It seems that sweat is back in style. The use of saunas can definitely offer health benefits, but there are a few things I ask patients to keep in mind so they can get the most out of this soothing medicine.

The use of sauna therapy for detoxification is not new. Its use in Ayurvedic medicine is centuries old. The use of oleation and sudation is called snehana and svedana. This practice requires an oil massage prior to sauna treatment, which is important because the most persistent toxins are fat-soluble. Another important principle is to use wet towels to protect the head, the heart and the genitals from the heat. If this is not done, it is said that prana is severely depleted.

This is bad news for fans of hot yoga. The Bikram craze has little to do with India; it is the brainchild of an entrepreneur from California with a trademark and a Beverly Hills mansion. People feel good doing Bikram because their minds quiet down during heat stress, but it is not recommended.

The Scandinavians praise the benefits of saunas for circulation and the lymphatic’s. Hot and cold therapy do seem to work, although the evidence is preliminary. Be careful if you have congestive heart failure, and be sure to take frequent water breaks and cold showers. 

The use of far infra-red saunas is widespread, and they seem to help patients quite a bit, but no evidence here either. Stay away from saunas that contain toxic glues, dyes, varnishes and other chemicals. 

The best way to sweat is to exercise. This may not be possible for everyone, but do it if you can. Exercise appears to activate many detoxification enzymes in the body to help clear lactic acid and other products of energy expenditure. This helps you detoxify from inside and out. Next time you work out, put on a sweater so you sweat a little more.