All Scandinavian countries, Russia, Japan, and Korea utilize sauna. The way they use them varies quite a bit; however, the end result is the same: sweating.
To the right, you see my in-laws 70 year old sauna located in rural Russia. It is built out of logs and moss for insulation. We use this sauna hard – in summer and winter. There is a freezing cold canal right by it which is perfect for contrast plunges!
The benefits of sauna are immense:
- increased oxygenation to peripheral tissues and cells
- increased elimination of harmful metabolites, heavy metals and solvents through the skin via sweat
- decreased burden on the liver due to increased elimination through the skin
- relaxation and down time
- increased metabolic rate due to increased temperature
- increased heart rate which provides heart rate variability
Everyone should just jump right in and enjoy the benefits of sauna, right?
Let me give you an example.
Back in college, I was on the University of Washington Crew and sometimes after practice, we’d hit the sauna.
The sauna was especially enjoyable after those frigid winter practices.
We’d pack into the traditional wet sauna (hot rocks with water poured over them) with our gallon of spring water and savor the warmth.
Within five minutes, I was already needing to get out of there.
I felt horrible.
- intense fatigue
- excessively hot
- very fast heart rate
- ‘sick’ toxic feeling
Of course, I’d try to tough it out as I couldn’t have my teammates poking fun at me for being such a wimp in the sauna.
I would get out, do a cold shower contrast and then get back in.
That helped some but the benefit was short-lived.
I made it about 10 minutes and that was it.
I was done. Very done.
Why negative reactions to sauna may occur
There are many reasons.
- electrolyte deficient
- glutathione deficient
- methylation deficient
- adrenal fatigued
- omega 3 fatty acid deficient
- high chemical burden
- inferior genetics
- unknown food intolerances and food allergies
- mitochondrial fatigue
- possibly hypothyroid
- inability to be metabolically flexible (carb burner, fat burner, protein burner)
Before I get into discussing the details of each one of these negative reactions, I want to inform you of this key point when using a sauna:
At the first sign of feeling ‘off’, you’re done. Get out of the sauna. Don’t return until the next day. In other words, DON’T PUSH IT
There is not much worse than getting into a sauna and pushing yourself to stay in there longer.
The only thing you are accomplishing is making yourself weaker, sicker, and uncomfortable.
At the first sign of feeling ‘off’ in the sauna, what do you do?
Who shouldn’t sauna? Period.
Standard Disclosure: As always, discuss with your doctor if a sauna is right for you.
There are many conditions that may worsen from sauna or are just plain contraindicated.
- Pregnant women
- High blood pressure
This is not a complete list.
Can children use sauna?
If your doctor approves yes. Since I am a doctor, I let my sons use sauna. You can see them below – on left and right – wearing their sauna hats. Their cousin, Egor, is in the middle.
How to obtain the benefits of sauna
After receiving approval from your doctor, the best method I’ve discovered over the years is quite comprehensive – and effective.
The easiest way to understand this, and apply it, is likely by putting it into steps.
STEP 1: DAYS PRIOR TO SAUNA
- Obtain approval from your doctor
- Ensure proper hydration for at least three days consecutively prior to sauna. This requires reduction in caffeine ideally and restoration of electrolytes. Drink filtered water when you wake up and throughout the day. If you wait until you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated. A couple liters a day of water is a good estimate. This amount varies tremendously depending where you live and your lifestyle.
- Ensure proper sleep for at least a few nights prior to your first sauna. If you’re exhausted, you will only get worse from sauna.
- Healthy oils. Get some healthy oils in you – cold-water fish oil, primrose oil, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee are all great. These are needed to protect and build your cell membranes and protect your brain.
- Eat well. If you’re eating terribly and you know it, change it -at least for three consecutive days prior to sauna. If you don’t, you’ll suffer.
- Support your adrenals. Consider taking adrenal cortex if needed in the morning especially if you’re getting dizzy upon standing or have a tough time getting up and out of bed in the morning.
- Support your detoxification system. Consider taking liposomal glutathione daily for at least a few days prior to sauna. Supporting your liver with liver herbs and nutrients in general is also highly recommended. A lot of chemicals are stored in fat tissue so when increasing temperature and metabolism, the body starts breaking down the fat and the chemicals get out. You must support your liver or you’ll feel ill.
