case of my FIR sauna, I'm not sure exactly how it works. All I know is that I plug the thing in, and the heat just radiates right out of the walls of the sauna. Within a few minutes of plugging it in, it is fully heated.
Most FIR saunas on the market are of the portable variety, meaning they collapse after use and can be stored under a bed or in a closet. Within the portable category, there are several sub-varieties. There are quite a few lay-down varieties. One type is simply a mat that you lay on with a blanket over you, like this. Another lay-down type consists of a semi-cylidrical dome that the user lays inside, like this.
Another common type is the pop-up tent style, where the user sits in a small camping-style folding chair inside a pop-up tent with a PVC frame. The user's head and arms stick outside of the tent so he/she can watch TV or read a book. This is the type I have. Here's a picture of someone using the exact make and model that I have.
What Are the Claimed Benefits for PWMEs?
There are a number of claimed benefits of FIR saunas for PWME's and Lyme patients. The most common claim is, given that the detoxification and methylation pathways are blocked in PWMEs, the sauna provides the body an alternative method of releasing toxins -- by sweating them out. In other words, the normal detoxification pathways are broken, so the sauna opens up a bypass route.
The manufacturer of my FIR sauna also claims that the sauna raises one's body temperature not only during use but for hours afterwards, creating a sort of "artificial fever," which helps a PWME's weakened immune system battle pathogens. I must admit, this claim made a certain amount of sense to me. I've heard the theory that viral-induced ME/CFS tricks the body into lowering it's temperature, making it more difficult for the immune system to fight the virus with heat and fever. The FIR sauna could be a way of artificially raising the body's temperature, at least for a few hours a day.
I've experimented with this theory by taking my temperature using an oral thermometer both before and after my sauna sessions. Generally, I've found that the sauna raises my body temperature by about 1.0 degree. Over the next hour and a half, my temperature gradually returns to pre-sauna temperatures. Is this temporary increase in body temperature enough to substantially help the immune system? I haven't found any answers to this question yet.
A final benefit worth noting is the potential cancer-fighting aspect. Since many PWME's have low Natural Killer Cell function, and therefore lower defenses against cancer, we might need a little outside help. According to Wikipedia:
On the other hand, hyperthermia generated by infrared saunas may kill or weaken tumor cells, and is controlled to limit effects on healthy cells. Tumor cells, with a disorganized and compact vascular structure, have difficulty dissipating heat. Hyperthermia may therefore cause cancerous cells to undergo apoptosis in direct response to applied heat, while healthy tissues can more easily maintain a normal temperature.Note: the manufacturer cautions that the user must be careful to drink a lot of water to replace the liquid that is sweated out, and possibly replace minerals as well.
My Experience with FIR Sauna
First of all, I can't yet tell if the sauna is helping me permanently heal and recover. I may need to wait two or three more months to make that determination. But, I can tell you that it's already been worth the price just for the daily boost of energy it provides.
I try to use it every day, but in reality, I end up using it about 4-5 days a week. I start off by plugging the sauna in and using the attached remote control panel to set the heat setting to the maximum of 5. I place the remote in it's designated pocket. Then I make sure the TV remote is neatly tucked into the other front pocket where I can reach it. I strip down to my boxers, climb inside, and sit down in the camping chair. I zip the sauna closed so that only my head is sticking out. Then I use the remote control to set the time of the session to the maximum duration: 30 minutes. Only my head is outside of the sauna, poking out above a neckhole in the top.
Occasionally I slip my arms out through the arm slits to change the TV channel, but other than that I just relax and enjoy whatever's on TV. For the first 10 minutes, I don't sweat much, as my body temperature slowly rises. But during the last 20 minutes, I am sweating constantly and profusely from seemingly every pore in my body. About every 30 seconds, I feel of bead of sweat give in to gravity and run down my torso, arm or legs.
Despite the high temperature, somehow this isn't as unbearable as the heat generated by traditional saunas. I think this is because it helps to have my head outside of the sauna where it can stay cool and comfortable. On the other hand, Wikipedia says: "This is because far-infrared rays do not heat the air inside the sauna, but they still heat the body."
By the time I climb out of the sauna after 30 minutes, I am soaking wet, as if I've just come out of the shower. My boxers could be wrung out. If my wife is in the room, I'll threaten to wrap her in a bear hug, which makes her squeal and run away, much to my amusement. I then rinse off in the shower.
For the first couple of hours after a sauna session, I feel a comfortable burst of energy, comparable only to the feeling I used to get after a jog or a workout. You know, the feeling where you feel calm but somehow energized and lucid at the same time? In fact, it's exactly like that old post-workout feeling -- I can't distinguish it. It feels like my circulation is finally working again. That's why I said above, it's like having a magic button that I can press to reset how I feel.
Within a couple of hours after the session, I start to feel sleepy...just like after a workout. Typically, I've found that I fall asleep easier and and sleep sounder after a sauna session.
Just to be clear, I don't have any affiliation with any of the sauna manufacturers. I've simply found FIR saunas to be one of my more effective treatments and wanted to spread the word. In fact, any sauna manufacturers who try to spam my comments section will not only be deleted but made an example out of!