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HYPERTHERMIC DETOXIFICATION THERAPY USING THE FAR INFRARED SAUNA
Dr. John Cline M.D., Cline Medical Center, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
Saunas and steam baths have been used for centuries by cultures around the world to bring about detoxification. Traditionally, saunas have been used to improve mental clarity, to diminish pain and promote longevity. In the past few years, hyperthermic (sweat) therapy has been studied quite extensively and several papers on this subject have appeared in the scientific literature. Through this research, it has been shown that saunas greatly assist in the elimination of accumulated toxins. Toxic metals, including mercury as well as organic toxins such as PCB’s and pesticide residues, are excreted in high quantities in the sweat during properly conducted hyperthermic therapy sessions.
Heat causes toxins to be released from cells. The toxic molecules will then reside transiently in the lymph fluid. Since sweat is manufactured from the lymph fluid, toxins present in the lymph fluid will exit the body through the sweat. Because the liver and kidneys are not required for this process, these organs are largely unburdened by hyperthermic therapy and toxins are able to leave the body even when liver or kidney function is impaired. This may be a distinct advantage for chronically ill patients whose livers and kidneys may already be under toxic stress.
OTHER ADVANTAGES OF HYPERTHERMIA IN THE CHRONICALLY ILL PATIENT
Hyperthermic therapy also is one of the few things, which brings about a significant rise in the level of growth hormone, an important hormone that helps to maintain lean body tissue, including muscle.
For the chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia (FMS) patient, hyperthermic therapy helps to restore normal autonomic nervous system functioning. This is the part of the nervous system, which governs unconscious functions such as muscle tension, sweating, blood pressure, digestion and balance. Autonomic dysregulation is the term used to describe changes in the nervous system, which result in many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia (FMS) . Muscle pain, excessive body odor, digestive complaints, visual disturbances and dizziness are some of the many manifestations of autonomic dysregulation. Repeated sessions of hyperthermic therapy can greatly assist in the restoration of normal autonomic nervous system functioning.
ADVANTAGES OF THE FAR INFRARED SAUNA
Many people with chronic illnesses find the high temperatures inside a regular sauna or steam room intolerable. In these traditional systems, the inside of the body is heated completely from the surface of the skin. Even though you feel very hot in these units, the heating is quite shallow – only a few millimetres below the skin. In the far infrared sauna, invisible light rays emanate from several infrared emitters. This infrared light penetrates deep into the fat and muscles of the body, creating a more powerful detoxifying influence upon the deeper tissues of the body. As well, since the air temperature remains much lower than in a traditional sauna, the individual feels more comfortable. Sweating often begins before the person feels very hot at all and the sweating is more profuse than in a traditional sauna.
Finally, unlike traditional saunas or steam baths, which can often leave a person feeling exhausted, the far infrared sauna is usually quite energizing. Many people actually use these before going to work in the morning, something that one would never do with a traditional sauna. Research conducted largely in Japan suggests that the far infrared sauna has a wider range of therapeutic effects than traditional saunas or steam baths, especially for detoxification.
New research is revealing something remarkable about why the body sweats. Beyond its obvious role in regulating body temperature, sweating has been found to facilitate the elimination of accumulated heavy metals and petrochemicals, indicating that if we want to be healthy we should put regular effort into doing more sweating.
Sweating has long been known as a source of bodily, if not also spiritual “cleansing.” But until recently, very little ‘scientific’ confirmation existed proving that using heat and/or exercise to facilitate perspiration-induced detoxification actually works the way that many natural health advocates claim. With the Rise of Biomedicine and its so-called ‘evidence-based’ model of determining what is true and thereby legal to practice, this conspicuous lack of clinical proof has resulted in a veritable inquisition against those who claim that bodily detoxification through sweating is anything more than a form of ‘quackery.’
Sweating Confirmed As A Detoxifier of Metals
Enter the findings of a groundbreaking 2011 study published in the Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology, which explored the effects of bioaccumulated toxic elements within the human body and their method of excretion:
“Toxic elements were found to differing degrees in each of blood, urine, and sweat. Serum levels for most metals and metalloids were comparable with those found in other studies in the scientific literature. Many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat. Presumably stored in tissues, some toxic elements readily identified in the perspiration of some participants were not found in their serum. Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body.”
The researchers also made the important observation that, “Biomonitoring for toxic elements through blood and/or urine testing may underestimate the total body burden of such toxicants. Sweat analysis should be considered as an additional method for monitoring bioaccumulation of toxic elements in humans.”
These are truly novel findings insofar as sweating, at least from the perspective of evolutionary biology, is considered to exist primarily for thermoregulation (sweat cools the surface of the skin and reduces body temperature, functioning as a whole body cooling system). While the sweat glands have a well-known secondary role for the excretion of water and electrolytes, this function is not generally understood to be a form ‘detoxification.’
Also, this study underscores just how common it is for conventional medical practice to overlook the relevance of environmental factors in health (e.g. exposures to metals, petrochemicals, toxins), as many of these ‘vectors’ of exposure/poisoning are not properly measurable via blood or urine tests; that is, when they even care to look. This blind spot, of course, feeds the delusion that one can suppress bodily symptoms associated with environmental exposures with additional patented chemicals, in the downward spiral that is drug-based medicine. The obvious alternative method-identify and remove the poisons – isn’t even on the table, unless the practitioner happens to be aware of natural, integrative or functional medical principles…
Why Blood and Urine Analysis May Fail To Reveal The Problem
These preliminary research findings were further confirmed in a 2012 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Public and Environmental Health. The study titled, “Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review,” was performed by researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ontario, Canada, and was based on a review of 24 studies on toxicant levels in the sweat.
The researchers discovered the following:
- In individuals with higher exposure or body burden, sweat generally exceeded plasma or urine concentrations, and dermal could match or surpass urinary daily excretion.
- Arsenic dermal excretion was several folds higher in arsenic-exposed individuals than in unexposed controls.
- Cadmium was more concentrated in sweat than in blood plasma.
- Sweat lead was associated with high-molecular-weight molecules, and in an interventional study, levels were higher with endurance compared with intensive exercise.
- Mercury levels normalized with repeated saunas in a case report.
The researchers concluded, “Sweating deserves consideration for toxic element detoxification.”
Sweating Also Removes the Insidious Petrochemicals BPA and Phthalates
But it gets better. Two additional studies published in 2012 found that sweating enhances the elimination of dangerous endocrine-disrupting petrochemicals.
The first study, involving 20 subjects made to undergo induced sweating, found that the ubiquitous petrochemical Bisphenol A (BPA) was excreted through sweat, even in some individuals with no BPA detected in their serum or urine samples. This clearly indicates that the body uses sweat to rid itself of the BPA that has bio accumulated in tissue.
The second study by the same research group, also involving 20 subjects, found that phthalate, a plasticizer tied to breast cancer and various other conditions associated with endocrine disruption, was present in concentrations twice as high in their sweat compared to their urine, and in several individuals was found in their sweat but not in their blood serum, “…suggesting the possibility of phthalate retention and bioaccumulation.”