- Support your mitochondria. Consider NADH and CoQ10 immediately upon waking if you struggle with getting up and going. Skip it if you’re already energized and ready to go. Keep it by your bed stand. Do not eat for an hour after taking it. This kickstarts your energy production in the morning. Literally. This is very important if you are not metabolically flexible, struggle with hypoglycemia or find you have to eat often. Using Acetyl-L-Carnitine can be most effective and I actually prefer this over NADH+CoQ10 for sauna. NADH+CoQ10 is amazing for helping you get out of bed.
STEP 2: DAY OF SAUNA
- Upon waking, have a glass of filtered water with electrolytes.
- Have a healthy breakfast with protein, fat and some carbs. A protein smoothie is great – with some veggies and/or fruits, seeds and healthy oils.
- Try to skip your caffeine. If you’re tired, then consider using NADH + CoQ10 and Adrenal Cortex. Both of these will truly help you in the mornings.
- It’s best to sauna anytime prior to a few hours of bedtime. If you sauna too late, it may keep you up at night. For others, it may help you sleep. Take a mental note of how you sleep after sauna and make adjustments if needed.
- Make sure you get some good quality oils in you – in the smoothie as explained above or if not, then olive oil on your salad. Healthy fats are needed to protect your cell membranes and brain during sauna.
- Take a shot of liposomal glutathione with liposomal vitamin C.
- Support your adrenals with adrenal cortex if needed.
STEP 3: THIRTY to SIXTY MINUTES BEFORE SAUNA
- Eat a solid snack – but not a full meal. Eat until about 75% full. A blend of protein, fats and carbs is great.
- Take 500 mg of extended-release niacin.
- Take a shot of liposomal glutathione and liposomal vitamin C
- Take a capsule or two of liver supportive herbs.
- If you own the sauna, turn it on. Start out with a low, dry temperature – say around 120 degrees F. Steam, wet, humid saunas are more difficult to tolerate for some.
STEP 4: JUST BEFORE SAUNA
- Prepare a liter or more of filtered water with electrolytes. Ideally prepare it in a glass jar with a lid. Have a few gulps.
- Wear a cotton T shirt and cotton shorts. This helps absorb some of the sweat which prevents you from reabsorbing chemicals back through your skin. If you like, you may wear a long sleeve T shirt and light sweat pants.
- Consider a sauna hat. This keeps the heat off of your head.
- Weigh yourself. Write it down. You need to weigh the same amount after you are finished with your sauna. If you don’t weigh the same, you are dehydrated. You need to drink enough water with electrolytes to get back to your pre-sauna weight.
- If you don’t sweat easily or just don’t sweat period, then you need to start sweating. Get on an exercise bike, treadmill, go for a jog, or somehow start sweating. Wearing some warm clothes while exercising will help trigger the sweating. If you still don’t sweat, then your autonomic nervous system is not working right – due to toxicity and/or chemical burden. In time, as you sauna, you will start sweating.
STEP 5: WHILE IN SAUNA
- Drink before getting thirsty.
- Either lay down or sit. Try to keep your feet off the floor – especially if it is cold. The contrast while in the sauna is not good.
- Keep the light on. Do not sauna in the dark as it will trigger the parasympathetic nervous system – and make you more likely to feel faint – especially upon standing.
- Focus on breathing. Do belly breathing – full breaths.
- Watch for any sign of feeling ‘off’ – GET OUT when this feeling comes on.
- When standing up, be aware that you may be light-headed and dizzy. Stand up slowly and near a wall or railing.
- The first couple times, only sauna for a maximum of 20 minutes.
STEP 6: CONTRAST HOT to COLD
- Contrast is simply shocking your body from the heat of the sauna to cold. This is a very powerful technique and quite effective.
- I do not recommend contrast for those just starting out.
- Contrast is also not recommended for those with asthma. The fast contrast can trigger an event.
- I recommend starting to use contrast after two or three sauna sessions – over a period of a few weeks.
- Full body plunges into a very cold bath is most effective. Spas typically have these.
- The next most effective is close access to a shower – set to very cold. Just close your eyes, put in your full body and imagine the tropics while doing it ;).
- Using a bucket with cold water is also pretty effective.
