For centuries, scientists and laymen alike have known that plants are dependent upon sunlight for photosynthesis. Only now have researchers discovered how integral light is to the health of humans. We are nourished by the sun just as we are nourished by food. Energy from the sun controls vital processes in humans. Inadequate sunlight can be detrimental to our health and well-being. Luckily, there is a huge body of research by physicians and scientists on the therapeutic benefits of specific wavelengths of the sun, such as far-infrared. Infrared saunas contain the far-infrared light that is felt as heat, and are the most popular and available sources of far-infrared heat.
Light is Vital to the Human Body
The energy from the sun's rays, called photons, is the catalyst for the production of sugars, fats and proteins. Photons stimulate brain waves, metabolic processes, enzyme reactions and the endocrine system. When we come into contact with light, an army of light sensitive cells converts the light into electrical impulses, triggering the hypothalamus gland. This gland governs the automatic bodily functions such as blood pressure, breathing, digestion, sexual function, moods, the immune system and the aging process.
Lack of Sunlight Causes Problems
According to Dr. John Downing, PhD, Director of the Light Therapy Department at the Preventative Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, California, “We cause or worsen a wide range of health problems by spending ninety percent of our lives indoors, under inadequate lighting conditions.” Photobiologist John Nash, a worldrenowned researcher studying the effects of light in humans, believes that a lack of exposure to the full spectrum sunlight “contributes to fatigue, depression, hair loss, skin damage and other maladies”. When we fail to receive adequate light from the sun, and when we are exposed to artificial light such as fluorescent or incandescent where certain wavelengths are missing, we suffer in a multitude of ways: the body cannot fully absorb nutrients, enzymes in the body's cells remain dormant and the immune system can be suppressed. Enzymes that are normally activated cannot start up normal cellular metabolic reactions, resulting in lower cellular energy and a reduced ability to burn fats and toxins. This metabolic reaction, according to numerous studies on light, is very similar to physical training and exercise.
What is Infrared Light or Radiant Heat?
No need to worry - it has nothing to do with ultraviolet radiation that gives you a sunburn and damages your skin. Solar energy from the sun covers a broad energy band including infrared, visible light, ultra-violet, x-rays and gamma rays. Infrared light, which is felt as heat, is the most beneficial segment of the sun and contains the greatest amount of the sun's energy. The far-infrared heat penetrates deeply with a very uniform warming effect. It has a narrow spectrum between 4 to 14 microns (wavelengths are measures in microns). This spectrum has been shown to have highly beneficial effects. In fact, our bodies absorb up to 93% of the infrared heat because the energy output closely resembles our own radiant energy.
The Finns, whose old religion used it as a ceremony for mental, spiritual and physical cleansing, have popularized sauna use. This religion came with the Finns when they migrated from an area northwest of present day Tibet, between 5,000-3,000 BC to their present location in Finland. The infrared is a dry heat sauna, which warms your body directly rather than the air all around you. The conventional sauna uses an indirect moist heat. The soothing warmth of infrared radiation penetrates deep into the sebaceous glands, gently allowing them to release their poisons. Many steam saunas allow the body to superficially perspire, but with infrared you're going deeper than that. The infrared saunas operate at temperatures between 110 - 140 degrees, versus 180 - 235 degrees for the steam saunas. Sauna users report ease of breathing the much cooler air, while feeling as warm as they choose, and the distinctive feeling of well being as an after effect. The lower heat range is safer for those concerned about cardiovascular risk factors that might be adversely affected by the higher temperatures encountered in steam saunas.
According to research, the medical benefits are vast. The sauna provides a passive cardiovascular conditioning effect. As the body works to cool itself, there is a substantial increase in heart rate, cardiac output and metabolic rate. The infrared sauna makes it possible for people who are unable to exert themselves, or who won't follow through on an exercise and conditioning program, to achieve a cardiovascular training effect. This also allows for more variety in any ongoing training program. "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 a means of cardiovascular conditioning and burning of calories as regular exercise.” (As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association - August 7, 1981.)
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.
People also report weight loss, better skin tone, alleviation of symptoms of fibromyalgia and arthritis, relief from back and joint pain, improved circulation, help with menopausal symptoms, stress release and more. For example, the profuse sweating achieved in the infrared sauna carries off deeply imbedded impurities and dead skin cells, leaving the skin glowing and immaculately clean. Skin tone and elasticity are improved. It has been shown to relieve acne, eczema and psoriasis. Infrared heat is new to the West, but has been researched and utilized in Asia for over 25 years. In Japan there is an “Infrared Society”, composed of medical doctors and physical therapists, to further research and support the health benefits of infrared as a method of healing. Thermal systems based on infrared heaters were used exclusively by medical practitioners in Japan until 1979 when they were released for public use. The idea has now been further refined into the Infrared Thermal System that has been sold in the United States since 1981.