The researchers concluded:
“Induced perspiration may be useful to facilitate elimination of some potentially toxic phthalate compounds including DEHP and MEHP. “
Concluding Remarks and Tips
The conclusion: Sweating performs more than simply a cooling function for the body. It appears that it is also a way through which the bodily burden of accumulated toxins can be more rapidly detoxified. The natural medical tradition has long argued that the skin is the largest organ of elimination, and that oftentimes skin problems reflect a state of chronic toxicity. Perhaps modern science is only now catching up to these age-old observations.
As far as practical implementation, what are the best ways to sweat? Exercise and Sauna Therapy carry a wide range of additional ‘evidence-based’ health benefits (not to mention you feel great afterwards!), providing plenty of reason to engage these activities with enough effort and discipline to obtain a good sweat. Truly, any form of purposeful movement sustained for long enough, with the right intensity, can produce a healthy sweat. As Edgar Allan Poe said “The best things in life make you sweaty.”
 Stephen J Genuis, Detlef Birkholz, Ilia Rodushkin, Sanjay Beesoon. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011 Aug ;61(2):344-57. Epub 2010 Nov 6. PMID: 21057782
 Margaret E Sears, Kathleen J Kerr, Riina I Bray. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. J Environ Public Health. 2012 ;2012:184745. Epub 2012 Feb 22. PMID:22505948
 Stephen J Genuis, Sanjay Beesoon, Detlef Birkholz, Rebecca A Lobo. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012 ;2012:185731. Epub 2011 Dec 27. PMID: 22253637
 Stephen J Genuis, Sanjay Beesoon, Rebecca A Lobo, Detlef Birkholz. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012 ;2012:615068. Epub 2012 Oct 31. PMID: 23213291
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.
By Dr. Rhonda Patrick PHD
For the most part, people don’t like to get hot.
The massive indoor climate control systems and pleasantly chilled water fountains found in most gyms speak to this fact. There are some exceptions — Bikram yoga, for example — but they’re few and far between.
But here’s the surprise: increasing your core temperature for short bursts is not only healthful; it can also dramatically improve performance.
This is true whether it’s done in conjunction with your existing workout or as an entirely separate activity. I’m going to explain how heat acclimation through sauna use can promote physiological adaptations that result in increased endurance, easier acquisition of muscle mass, and a general increased capacity for stress tolerance.
I will refer to this concept of deliberately acclimating yourself to heat, independent of working out, as “hyperthermic conditioning.”
I’m also going to explain the positive effects of heat acclimation on the brain, including the growth of new brain cells, improvement in focus, learning and memory, and ameliorating depression and anxiety.
In addition, you’ll learn how modulation of core temperature might even be largely responsible for “runner’s high” via an interaction between the dynorphin/beta-endorphin opioid systems.
The Effects of Heat Acclimation on Endurance
If you’ve ever run long distances or exercised for endurance, it’s intuitive that increased body temperature will ultimately induce strain, attenuate your endurance performance, and accelerating exhaustion.
What might not be as intuitive is this: acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use induces adaptations that reduce the later strain of your primary aerobic activity.
Hyperthermic conditioning improves your performance during endurance training activities by causing adaptations, such as improved cardiovascular and thermoregulatory mechanisms that reduce the negative effects associated with elevations in core body temperature.
This helps optimize your body for subsequent exposures to heat during your next big race or even your next workout.
Just a few of the physiological adaptations that occur are:
- Improved cardiovascular mechanisms and lower heart rate.
- Lower core body temperature during workload
- Higher sweat rate and sweat sensitivity as a function of increased thermoregulatory control.
- Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle and other tissues.
- Reduced rate of glycogen depletion due to improved muscle perfusion.
- Increased red blood cell count.
- Increased efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles.
Hyperthermic conditioning optimizes blood flow to the heart, skeletal muscles, skin, and other tissues because it increases plasma volume. This leads to endurance enhancements in your next workout or race, when your core body temperature is once again elevated.
Being heat acclimated enhances endurance by the following mechanisms…
- It increases plasma volume and blood flow to the heart. This results in reduced cardiovascular strain and lowers the heart rate for the same given workload. These cardiovascular improvements have been shown to enhance endurance in both highly trained and untrained athletes.
- It increases blood flow to the skeletal muscles, keeping them fueled with glucose, esterified fatty acids, and oxygen while removing by-products of the metabolic process such as lactic acid. The increased delivery of nutrients to muscles reduces their dependence on glycogen stores. Endurance athletes often hit a “wall” when they have depleted their muscle glycogen stores. Hyperthermic conditioning has been shown to reduce muscle glycogen use by 40%-50% compared to before heat acclimation. This is presumably due to the increased blood flow to the muscles. In addition, lactate accumulation in blood and muscle during exercise is reduced after heat acclimation.
- It improves thermoregulatory control, which operates by activating the sympathetic nervous system and increasing the blood flow to the skin and, thus the sweat rate. This dissipates some of the core body heat. After acclimation, sweating occurs at a lower core temperature and the sweat rate is maintained for a longer period.
So what sort of gains can you anticipate?
One study demonstrated that a 30-minute sauna session two times a week for three weeks POST-workout increased the time that it took for study participants to run until exhaustion by 32% compared to baseline.
The 32% increase in running endurance found in this particular study was accompanied by a 7.1% increase in plasma volume and 3.5% increase in red blood cell count. This increased red blood cell count accompanying these performance gains feed right back into those more general mechanisms we talked about earlier, the most obvious of which being: more red blood cells increase oxygen delivery to muscles. It is thought that heat acclimation boosts the RBC count through erythropoietin because the body is trying to compensate for the corresponding rise in plasma volume.
In other words, hyperthermic conditioning through sauna use doesn’t just make you better at dealing with heat; it makes you better, period. I do want to mention that while these gains were made with a small sample size some of the later studies that I point out reinforce this conclusion.
The Effects of Hyperthermic Conditioning on Muscle Hypertrophy
Exercise can induce muscular hypertrophy. Heat induces muscular hypertrophy. Both of these together synergize to induce hyper-hypertrophy.
Here are a few of the basics of how muscle hypertrophy works: muscle hypertrophy involves both the increase in the size of muscle cells and, perhaps unsurprisingly, an accompanying increase in strength. Skeletal muscle cells do contain stem cells that are able to increase the number of muscle cells. So what determines whether your muscle cells are growing or shrinking. A shift in the protein synthesis-to-degradation ratio and an applied workload on the muscle tissue, that’s it.
At any given time your muscles are performing a balancing act between NEW protein synthesis and degradation of existing proteins. The important thing is your net protein synthesis, and not strictly the amount of new protein synthesis occurring. Protein degradation occurs both during muscle use and disuse.
This is where hyperthermic conditioning shines: heat acclimation reduces the amount of protein degradation occurring and as a result it increases net protein synthesis and, thus muscle hypertrophy. Hyperthermic conditioning is known to increase muscle hypertrophy by increasing net protein synthesis through three important mechanisms:
- Induction of heat shock proteins.
- Robust induction of growth hormone.
- Improved insulin sensitivity.
Exercise induces both protein synthesis and degradation in skeletal muscles but, again, it is the net protein synthesis that causes the actual hypertrophy. When you exercise, you are increasing the workload on the skeletal muscle and, thus, the energetic needs of your muscle cells.