- If you cannot do any strong contrast, then just do local contrast on your head. Get your head under some cold water.
- Doing contrast up to three times is great during one sauna session.
- Only do contrast if you are feeling strong. Do not do them if you feel weak or tired. Only do as many contrast sessions as you feel you can handle. There is no MACHO in who can do more contrasts or stay in the sauna longer. There is STUPID though.
STEP 7: AFTER SAUNA
- Shower with soap and water.
- Wash your hair.
- Brush your teeth and tongue.
- Weigh yourself. If lost weight, drink up the difference with water and electrolytes.
- Dress warmly and comfortably.
- Wear socks and stocking cap.
- Eat a light snack. No dried foods. No cold foods. Soups, broths, steamed veggies are great. Don’t burden your liver with a high protein, high fat meal right now.
- Take the rest of the day easy. No more physical activity. Just read, relax, listen to music or even better – sleep.
- You likely will continue sweating. If you do, change your clothes before you go to sleep – and ideally take a rinse in the shower before bed.
How often should you sauna?
Ideally, I want to sauna once a week. Do I do it? Not yet.
I would do it more if my sauna wasn’t in my garage ;).
I am currently building a wet/dry sauna in our bathroom directly across from our shower. This will enable me and my family to use sauna way more often – and obtain the benefits of contrast hot/cold.
There are times when one has to sauna more – and times when one has to sauna less.
The key is to sauna when you feel somewhat strong. If you need to sauna and you are not feeling strong, do a low heat and short duration sauna.
PHOTO: Here is a distant shot of our Russian sauna located at the back of the garden.
Here is the canal bordering the sauna:
What type of sauna to use?
One that makes you sweat is a general rule of thumb – with some key points.
The sauna can be wet or dry, infrared, wood burning, hot rocks or electric.
The most critical points to consider are:
- no solvents or toxic glues used for construction
- low volatile oil woods ideally
- ventilation – vent or fan in ceiling and gaps in door to allow air in and out
- low EMF for those sensitive
- light inside
- no insulation unless natural
I’ve used many different types of sauna.
Saunas I use
- Combination wet/dry with hot rocks – powered by wood (in our families cabin in Russia)
- Infrared sauna by High Tech Health – their three person sauna is in my office. I’ve had this now for over 10 years. (click here for details on this infrared sauna – affiliate link). You will save $500 if you mention you were referred by Dr. Lynch. Here is the sauna I use at home – for me, my wife and my three boys. I’m wearing a classic Estonian sauna hat. 😉
I have gone from being absolutely intolerant of sauna to being able to enjoy sauna for over 5 hours.
The system above is how I do it – every time.
I am supporting my energy, hydration, detoxification, brain and cell membranes.
The key is to support all systems – and to go incrementally.
Don’t push it.
The supplements I’ve formulated – and what I and my family use for an optimal sauna experience:
- Optimal Electrolyte: 2 servings in a large 40 oz water bottle during and 2 more after
- Optimal Liposomal Glutathione: 1 tablespoon (work up to this)
- Optimal Liposomal Vitamin C: 1 tablespoon (work up to this)
- Optimal Fish Oil: 2 capsules with food
- Niacin: start with 1 capsule and work until you flush. Keep it mind it may take 20 minutes or more until you flush. Do not take if you have low blood pressure.
- Liver Nutrients: 1 to 2 capsules
If fatigued and needing energy prior to using a sauna:
- Adrenal Cortex: 1 capsule after breakfast
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine: 1 capsule any time
- NADH + CoQ10: 1 lozenge by mouth first thing upon waking (if tired and cannot get out of bed only)
ALTERNATIVES TO SAUNA
If you don’t have access to a sauna or lack the funds, there are other things you can do to encourage sweating:
- Exercise – low impact, moderate intensity and encourage lots of sweating over a long period of time. Soccer is a great example as is tennis.
- Hot Yoga – excellent – but again – duration is key
- Moor Mud Bath – these are fantastic and very effective. The key is to do it properly.
- Epsom Salt Bath – excellent as they provide sulfate and also magnesium. I highly recommend Salt Works for obtaining various salts for bath and spa use – and cooking. They have 40 lb bags of epsom salt for very reasonable rates.
What’s your sauna story? How has sauna been in your life and with your health? What do you find works best?
Share below in the comments.