Sauna  - An Essential Tool to Detox Your Body for Better Health

Sauna - An Essential Tool to Detox Your Body for Better Health

When you hear the word detox, what comes to mind? Detoxification centers for drug and alcohol rehabilitation? Detox drinks and colon cleansing that will leave you on the toilet for days? How about sweating? Some view detoxification as a function we don’t necessarily have to support – our bodies just do it regardless. Others strive for a detoxifying lifestyle by avoiding toxins and supporting their body’s detox pathways. But what exactly needs detoxing? Let’s dive into the toxins like heavy metals and others that accumulate in your body and how sauna can help.

What Toxins Are You Exposed to?

They’re everywhere! Since World War 2, thousands of chemicals and metals have been released into the environment [1]. The CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals shows hundreds of environmental toxicants measured in people who live in the US. But does the mere presence of a toxicant mean it’s going to do harm? Not necessarily... but we also don’t know. Even the US Environmental Protection Agency admits it’s a “huge scientific challenge” to understand risks of mixtures of multiple chemicals. Researchers warn that, “The presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem” [2].

In contrast, the European Union has banned more hazardous chemicals than any other world region, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Many banned chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are hard to get out of the environment. Sadly, they will be present for decades to come.

It’s no wonder that the rate of chronic diseases and unexplained mystery diseases with “unknown etiologies” are on the rise. Many doctors are unequipped to even know how to assess patients for environmentally caused illness. It’s challenging to make the connection between an unknown/invisible exposure and the adverse outcome that follows, sometimes years apart.

I’m Dr. Christine Krall and I’m the world’s worst detoxifier. From six adverse medication reactions, to environmental mold toxicity, to 2-day hangovers, I had to find my own way to navigate this toxic world. I used to not be able to walk through the perfume aisle in stores without my face swelling up and feeling like I was going to vomit. Anyone else out there like this? Ultimately these experiences piqued my interest in studying naturopathic medicine. As a naturopathic doctor (ND), our training involves coursework in environmental medicine. This is the field that studies the effect of toxins on the body, and how to effectively manage it.

Heavy Metals, Chemicals, and More in Sweat

There are a lot of toxins that we sweat out. In fact, testing that measures blood or urine toxin levels may underestimate the total body burden. This means that some substances are better eliminated through sweat than other detox pathways like urine [3,4]. We sweat out metals, chemicals, mold toxins, drugs, and many other substances.

Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are common in our air, water, food, and environment. They can cause cancer, affect hormones, damage kidneys, and impair musculoskeletal, immune, and cardiovascular function. Sweating is a major way these metals are eliminated. Historically, workers in mercury mines were sent to warmer climates to work in the heat so they could sweat out the mercury “vapors” [5]. One study concluded that “sauna bathing might provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals” [6].

In addition to toxic heavy metals, there are several classes of chemicals that are successfully eliminated through sweating. Many chemicals are fat-soluble, meaning they get stuck in your body fat. And stay there. For a very long time. Sweating helps to mobilize these stored toxins so they can be excreted for good. So if you’re doing a weight loss protocol, keep in mind that you are not only shrinking fat stores but also releasing stored toxins at the same time. This is why a weight loss program should include sweating, whether through exercise and/or sauna.

Chemicals you sweat out include:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in plastics including beverage and baby bottles, food cans, dental composites, and even your store receipt paper. It disrupts hormones and fertility, and has been linked to a number of health problems including diabetes, asthma, ADHD, depression, and others [7].
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants are in bedding, foam in gym mats, animal foods, construction materials, computers, and plastics. They alter hormones and contribute to neurological problems like ADHD and autism [2,4].
  • Organochlorinated pesticides are insecticides sprayed on crops and by pest control services. They’re linked to several cancers, endometriosis, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, and cognitive and behavioral problems in children [8].
  • Phthalate compounds help create plastic products that are soft and malleable. They’re found in plastic wrap for food, soft plastic toys, shower curtains, cosmetics, medications, shopping bags, and many other places. They lead to hormone and reproductive changes [9].
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are found in coolants, paints, electrical wires, and electronic parts. They alter hormones, cause high blood pressure, and cancer [10,11].