The mitochondria found in each of these cells kick into gear in order to help meet this demand and start sucking in the oxygen found in your blood in order to produce new energy in the form of ATP. This process is called oxidative phosphorylation. A by-product of this process, however, is the generation of oxygen free radicals like superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, which is more generally referred to simply as “oxidative stress”.
Heat Stress Triggers Heat Shock Proteins That Prevent Protein Degradation
Oxidative stress is a major source of protein degradation. For this reason, any means of preventing exercise-induced oxidative protein damage and/or repairing damaged proteins, while keeping the exercise induced protein synthesis, will ultimately cause a net increase of protein synthesis and therefore will be anabolic.
Heat shock proteins, as the name implies, are induced by heat and are a prime example of hormesis. Intermittent exposure to heat induces a hormetic response, which promotes the expression of a gene called heat shock factor 1 and subsequently HSPs involved in stress resistance.
- HSPs can prevent damage by directly scavenging free radicals and also by supporting cellular antioxidant capacity through its effects on maintaining glutathione.
- HSPs can repair misfolded, damaged proteins thereby ensuring proteins have their proper structure and function.
Okay, let’s take a step back from the underlying mechanisms and look at the big picture of heat acclimation in the context of increasing muscle hypertrophy:
It has been shown that a 30-minute intermittent hyperthermic treatment in rats induced a robust expression of heat shock proteins in muscle and, importantly, this correlated with 30% more muscle regrowth than a control group during the seven days subsequent to a week of immobilization.
This HSP induction from a 30-minute intermittent hyperthermic exposure can persist for up to 48 hours after heat shock. Heat acclimation actually causes a higher basal expression of HSPs and a more robust induction upon elevation in core body temperature. This is a great example of how a person can theoretically use hyperthermic conditioning to increase their own heat shock proteins and thereby reap the rewards.
Heat Stress Triggers a Massive Release of Growth Hormone
Another way in which hyperthermic conditioning can be used to increase anabolism is through a massive induction of growth hormone. Many of the anabolic effects of growth hormone are primarily mediated by IGF-1, which is synthesized in response to growth hormone. There are two important mechanisms by which IGF-1 promotes the growth of skeletal muscle:
1. It Increases protein synthesis via activation of the mTOR pathway.
2. It decreases protein degradation via inhibition of the FOXO pathway.
Mice that have been engineered to express high levels of IGF-1 in their muscle develop skeletal muscle hypertrophy, can combat age-related muscle atrophy, and retained the same regenerative capacity as young muscle.
In humans, it has been shown that the major anabolic effects of growth hormone in skeletal muscle may be due to inhibition of muscle protein degradation, thereby increasing net protein synthesis. In fact, growth hormone administration to endurance athletes for four weeks has been shown to decrease muscle protein oxidation and degradation by 50%.
My point is good news. You don’t need to take exogenous growth hormone. Sauna use can cause a robust release in growth hormone, which varies according to time, temperature, and frequency.
For example, two 20-minute sauna sessions separated by a 30-minute cooling period elevated growth hormone levels two-fold over baseline. Whereas, two 15-minute sauna sessions of dry heat separated by a 30-minute cooling period resulted in a five-fold increase in growth hormone.
However, what’s perhaps more amazing is that repeated exposure to whole-body, intermittent hyperthermia through sauna use has an even more profound effect on boosting growth hormone immediately afterward: two one-hour sauna sessions a day of dry heat for 7 days was shown to increase growth hormone by 16-fold on the third day.
The growth hormone effects generally persist for a couple of hours post-sauna. It is also important to note that when hyperthermia and exercise are combined, they induce a synergistic increase in growth hormone.
Increased Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is an endocrine hormone that primarily regulates glucose homeostasis, particularly by promoting the uptake of glucose into muscle and adipose tissue. In addition, insulin also plays a role in protein metabolism, albeit to a lesser degree than IGF-1. Insulin regulates protein metabolism in skeletal muscle by the two following mechanisms:
- It increases protein synthesis by stimulating the uptake of amino acids into skeletal muscle.
- It decreases protein degradation through inhibition of the proteasome, which is a protein complex inside cells that is largely responsible for the degradation of most cellular proteins.
In humans, there is more evidence indicating that the major anabolic effects of insulin on skeletal muscle are due to its inhibitory action on protein degradation.
For example, insulin infusion in healthy humans, which increased insulin to normal physiological postprandial levels, suppressed muscle protein breakdown without significant affecting muscle protein synthesis. In contrast, insulin deficiency and insulin resistance are both associated with increased skeletal muscle breakdown.
For this reason, hyperthermic conditioning may also lend itself to promoting muscle growth by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing muscle protein catabolism. Intermittent hyperthermia has been demonstrated to reduce insulin resistance in an obese diabetic mouse model.
Insulin resistant diabetic mice were subjected to 30 minutes of hyperthermic treatment, three times a week for twelve weeks. This resulted in a 31% decrease in insulin levels and a significant reduction in blood glucose levels, suggesting re-sensitization to insulin.
The hyperthermic treatment specifically targeted the skeletal muscle by increasing the expression of a type of transporter known as GLUT 4, which is responsible for the transporting of glucose into skeletal muscle from the bloodstream. Decreased glucose uptake by skeletal muscle is one of the mechanisms that lead to insulin resistance.
Relevance for Muscle Injury
Animal studies using rats have shown that a 30-minute and 60-minute hyperthermic treatment attenuates hind limb muscle atrophy during disuse by 20% and 32%, respectively. In order to return to a hypertrophic state after injury, muscle regrowth must occur. Muscle reloading, while important for hypertrophy, induces oxidative stress particularly after periods of disuse, which slows the rate of muscle regrowth.
A 30-minute hyperthermic treatment increased soleus muscle regrowth by 30% after reloading as compared to non-hyperthermic treatment in rats. The effects of whole body hyperthermia on preventing muscle atrophy and increasing muscle regrowth after immobilization were shown to occur as a consequence of elevated HSP levels.
During injury, you may be immobilized but you don’t have to be very mobile to sit in the sauna a few times a week to boost your HSPs! This is a clear win in the injury and recovery department. Remember, hyperthermic conditioning results in an elevation in HSP levels under normal conditions and leads to an even greater boost during exercise.
Relevance for Rhabdomyolysis
Hyperthermic conditioning may also be able to protect against rhabdomyolysis through the induction of HSP32 also known as heme oxygenase 1. Rhabdomyolysis releases myoglobin, a byproduct from broken down muscle tissue, into the bloodstream, which can cause kidney failure.
Since myoglobin is a heme-containing protein, HSP32 can rapidly degrade myoglobin before it has toxic effects on the kidney. In fact, induction of HSP32 in rats has been shown to protect against rhabdomyolysis in rats. This function of HSP32 is very different than the classical role of HSPs in preventing protein degradation. Again, heat acclimation causes a higher basal expression of HSPs and a more robust expression upon heat stress. The more heat acclimated your body is, the higher your HSP32 expression will be during physical activity and this will protect your kidneys from the toxic myoglobin breakdown product.
That’s a sweet deal.
