Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Tracking my efforts to beat Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), aka CFIDS, aka CFS

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Far Infrared Sauna for ME/CFS Treatment

What if you could purchase a magic button for a few hundred dollars?  When you pressed the button it would give you about 50% more energy for a couple of hours after, then would make you fall into a restful sleep?  Would it be worth the price?  For me, that's what my portable far infrared (FIR) sauna has become.

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!


  1. Congrats on the FIR sauna relief. It's always great to find something that can reliably improve your symptoms. God knows with CFS it ain't easy to do.

    I too have tried the FIR sauna. I didn't buy one though. A local tanning salon had one, so that's where I went to use it.

    I used the FIR about 10 times. I forget how long the sessions were, but somewhere from 30-60 minutes.

    For me I didn't notice any benefits or any drawbacks. I've read positive things online about FIRs and CFS, but guess it's just not the solution for me.

    1. It's good to get a different perspective on FIR saunas. Thanks, Greyson. Isn't it strange how things that work for some PWME's don't work for others? I think it's because we all have slightly different etiologies.

  2. The ever soothing far infrared sauna sessions! I actually tried it because of my best friend’s recommendation. He knows I have had difficulty sleeping and he said that a far infrared sauna session would be able help. And so it did!!! He said it’s because of the infrared heat that penetrates through to the muscle tissues which helps our mind and body to relax.

    Neil Dalby

  3. Hi Patrick,

    I'm toying with the idea of getting a far infrared sauna from Amazon. Are you still enjoying yours? Can you think of any drawbacks to the lie-down kinds? Do you mind me asking if Dr. Chia thought it was a good idea? Also, what brand did you get? I always have this tendency to want to buy the $600 one versus the $200 because somehow it must be safer or more effective! (I'm asking for this for my 40th bday from my family - they wanted to get me a "luxury" item - I, if course, have no income, thank you very much, M.E., so won't be buying it for myself) Thanks for the info! Hope you're having a good week.

    1. Elizabth, I am still enjoying my sauna. I use it every other day and I honestly think it is the most relevant factor to the uptick in health that I experienced beginning about last September.

      I have never actually asked Dr. Chia for his thoughts on the sauna, so I don't know what he would say. The only draw-back I can think of to the lie-down kind is that you can't watch TV or read a book as easily while doing those. That might be an issue for me because the TV and book reading really help me stick to a regular routine. I actually look forward to my sauna sessions because it's an excuse to just take some "me time." lol.

      I wish I could tell you if the cheaper versions are as good. All I know is that I've been very happy with my more expensive kind (which I got simply because my other doctor recommended it.) Best of luck with your decisions. Please let me know how it works out. Hope you are well.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to answer! I think perhaps, in light of our finances, it is absolutely nuts to get the sauna, after all. I mean, I could ask my family for an Amazon gift card for supplements and that would probably be smarter... But, I'll think about the cheaper sauna... If I'm going to spend $200 on something, though, I'm kind of thinking about a juicer or a Mio Alpha heart rate monitor (I can't take the strap on my current one long term!). Anyway, I'm not having a good couple weeks, so I'll stop chatting. I hope your family is getting some sleep now that you have a lovely newborn!

    1. No problem and I'm sorry to hear you're having a bad couple of weeks. I hope it's short-lived. Hang in there. - P

  5. Hi wondered if you might offer an update on how this is helping your symptoms / illness


  6. I would like to see you provide an update as well, when able.

  7. What brand/model did you get? I would help me to know that in making my decision on getting a dome style, but I don't know what brand to trust -- please!

    1. Hi. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I was on vacation.

      I went with the brand my doctor recommended called TheraSage. It is certainly not the least expensive, but the quality has been mostly good so far.

  8. brilliant article thanks. Infrared has many health benefits, most of which people are unaware of. It can ease numerous ailments

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  10. Great article,.
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