Mold illness can happen to people who are exposed to water-damaged buildings. People can experience memory loss, dizziness, sensitivity to foods and chemicals, breathing issues, muscle aches, bloating and other GI issues, and bruising [12]. I used a regimen that included sauna for detoxing after a major mold exposure. Based on the protocol at Haven Medical in Chapel Hill, NC, regular sauna led to my healing. In fact, it was one of my top therapies that gave me immediate relief.

Sauna Protocols for Detoxification

Please note that some of these protocols were carried out under supervised circumstances in medical clinics. Some protocols are very extreme, so I wouldn’t recommend trying it on your own, especially without checking with your healthcare provider first.

Hubbard Protocol

Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, created a detox protocol in 1979 that many medical clinics have since used [13]. The Hubbard Protocol has been used successfully for detoxing from substance abuse, 9/11 Trade Center chemicals in rescue workers, police officers exposed to methamphetamine, chemical exposures resulting in Gulf War Illness, and in firemen and electrical workers exposed to PCBs [10,14,15,16,17,18]. The protocol includes exercise, taking specific supplements, and saunas between 140 ℉ to 180 ℉ in 30-minute sessions, for 2.5 to 5 hours per day – that’s a LONG time to be in the sauna! This protocol usually lasts about 3 weeks [13].

Rea Protocol

Dr. William Rea, Founder of the Environmental Health Center, Dallas created a detoxification protocol that has been used successfully in over 10,000 patients with chemical sensitivities and mold illness [12,19,20]. The protocol includes several modalities, including up to 2 hours of daily sauna set between 140 ℉ and 160 ℉ [13].

Crinnion Protocol

Dr. Walter Crinnion pioneered environmental medicine in the naturopathic field. His comprehensive detoxification program included sauna between 120 ℉ to 130 ℉ for 61 minutes 3 times daily, 5 days per week. Participants of the 3-week intensive program had multiple chemical sensitivity, autoimmune diseases, and other serious conditions. They all reported “good” to “great” results [13,21].

Contrast Therapy and Detoxification

Contrast therapy also plays a role in detoxification. Alternating hot and cold creates a pumping action on your blood vessels which dilate and constrict with the temperature shifts. This improves both blood and lymph circulation to move toxins out [22]. Part of the Hot-Cold-Relax cycle at Sauna House includes a critical step – showering before stepping into the cold plunge. This not only rinses you off for hygienic reasons, but it also rinses the toxins you just sweated out. If you got out of the sauna and didn’t rinse off, those toxins could potentially get reabsorbed through your skin [23]!

What About People Who Have a Hard Time Sweating?

Certain toxins can cripple the heat regulatory mechanisms of the nervous system, resulting in an inability to sweat. What a dilemma! Exercise, hydration, certain supplements, and skin brushing moves the lymph and may help these non-sweaters [5].

Final Thoughts

For those of you who enjoy geekin' out on this stuff, there’s an A-Z list of toxins on the ATSDR website where you can learn about how you’re exposed to toxins. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for helping you to live cleaner. If you wanna be frightened by what’s in your drinking water, they have a great tap water database.

We can’t live in a bubble and avoid all toxins – we have to get out and live our lives. If you focus on a lifestyle that minimizes or avoids known toxins and activates the body’s detox pathways, you should be good. Regular sauna sessions at Sauna House, a healthy diet, and exercise is a great detox-promoting lifestyle. As a bonus, Sauna House creates a space for a technology detox, so your body and mind can reset.

This blog post was researched, edited and written by Dr. Christine Krall, Naturopathic Doctor (ND). Learn more about Dr. Krall and her bio here.

Ready to book your next sauna session, click here to schedule.

Citing our sources:

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April 01, 2024
By: Dr Christine Krall