In flies and worms, a brief exposure to heat treatment has been shown to increase their lifespan by up to 15% and it’s been shown that this effect is specifically mediated by HSPs.While studying the effects of something like hyperthermic conditioning on longevity is inherently hard in humans, there have been some preliminary positive associations with variations in the HSP70 gene associated with increased expression and longevity
Effects of Heat Stress on the Brain
One of the ways that the brain responds to injury on the cellular level is increased HSP production.
This includes ischemic injury, traumatic injury, and excitotoxicity. What complicates things, however, in the context of “hyperthermic conditioning” is that while on the one hand hyperthermia has been shown to reduce the frequency of seizures and the damage they cause post-conditioning, hyperthermia can actually increase the damage caused by seizures if they occur during a period of heat stress. In other words, the stress and its damaging effects are additive.
That being said, sauna-induced hyperthermia has been shown to induce a robust activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
One study demonstrated that men that stayed in the sauna that was heated to until subjective exhaustion increased norepinephrine by 310%, had a 10-fold increase in prolactin, and actually modestly decreased cortisol. Similarly, in another study, women that spent 20-minute sessions in a dry sauna twice a week had an 86% increase in norepinephrine and a 510% increase in prolactin after the session. Norepinephrine helps with focus and attention while prolactin promotes myelin growth, which makes your brain function faster, which is the key in repairing nerve cell damage.
In addition to increasing norepinephrine, heat acclimation has actually been shown to increase biological capacity to store norepinephrine for later release. In light of the fact that the norepinephrine response to exercise has been demonstrated to be blunted in children with ADHD and that norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors are frequently prescribed to treat ADHD, use of heat stress and subsequent acclimation should be tested for it’s effectiveness as an interesting alternative therapeutic approach.
Heat stress has been shown to increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor more than exercise alone when used in conjunction with exercise. This is important because BDNF increases the growth of new brain cells as well as the survival of existing neurons. An increase in neurogenesis is thought to be responsible for enhancing learning. BDNF’s role in the brain is also to modulate neuronal plasticity and long-term memory, while also having been shown to ameliorate anxiety and depression from early-life stressful events. In addition to the function BDNF plays in the brain when it’s released as a consequence of exercise, BDNF is also secreted by muscle where it plays a role in muscle repair and the growth of new muscle cells.
While BDNF has specifically been shown to play some role in relieving depression from stressful early-life events, whole-body hyperthermia has also been demonstrated to improve depression in cancer patients. In this particular study, however, it was speculated that beta-endorphin, not BDNF, may have been the agent responsible for this effect. As an aside, one of the reasons whole-body hyperthermia is sometimes used with cancer patients is because it can enhance the effects of chemotherapeutic agents.
The Runner’s High and The Role of Dynorphin
Ever wonder what is responsible for the “runner’s high” or post-exercise highs, in general? You’ve probably heard that it’s due to endorphins, but that’s not the whole story.
Beta-endorphins are endogenous opioids that are a part of the body’s natural painkiller system, known as the mu opioid system, which block pain messages from spreading from the body to the brain in a process called antinociception. What is lesser known is that the body also produces a peptide known as dynorphin, which is generally responsible for the sensation of dysphoria.
The discomfort experienced during intense exercise, exposure to extreme heat, or eating spicy food is due to the release of dynorphin. The release of dynorphin causes an up regulation and sensitization of mu opioid receptors, which interact with beta-endorphin. This process is what underlies the “runner’s high” and is directly precipitated by the discomfort of physical exercise.
Translation: the greater the discomfort experienced during your workout or sauna, the better the endorphin high will be afterward. Now you understand the underlying biological mechanism that explains this.
How is this relevant to hyperthermic conditioning and sauna use?
Heat stress from heat exposure in a dry sauna has been demonstrated to cause a potent increase in beta-endorphin levels, even more than exercise alone. A study in rats explains this somewhat: dynorphin delivered directly into a part of the hypothalamus in the brains of rats triggers a drop in their body temperature, while blocking dynorphin with an antagonist was shown to prevent this same response. Similarly, mu receptor agonists have been shown to induce increases in body temperature in rats. What this seems to imply is that perhaps, by deliberately manipulating your body temperature you are actually directly engaging the mu and kappa opioid systems since they clearly play a role in temperature regulation in general.
To recap and drive the point home: acclimating your body to heat stress by intermittent whole-body hyperthermia via sauna use has been shown to:
Enhance endurance by:
- Increasing nutrient delivery to muscles thereby reducing the depletion of glycogen stores.
- Reducing heart rate and reducing core temperature during workload.
Increase muscle hypertrophy by preventing protein degradation through the following three means:
- Induction of heat shock proteins and a hormetic response.
- Cause a massive release of growth hormone.
- Improving insulin sensitivity.
Hyperthermic conditioning also has robust positive effects on the brain:
- Increases the storage and release of norepinephrine, which improves attention and focus.
- Increases prolactin, which causes your brain to function faster by enhancing myelination and helps to repair damaged neurons.
- Increases BDNF, which causes the growth of new brain cells, improves the ability for you to retain new information, and ameliorates certain types of depression and anxiety.
- Causes a robust increase in dynorphin, which results in your body becoming more sensitive to the ensuing endorphins.
Life is stressful.
When you exercise, you are forcing your body to become more resilient to stress through stress itself.
Hyperthermic conditioning is a novel and possibly effective tool that can improve your resistance to the sort of stress associated with fitness pursuits as well as some that are not traditionally associated with fitness such as the protective effects of HSPs on various types of stress. That being said, deliberately applied physical stress, whether heat stress or ordinary exercise, is something that requires caution.
You shouldn’t avoid it altogether, but you should use good common sense, not overwhelm yourself, and make sure to know your limits. Personal variation probably comes into play when finding your own sweet spot for building thermal tolerance while avoiding over-extending yourself.
I believe that hyperthermic conditioning in general may be worth a closer look as a tool in the toolbox of athletes. Perhaps it can be used for much more than just relaxation?
But no matter how enthusiastic you might be, remember:
- Heat responsibly and with someone else, never alone.
- Never heat yourself while drunk, and friends don’t let friend’s sauna drunk.
- If you are pregnant or have any medical condition, saunas are not for you. Speak with your doctor before starting this or any regimen involving physical stressors.
Be careful, ladies and gents.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Rhonda Patrick
You can find more video and writing from Dr. Rhonda Patrick at her website, FoundMyFitness.com.
Excerpted from: Sick and Tired? Reclaim Your Inner Terrain
by Robert O. Young, PhD.Dsc.1999
Because of the level of pollution we are exposed to and its many sources, as well as poor dietary and exercise habits, the therapeutic value of regular sweating has become immense. It has benefits for both body and mind and, in fact, is the primary benefit of exercise.
One of the best passive exercises is the radiant heat of an infrared sauna which, causes a profound deep sweat. After about 30 minutes of exposure, the blood vessels of the skin dilate to allow more blood to flow to the surface to support the cooling process. The millions of sweat glands covering the body are infused with fluid from the blood. In turn, they empty to the skin’s surface, thereby flushing large amounts of toxins, including toxic acids and heavy metals, from the body.
My research over the last two years shows that a radiant heat (infrared) sauna provides the following benefits:
- Speeds up metabolic processes of vital organs and glands, including endocrine glands.
