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With James Ray being found guilty of culpable homicide over three fatalities in a sweat lodge in Arizona, I was wondering if saunas really do benefit your health?

Does it effect your skin, heart, muscles toxin levels and more? Are sauna benefits, like weight loss, detoxification, negative ions and lowered blood pressure, true?

Sauna benefits 1

Sauna benefits 2

Sauna benefits 3

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When any benefits are listed in the same sentence as "detoxification" and "negative ions," it's hard to give them any credibility at all. The first two sites you link to delve into pseudoscientific explanations. Ironically, the one with "holistic" in its domain name seems to have the most reasonable answer. I'll refer to the research Brian Dunning has already done on some of the claims... The first site claims that sauna will "strengthen" your immune system, which is kind of a meaningless claim, as explained pretty well in Skeptoid #227 (refs at the end of the transcript). "Detoxification" is a common buzzword used by many alt-med practitioners, but none can define it in a verifiable way, so all it really does to do is serve to tell you when someone is feeding you a line. The excellent Skepdic entry on detoxification includes a section specifically on saunas, along with lots of links references (mostly in the form of links to Wikipedia articles, which themselves have numerous references)

Saunas are relaxing for most people (heat relaxes muscles), so that's a pretty clear benefit. Tension causes and exacerbates all sorts of problems, so it can have secondary benefits as well.

You'll sweat in a sauna, so you'll lose water weight. That's weight loss on the scale, but it's basically just dehydration. I looked around, and I can't find anything really credible that suggests you'll burn a significant number of calories by sitting in a sauna (all the claims that you can come from questionable sites like the ones you linked to, which are promotional, not research-baed). It makes sense that, just by virtue of increasing your temperature, you'll burn some more, but probably nowhere near as many as if you were physically active. The claim is commonly made, but it doesn't appear to have any significant evidence behind it.

It does look like there might be some preliminary evidence to suggest that it might help lower blood pressure for those with hypertension. It sounds like the case for that may not yet be very strong, based on the (lack of) results I got when looking for it. I had always heard when growing up that people who have any kind of heart-related problems should avoid saunas, but I can't say that I'm certain that advice was sound.

Ultimately, I think that if you're expecting a sauna to offer any benefits beyond those conferred through relaxation, you're probably grasping at straws.

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    What about skin health? So-called "opening pores" and such?
    – AviD
    Jan 19 '12 at 7:44
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    Now I'm totally willing to be corrected if I'm wrong, but I think you've done a disservice to this subject because there is quite a bit more research on it then you say - can you take a look at the huge list of studies quoted in this article because if they are in fact pseudoscience I'd be interested in knowing since I've quoted it a few times Nov 16 '19 at 4:59
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    "GetOutOfBox": Many of linked studies clearly don't apply to sauna, but are included to imply support for the article's claims. Irrelevant links to bolster a footnote section is a big red flag. Much of the article focuses on relaxation-based benefits I acknowledged above. Most of the article doesn't otherwise relate to the question. It has a "Detoxification" section, with links supporting "Excessive xxx is detectable in sweat," not "sauna treats xxx poisoning." They offer no evidence that sauna "detoxifies" safely or effectively. Negative ions and non-water weight loss aren't covered here. Nov 17 '19 at 14:45
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    @AviD, it helps clean the skin, but nothing that a thorough scrubbing with soap can't replicate. It's cultural memory from a time when soap wasn't yet invented/accessible and a thorough sweat in the sauna that flushed the dirt from the pores, able to be rinsed away with plain water was the best cleaning option available. As to flushing toxins, it does accelerate removal of substances, since kidneys have a limited capacity) LPT, if you wanna pass a drug test, a couple of days of forced hydration + sweating +peeing beforehand can significantly lower the concentration just take care of the salt.
    – Eugene
    Jul 26 at 21:51
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There is some evidence that saunas provide a health benefit.

This systematic review of 13 randomized control trials found most studies reported health benefits .

This review of evidence states:

Indeed, based on the current knowledge and evidence, sauna bathing may have beneficial effects and has therapeutic potential to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes in the general population.

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