The infrared sauna has several benefits for the body that have been proven and several potential benefits continue to be researched. The sauna, as a method of heat therapy, has been around for centuries and is a significant aspect of several cultures around the world.
Among the many benefits of the sauna, there is potential for the infrared sauna to provide relief to those on the autism spectrum. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to not one but a range of conditions that may be characterized by issues with speech and non-verbal communication, development, social skills, etc.
It is not evident what the cause of autism is. Experts attribute it to pre-existing genetics or genes that may mutate as a child grows up. It could also be attributed to a combination of genetics and environmental factors. However, new research has found that environmental factors can also be isolated and analyzed as independent factors that could contribute to autism risk.
A study published in Nature Communications found that extracting specific layers of dentine (the material beneath the tooth enamel) through a laser allowed researchers to measure the levels of heavy metal concentration in a child’s body. The laser technology also allowed researchers to take a sample from the prenatal stage. The study found that children with ASD had higher levels of heavy metal concentration in their bodies as compared to those not on the spectrum. Similarly, another study took hair samples from 100 children on the spectrum and compared it to samples from 100 controls. The results found that children on the spectrum had greater levels of lead, aluminum and mercury in their hair samples.
Both studies and similar threads of research are beginning to establish that environmental factors may have a causal relationship with autism. But how does infrared sauna come into the picture?
Infrared Saunas and the Endocrine System
Many of these heavy metals can function as endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruption is a process through which external chemicals impact the functioning of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is primarily run by the thyroid gland and the adrenal gland which releases hormones into the bloodstream, in turn triggering a series of chemical communications and feedback loops that control mood, development, metabolism and a variety of other chemical processes in the body. The presence of heavy metals in the body impacts the working of the endocrine system and causes disruption.
This is where the sauna comes into play. The sauna is known to have several detoxification benefits. The skin is the largest organ in the body and sweating is one of the most effective ways of getting rid of toxins and waste from the body. When there is a higher concentration of heavy metals in the body, multiple modes of detoxification need to be activated. Sweating is one such process that can enhance detoxification and take the load off other organs.
The sauna also has a direct impact on the endocrine system and is known to increase the production of several hormones in the body, as well as increasing blood circulation which allows these hormones to be transported to various parts of the body faster.
As has been established above, there is a connection between environmental factors like heavy metal exposure and autism. Even if the environmental factor is not an isolated cause and there are other factors causing developmental deficiencies, there is evidence to suggest that those on the spectrum have higher levels of heavy metals in their body.
The use of the sauna can at least relieve the body of those heavy metals and reduce the damage that they may do in those with autism.
Autism and Anxiety
Though anxiety and depression are not core characteristics of autism, research finds that 40% of young people on the spectrum experience elevated levels of anxiety and related disorders. If left undiagnosed and untreated, anxiety could also exacerbate other aspects of the disorder such as social withdrawal and also trigger repetitive behaviors.
The infrared sauna can be useful even in this aspect as the heat therapy from the sauna has been shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. The sauna increases the levels of endorphins in the body and is also known to trigger various other hormones that promote feelings of relaxation.
Besides, the enhanced circulation causes the body to relax by improving the blood oxygen levels being transported to various parts of the body. Since a person on the spectrum may have trouble articulating or communicating, the frustration from that can result in mood swings, aggression and tantrums, especially in young children. The sauna is a good way to calm the nervous system.
Children and Infrared Sauna
One may wonder how safe it is for a child to sit in the sauna. It is difficult to explain to a child why they must sit in a closed and heated chamber, only to sweat. No amount of rational explanation can put the point across to a young child, especially a child who may already be facing challenges with speech and communication.
While a traditional sauna may be too uncomfortable for a child, an infrared sauna can be the way to make them sit in the sauna long enough to derive its benefits. As many may know, an infrared sauna uses infrared light to heat the body. The rays of light are not visible to the naked eye, but the body can feel it as heat. Since an infrared sauna heats the body directly, it can operate at much lower temperatures.
The air in an infrared sauna will not get uncomfortably hot. Instead, the air inside the sauna may still be cool while the core temperature of the body will still increase and cause one to sweat. But since the process of heating is much quicker, it also allows a person to sit in the sauna for longer without feeling too uncomfortable. This is a better option for children precisely for these reasons.
Besides, in a far infrared sauna, the rays actually penetrate into the body and make a qualitative change at the cellular level. It is not simply the heat, but the infrared itself that can cleanse organ tissues from within. This is something that a traditional sauna alone will not be able to offer even a neurotypical, let alone to a person on the autism spectrum.
Autism is a complex and difficult condition that not only impacts an individual but also has serious repercussions for everyone dear to that individual. It requires a robust support system and immense compassion to live with and care for a person on the spectrum.
What is even more troubling or frustrating about ASD is that one does not know what causes somebody to develop the disorder while others do not. Since there is no clarity on the causes of the disease, it also becomes difficult to find ways to prevent the disorder. Quite simply, it is not a condition that has fool-proof preventive measures.
Recent research, however, has found links between autism and isolated environmental factors such as heavy metal exposure. While these are still incredibly contentious findings, there are convincing studies that have found greater levels of heavy metals in those on the spectrum as compared to those who are not.
Even if a direct causal link cannot be established, it could be helpful to rid the body of these elevated levels of heavy metals. The presence of these elements in the body leads to confusion, disorientation and have several developmental repercussions. The infrared sauna is an effective way to carry out this detox, even if it cannot prevent or cure autism.