- Inhibits the development of pleomorphic microforms and creates a “fever reaction” of rising temperature that neutralizes them.
- Increases the number of leukocytes in the blood.
- Places demand on the heart to work harder thus, exercising it and also producing a drop in diastolic blood pressure (the low side).
- Stimulates dilation of peripheral blood vessels thus, relieving pain (including muscle pain) and speeding the healing of sprain, strain, bursitus, arthritis, and peripheral vascular disease symptoms.
- Promotes relaxation thereby creating a feeling of well-being.
For those who are unable to exercise sufficiently, for whatever reason, the radiant heat infrared sauna is an excellent way to get the benefits of exercise without undue stress on the skeleton, muscles, and associated tissues. Such people have an even greater need for exercise and the sauna fills the bill.
Sauna: The Age‐Old Cure‐All
A Weider Research Group Report – January 1992
Most athletes don’t have to worry about working up a sweat. They sweat profusely every time they exercise, as the process of calorie burning generates heat and the body responds by cooling itself down with perspiration.
Sweating is one of the body’s healthiest reactions. For optimal health and athletic performance capabilities, athletes should be especially aware of the benefits of far infrared radiant heat (which differs from the typical sauna).
Studies conducted indicate that profuse sweating in an infrared sauna room produces many beneficial reactions for athletes. Their studies showed that far infrared (radiant) heat creates low‐level thermal radiation that penetrates 1½ inches into the body, stimulating sweating without the feelings of suffocation and the discomfort of high temperatures of standard saunas. It does so by setting up a vibratory resonance between your own body’s infrared emissions and those of the sauna. Heat, they concluded, is not the important factor. Instead, the vibratory stimulation deep under the skin appears to be.
Heat, however, has been shown to be an extremely important therapy over millennia of time. Sweating in a sauna room is one of the oldest folk remedies in the world. “Give me a chance to create fever, and I will cure any disease,” said Parmenides, 2,000 years ago.
EFFECTS OF SWEATING
Sweating by overheating the body produces these effects:
- Burns calories, and therefore assists in fat loss programs.
- Speeds up metabolic processes of vital organs and endocrine glands.
- Places demands upon the cardiovascular system, making the heart pump harder and producing a drop in diastolic blood pressure.
- Creates a “fever” reaction that kills potentially dangerous viruses and bacteria and increases the number of leucocytes in the blood, thereby strengthening the immune system important for fighting colds, flu, and cancer and bolstering resistance to infections.
- Excretes toxins from the body, including cadmium, lead, zinc, nickel, sodium, sulfuric acid and cholesterol.
- Stimulates vasodilation of peripheral vessels, which relieves pain and speeds healing of sprains, strains, bursitis, peripheral vascular diseases, arthritis, and muscle pain. Promotes relaxation, thereby lending a feeling of well‐being.
Nobel‐Prize winner Dr. Andre Lwoff, a French virologist, believes that high temperature during infection helps combat the growth of virus. “Therefore, fever should not be brought down with drugs,” he said.
A German physical education professor named Ernst has found that there are no cancer patients among marathon runners. He conducted a study of marathoners who logged about 20 miles a day. Analyzing their sweat, he found it contained cadmium, lead, zinc and nickel.
Ernst concluded that these athletes excreted these potential cancer‐causing elements from their bodies by perspiring. He and other scientists conclude that it is necessary to sweat profusely at least once a day to maintain good health.
Ward Dean, MD, a US Army flight surgeon who has researched the physiological effects of sweating in a sauna, finds that it can be as effective as regular exercise in conditioning the cardiovascular system and burning calories. Sweating in a sauna, he says, is a good workout for people unable to exercise, such as disabled people in wheelchairs or immobilized athletes recovering from injuries.
Dr. Paavo Airola, an authority on holistic health, says that sweating in a sauna stimulates the body’s own healing systems. The healing of many chronic and acute conditions, such as colds, infections, rheumatic diseases and cancer, is accelerated by the body’s own forces.
“Many toxins, accumulated in the system as a result of metabolic wastes and sluggish elimination, are thrown out of the body with perspiration,” says Airola. “The sauna increases the eliminative, detoxifying and cleansing capacity of the skin by the stimulating action on the sweat glands.”
We like the sauna simply because of its relaxing, soothing effect. We find that taking a 20‐minute sauna and engaging in some visualization training while doing so after intense training sessions improves recovery time.
by Alan D. Clark, M.D.
FAR INFRARED SAUNA THERAPY
More than 77,000 chemicals are in use in the US with more than 3,000 chemicals added to our food supply – over 10,000 chemicals in the form of solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives are used in food processing, packaging, wrapping, and storage. EPA studies of human fat biopsies have found styrene residue in 100% of people. Indeed, according to the EPA, our bodies accumulate 210mcg of just plasticizers (phthalates) everyday. Others have demonstrated that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in the fat cells of our bodies. The problem is excretion. Most of these potentially harmful chemicals just sit there and cannot be metabolized.
Is there a magic bullet that can help us detoxify? In 1976, a little known article in National Geographic described how workers in the Cinnabar mines in Spain who showed signs of mercurialism were able to rid themselves of toxic mercury accumulation – by means of sweat baths after work. Confirmation of this mechanism came shortly after in a study of chlorine manufacturing workers who were exposed to significant quantities of mercury in the workplace. Special suites were used to collect perspired excretions of these workers during part of their workday. The results showed significant mercury excretion by this route. Sauna therapy, then, may play a major role in environmental detoxification. Further research into the best type of sauna led researchers to discover that use of the far infrared spectrum sauna was most effective in the removal of a vast amount of toxins via the skin, thereby bypassing the kidney and use of oral or intravenous chelating agents.
NOT FAR AT ALL
To understand the concept of far infrared energy – a safe form of energy just below the microwave spectrum – place the palms of your hands together about ¼ inches apart. The radiant heat one feels is far infrared energy generated by the body. This may explain many of the healing properties of “touch” therapy, used for centuries in the Far East.
Far infrared therapy has already made medical news in its use in patients with cardiovascular conditions such as congestive heart failure and angina. It enhances endothelial nitric oxide, lowering blood pressure and improving cardiovascular function. Indeed, the benefits extend to all age groups. A twenty to thirty-minute session in the far infrared sauna has been calculated to burn as many calories as a six-mile run (and have the same beneficial cardiovascular effects). NASA determined over 15 years ago that this method was the best for maintaining fitness levels for astronauts in a weightless environment. Immune system enhancement is another well-known benefit.
There are a variety of these saunas now commercially available for home or medical office use. After months of research, I verified the science behind far infrared therapy and my whole family utilizes far infrared treatments almost everyday.
As your body increases sweat production to cool itself, your heart works harder pumping blood at a greater rate to boost circulation, supplying the conditioning benefits of continuous exercise. Heart rate, cardiac output and metabolic rate increase, while diastolic blood pressure drops, for improved overall cardiovascular fitness.
As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), August 7, 1981 “A moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 gms. in a sauna, consuming nearly 300 kcal – the equivalent of running 2 – 3 miles. A heat-conditioned person can easily sweat off 600 – 800 kcal with no adverse effects. While the weight of the water loss can be regained by rehydration with water, the calories consumed will not be.” Since an infrared sauna helps generate two to three times the sweat produced in a hot-air sauna, the implications for increased caloric consumption are quite impressive.
In Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology, we find that producing one gram of sweat requires 0.586 kcal.
Calories a 150-pound person normally burns up in 30-minutes of exercise:
- Marathon Running – 593 Calories
- Vigorous Racquet Ball – 510 Calories
- Swimming (crawl stroke) – 300 Calories
- Jogging – 300 Calories
- Tennis (fast game) – 265 Calories
- Cycling – 225 Calories
- Golfing (without a cart) – 150 Calories
- Walking (3.5 mph) – 150 Calories
- Bowling – 120 Calories
The JAMA citation referred to above goes on to state that, “Many of us who run do so to place a demand on our cardiovascular system, not to build big leg muscles. Regular use of a sauna may impart a similar stress on the cardiovascular system, and its regular use may be as effective, as a means of cardiovascular conditioning and burning of calories, as regular exercise.”
As a confirmation of the validity of this form of cardiovascular conditioning, extensive research by NASA in the early 1980′s led to the conclusion that, infrared stimulation of cardiovascular function would be the ideal way to maintain cardiovascular conditioning in American astronauts during long space flights.
A Radiant Health® infrared sauna can therefore play a pivotal role in both weight control and cardiovascular conditioning. This would be most valuable for those who don’t exercise and those who can’t exercise yet want an effective weight control and fitness maintenance program. This also allows for more variety in any ongoing training program.
Some weight loss authorities believe that our bodies use fat to dilute toxins. As an infrared sauna is an unsurpassed expeller of toxins, it is also a great way to get rid of any fat our bodies are using to dilute toxins we are storing.
Heavy Metal Detox: Why Sweating May Protect the Kidneys
Will dry sauna prove the safest and best method for most people?
By John T. A. Ely, Ph.D
Excerpts from Well Mind Association Special Report – March 1994
One of the reasons it may be very important to know the magnitude of the body burden of mercury (Hg) and certain other heavy metals such as lead (Pb) and cadmium (Cd) relates to avoidance of injury to soft tissue, especially kidney and brain, and accelerated aging. If it is found, as alleged by many researchers, that Hg does accelerate serious disorders (and even aging itself), and that some classes of people have high skeletal Hg, then, safe effective Hg excretion may become one of the most demanded procedures in medical history!
CHRONIC VS ACUTE INTOXICATION
Chronic intoxication by Hg or Pb, etc., implies absorption for a long time (years or decades) of a very low daily dose. But a very large body burden (100 milligrams or more) may accumulate in the skeleton. Bone, unlike soft tissue, produces few detectable symptoms; but, the metal may leak out later due to osteoporosis, etc., causing kidney disease, etc. If it is found that chronic Hg intoxication does produce large body burdens (as are known to occur in Pb), we feel the problem will be very dangerously different from that of acute intoxication. In the acute case, exposure to high levels of the metal for a short time (i.e., usually months or less) produces high levels in soft tissue and dramatic symptoms (but a considerably smaller body burden that has not had time to transfer much to bone storage). We think that some methods of Hg excretion, especially sweating, may prove to be satisfactory solutions for the higher Hg body burdens of chronic Hg intoxication in most people. However, some methods (such as chelation via the kidneys) that are used safely for atherosclerosis and for acute intoxication by Hg, etc., may be unsuitable if the body burden is high.
WHY MIGHT SWEATING PROVE BEST FOR MOST PEOPLE
These articles seek to accelerate competent safe evaluation of sweating by clinicians. For most people, sweating can be one of the least expensive and lowest risk activities, and has a long history of reported success in Hg excretion. This is discussed in an outstanding review by F. W. Sunderman MD, PhD.1 He cites one reference, dated 1697 AD, reporting a Danish chemist recovered from “the point of death” by using sauna. “Dry sauna” has been used for centuries to reverse symptoms in the Hg miners of Spain.2 Although primarily on acute exposure, an interesting chapter by W. Stopford, MD3 tells of a young man who was treated by daily 20‐minute saunas for three years and recovered from a nearly fatal acute Hg poisoning. Dr. Lovejoy found that Hg was higher in sweat than in urine of exposed factory workers.4. Evidence suggests that the ability to sweat and excrete Hg increases with repeated use of exercise or sauna. Obviously, detailed treatment plans including consideration of rehydration, mineral replacement, stress, degree of supervision, etc., need to be properly designed by competent persons. Many patients might require only periodic checkups for supervision after such plans have been started. Since 1988, Dr. Maria Fiatarone of Tufts published at least five studies suggesting both quality and length of life are enhanced by regular planned exercise even after age 90. Similar trials are needed to evaluate the use of sweating in the elderly. A major advantage of sweating may be excretion of most of the Hg (Cd, Pb, etc.), out through the skin and liver instead of through the kidneys.
1. Sunderman, FW. Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Science, 18(2): 89‐101, 1988.
2. Putman, JJ. National Geographic 142: 506‐527, 1972.
3. Stopford, W. Ch. 15, The Biogeochemistry of Mercury in the Environment, Editor J. O. Nriagu, Elsevier‐North Holland Biomedical Press, New York, 1979.
4. Lovejoy, H. B., et al. Journal of Occupational Medicine 15:590‐591, 1973
Kihara T, Biro S, Imamura M, et al
Journal of the American College of Cardiology
March 6, 2002 (Volume 39, Number 5)
RATIONALE AND DESIGN
This group previously showed that thermal therapy by dry sauna improved clinical variables and cardiac output in congestive heart failure (CHF) patients. In the current study, the investigators sought to determine the mechanisms of this improvement and the effects of thermal therapy on endothelial function. Twenty patients with CHF class II or III and mean age 62 ± 15 years were studied. The mean ejection fraction was 38 ± 14%. The patients were placed supine in a 60-degree C infrared-ray dry sauna for 15 minutes and then removed and kept at bed rest with a blanket for an additional 30 minutes. Sauna therapy was performed once a day 5 days a week for 2 weeks. Symptoms were evaluated with a self-administered questionnaire, and patients were divided based on their responses of improved or no change. Fasting blood was obtained to evaluate neurohumeral factors, atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). Endothelial function was evaluated using a noninvasive ultrasound method to determine hyperemic response in the right arm and response to sublingual nitroglycerin.
All enrolled patients completed the study. Clinical symptoms improved in 17 of 20 patients and were unchanged in 3. Two-week sauna therapy significantly increased the %FMD (flow-mediated dilation) in the improved group but not in the unchanged group. BNP concentrations were lower after 2 weeks of therapy but ANP and catecholamine levels were unchanged. The left ventricular end-diastolic dimension decreased significantly compared with baseline. There was a significant correlation between the change in %FMD and the improvement in BNP (P < .0005)
It is known that CHF patients have impaired endothelial-dependent vasodilatation and the proposed mechanism for this is decreased peripheral vascular production of endothelium-derived nitric oxide. Endothelial function in CHF can be improved with ACE inhibitors, physical training, and vitamin C. This study showed that 2 weeks of sauna therapy also improved endothelial function and decreased the BNP. BNP levels are an important marker of cardiac status and prognosis in heart failure, as highlighted by several recent studies. The sauna therapy also reduced systolic blood pressure. The precise mechanism by which sauna therapy improves CHF is not clear from this study, but the authors hypothesize that sauna therapy acutely causes vasodilatation, which leads to upregulation of eNOS protein in the endothelium. Clinically, it is worth commenting that sauna therapy may be widely applicable to CHF patients and could also be used in patients incapable of exercise.
International Journal of Biometeorology 1993 Sept; 37(3):133-8)
In their abstract, the authors conclude that materials which emit electro-magnetic radiation in the far infrared region, “…significantly increased intracellular calcium ion concentration, phagocytosis…and the blastogenetic response of lymphocytes to mitogens. The results suggest that materials emitting electromagnetic radiation in the far infrared range, which are widely used in Japan for cosmetic, therapeutic, and preservative purposes, appear capable of potentiating leukocyte functions without promoting oxidative injury.”
Chemical Exposure in Firefighting: The Enemy Within
By Gerald T. Lionelli
The call came in at approximately 3 a.m. on March 16th, 1981. When the engine company and hazardous materials squad arrived at the scene, they found a 2,000 gallon chemical spill on Interstate 5 covering the parking lot of a local truckstop. Whatever it was*, had eaten its way through the bottom of an aluminum tanker truck. Wearing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), the firefighters erected barricades and quickly evacuated pedestrians. The crew spent hours containing the chemical while constantly monitoring the spill with an explosimeter. The vapors were dense and bathed the firefighters and police officers (who were not wearing SCBA). After being relieved from duty, Firefighter David Werner returned to the “safe zone” and removed his protective gear. In 1981, there were no rules or procedures about decontamination to follow. So Werner, like many others, still wearing his vapor-coated turnout suit, removed his SCBA to breathe in “fresh” air. An hour later he was in the hospital.
* The chemical was later identified as 1,2 dichloropropane which is known to react violently with aluminum.
Captain Mel Howard, who has been a firefighter for over 30 year, said that he didn’t experience any acute exposure during that or any other chemical emergency. “There was never any one incident in which exposure to chemicals on the job left me debilitated.”
However, Captain Howard suffered from chronic low-level toxic exposure. He experienced blinding headaches for no reason at all; he would even wake from a deep sleep with them. He had terrible skin rashes on his legs, and he would feel extreme fatigue in the early morning. After reading a report by Gary Girod, assistant fire marshal in the Hazardous Materials Section of the Bureau of Fire Prevention in Ventura, CA., that described the symptoms of firefighters exposed to toxins, Howard became concerned. “I have spent more than 30 years in the fire department,” explains Howard. “I have been exposed to just about every chemical industrially available and commercially shipped. I became concerned that I would not be healthy for my retirement years.”
GROPING FOR SOLUTIONS
For David Werner, the next five years were ones of suffering and frustration. He left the hospital feeling only slightly ill: throat irritation, a mild cough, fatigue, and some lack of coordination and concentration.
As time went on, however, these symptoms began to get worse. His cough became much more severe. He would have coughing fits to the point of straining chest muscles. His head constantly pounded, and his ears buzzed for over four years. And he got sick. He was ill from colds more that first year following the chemical spill incident than he was any other year of his life. Further, when he would cut or bruise, he would not heal as quickly. The rashes he got seemed to appear more frequently and would scar as they healed.
“It just seemed as though my whole immune system was breaking down and going haywire,” states Werner. “Gradually it affected my entire body; every joint felt inflamed.”
According to Werner, his hands and feet often went numb and when he bent his arm at the elbow, he would lose the feeling in his arm completely. He would fatigue easily and regularly have to nap during the day.
“Basically, all of my free time was spent sleeping,” Werner explains. “If I didn’t sleep, I would walk around like I was drugged.”
Werner also suffered through many cognitive problems. He would forget integral pieces of information like hydraulic pressures and street locations that are critical to know during an emergency.
“There were times when I would even forget my own telephone number,” reports Werner. “Once I even forgot how to tell time. Quite often I couldn’t remember what I was talking about or where I was in a game. My concentration was crippled. My mind would wander aimlessly between spurts of attention.”
Werner also suffered periods of extreme irritability. Although he describes himself as a “kickback kind of guy,” after the accident he found that there were many times when he would just jump all over people.
“It didn’t take much to set me off,” he explains. “There was a tremendous amount of stress, which, when added to the stress of the job, was insurmountable.”
Werner went from specialist to specialist but received no relief. Most could find nothing wrong with him and some even attributed his problems to psychosomatic illness.
“It wasn’t that the doctors weren’t qualified,” states Werner. “All of them were experts in their fields. The problem was that they did not have all of the information on the chemicals or treatment for exposure to properly evaluate my situation. That was the most frustrating thing: knowing I was sick and knowing how and when it happened, yet having the experts tell me that I was not sick because nothing was confirmed by their tests.”
Frustrated with the physicians, Werner began researching the subject of chemical toxicity. He discovered that 1,2 dichloropropane was not the only substance to which he had been exposed. He had been exposed to a number of reaction by-products while standing in the “safe zone” which complicated the situation.
“When a doctor would treat me, he would look in his books for the proper course of action for exposure to 1,2 dichloropropane,” states Werner. “He would not look into the other chemicals that I was exposed to.”
“A major part of the problem is that most doctors have not been adequately educated in the diagnosis and treatment of chemical exposure cases,” says Dr. James Dahlgren, an assistant professor at UCLA and medical director of Pacific Toxicology Laboratories where human tissue samples are analyzed for chemical contamination. “Modern lab techniques allow us to pinpoint almost any kind of toxic chemical in the body. Fortunately, an increasing number of physicians now recognize the often puzzling nature of chemically related ailments and are using clinical labs as a diagnostic tool.”
Unlike Werner, Captain Howard’s symptoms developed over a period of many years and illustrate how truly insidious is the problem of chemical buildup in the body. Whereas Werner was chemically galvanized into defending his health against one unmistakable opponent, Howard was slowly and covertly ground into a state of unrelenting malaise by an invisible enemy.
“My legs would feel as sore as if I had just run a marathon in my sleep,” states Howard. “For periods of one to two months at a clip, my legs would ache when I awoke; they were just beat. There were also times when I would have temper flare-ups over little things that shouldn’t have bothered me. All of a sudden, I would become very irrational and be tremendously irritated; and, just as quickly, it would pass and I would be very embarrassed.”
Perhaps the greatest hazard posed by many of the toxic chemicals which firefighters face is that they accumulate in the body. One major storage site is the fat, a component of most bodily organs and systems, including the brain and nervous system. This storage is caused by the body’s inability to process these chemicals to a point where it can excrete them. Scientists term this bio-accumulation.
However, whenever any stress is applied to the body, these chemicals are released into the bloodstream and can circulate to virtually any organ, only to return later to the fat. The stresses that induce this on-going circulation of toxins are common, everyday occurrences. Fasting (even when one merely sleeps), heat exposure, dieting, strenuous exercise, and medical conditions such as pregnancy and illness are all examples of stresses which mobilize these toxins. Thus, it is at those times on the job when a firefighter least wants toxic chemicals impairing his or her performance that they are most likely to be in circulation.
The damage that can be caused by these chemicals is far-reaching. When foreign substances enter the body, each cell or each organ must “take time out” and expend energy to process the toxin to every extent that is possible. Then, because these molecules are resistant to decomposition, the cells and organs must also expend energy “shipping” these molecules to the liver and kidneys, which tends to wear them down. The process has also been shown to cause diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and damage to the kidneys.
A second adverse effect is carcinogenicity. Although there is much to learn about the mechanisms involved, there is a growing body of evidence linking many toxic chemicals with a weakening of the human immune system. The immune system protects us from a variety of diseases, including cancer. Thus, toxic substances may predispose us, through compromising the immune system, to contracting a variety of illnesses. Toxic chemicals also bring about a physiological dilemma that might be termed “bioconfusion.”
“When a foreign chemical is thrust upon it, the body may have difficulty differentiating the compound from substances it needs,” explains Dr. William Marcus, chief toxicologist for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Drinking Water. “For example, the chemical structure of the indispensible hormone thyroxin is strikingly similar to that of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane), PCB (polychlorinated byphenyls), and dioxin.”
To address the problem of chemical storage, researchers with the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education years ago began to study a technique designed to reduce bodily stores of contaminants. The detoxification method, developed by the late American researcher L. Ron Hubbard, integrates aerobic exercise and closely monitored sessions in a well ventilated sauna with polyunsaturated oil and vitamin and mineral supplements to maintain body chemistry. Exercise, heat, and niacin (vitamin B3) mobilize the fat in the body, including the toxins stored therein. Once in the bloodstream, the toxins are channeled into the sweat and sebum (body oil) and secreted. The oil supplements also enhance excretion through the feces. Treatment usually takes about two to three weeks on a schedule of two and a half to five hours daily.
Studies of the technique were conducted using Michigan farmers exposed to PBB (polybrominated biphenyls), a highly persistent fire retardant chemical which accidentally made its way into the Michigan food chain in 1973. This work, published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, reports a reduction or 21.3% on the average for the 16 chemicals (PBB, PCB, and various pesticides) tested post-treatment; and, a reduction of 42.4% four months later. Similar results were found in a controlled study of electrical workers exposed to PCB which was published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Scientific Publications Series, Volume 7, Oxford University Press).
CLINICS OFFER TREATMENT
The detoxification technique was adopted in 1982 by physicians at the HealthMed Clinic, a medical facility with clinics in Los Angeles and Sacramento, CA., which has treated over 1,200 persons using the regimen, including a number of firefighters. Firefighter Werner entered the treatment program nearly five years after his initial exposure. While going through the treatment, he experienced several manifestations of his exposure-related problems. His headaches and foot pains would appear and disappear while in the sauna. His skin rashes and assorted pains and ailments all came back. And just as mysteriously as they would appear, they would disappear.
HealthMed’s Los Angeles Medical Director, Dr. Megan Shields, explains this phenomenon: “As stored substances move into circulation and are eliminated from the body, people commonly re-experience symptoms associated with the chemical exposure. This discomfort seems to signal a marked change in health status and is usually followed by the rapid diminution or, in some cases, the complete disappearance of the symptoms.”
Gradually, Werner’s health improved and by the end of the treatment period (27 days for Werner) most of his symptoms were either entirely gone or greatly improved. “After the program, I felt fantastic,” declares Werner. “I feel 100% better. The thing that I notice the most is that I do not feel that I am constantly under the influence of toxins in my body. I feel more alert and aware of my surroundings.” Captain Howard’s experience was very similar. While in the sauna he experienced severe headaches which would go away while he was still in the sauna. Another manifestation was skin rashes. His thighs were covered from back to front with this rash.
“They really came out while I was in the sauna,” states Howard. “I would get huge welts which were extremely painful. A week later they would be gone. This problem is now much, much lighter, not like it was before.”
After completing the program, Howard also stated that he was less fatigued and irritable. “I have a general feeling of well being, and I feel more alert and clearheaded.” Chief Girod, whose report prompted Howard to take action and who lectures widely on hazardous materials in firefighting suggests that “Firefighters at risk of high exposure to toxic materials should be periodically tested so that we can adequately monitor their intake and accumulation of chemicals. Where levels are high, an effective detoxification procedure is certainly warranted.”
With the increasing number of synthetics, polymers, and chemicals being incorporated into every aspect of daily life, the threat of harm to the health of the firefighter is growing. The problem is one of both acute exposures and the gradual accumulation of toxic substances throughout a career. The stories of Captain Howard and Firefighter Werner are more common than one would like to think and demonstrate well the complexity of the toxic dilemma.
“Only time will tell to what extent effective detoxification can reduce a firefighter’s chances of contracting a serious illness,” states Dr. David Root, a board certified specialist in occupational medicine and medical director of the Sacramento HealthMed Clinic. “But physicians and scientists agree that one is a lot better off without a heavy toxic body burden. Our clinical observations certainly support this, and that’s quite encouraging.”
“I have no qualms about how my case was handled by the fire department,” concludes Werner. “The administration can only go by what recognized experts recommend. The mishandling of my case is not a failure of the fire department or of the doctors. It is, instead, a complete failure of what we have as a system in the medical community to deal with chemical exposure. It is clear to me now that the time of preventative toxicology in firefighting has come.”
GERALD T. LIONELLI is a senior research associate for the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, Los Angeles, CA. Mr. Lionelli completed his undergraduate work in biochemistry at UCLA and his graduate work in microbiology, also at UCLA. He has conducted research and published papers in the fields of microbiology and environmental science. For the past year he has been involved with studies examining the human health effects of environmental contaminants and possible means of addressing these problems. The tables in this article were reprinted from PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON HAZARDOUS WASTES AND ENVIRONMENTAL EMERGENCIES, Hazardous Materials Control Research Institute, Silver Springs, MD.
Dr. J Krop
J Altern Complement Med 1998
OBJECTIVES: The purpose of this case study is twofold. One, to illustrate a simple method of detoxification using heat chamber depuration (sauna). Second, to raise awareness in the practice of medicine of the importance of taking an environmentally oriented history.
SUBJECT: A patient with a chronic, debilitating multisystem disorder of 20-years duration related to a chemical sensitivity resulting from low-level exposure to toxic chemicals (solvents) at work.
INTERVENTIONS: Detoxification treatment consisted of heat chamber depuration (sauna) together with a specific protocol of oral and intravenous therapy. Appropriate advice was offered related to choosing a safe and suitable workplace.
OUTCOME MEASURES: Observation of the dynamic interaction and elimination of chlorinated and aromatic hydrocarbons (solvents) from the patient’s bloodstream and related clinical improvement during the course of treatment.
RESULTS: The patient was able to discontinue, without ill effect, all medications previously prescribed to treat her symptoms. Heat chamber depuration (sauna) detoxification treatment brought substantial release of symptoms and returned the individual to gainful employment.
CONCLUSION: The connection between symptoms of chronic degenerative diseases and environmental and/or nutritional factors is missed in many cases due to lack of obtaining an environmentally oriented medical history. Taking such a history and dealing with the cause of illness using avoidance and/or appropriate therapy is preventive and cost-effective for both the patient and society.
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