The year 2020 has unleashed upon the world unprecedented times. It is as if the whole planet came to a halt and people had to go back into their homes. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised critical questions about public health, access to medical facilities and the global community.
No matter what part of the world you live in, the global pandemic has affected everyone. But while government bodies, along with the World Health Organization, are releasing doctrines on social distancing and urging people to wear masks and wash their hands, there are also questions about general immunity.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick, an expert on health and longevity, has been a long-time proponent of sauna therapy as a way to enhance immunity and encourage greater longevity. Dr. Patrick is a PhD in biomedical science from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, Tennessee. She specializes in biochemistry and has also done extensive work on nutrition, aging and cancer.
In exploring aging and greater longevity, Dr. Patrick has also looked at questions of immunity and the benefits of sauna therapy in bolstering general health and mortality. When it comes to COVID-19, sauna therapy may have some benefits there too, Dr. Patrick hypothesizes.
Before getting into what Dr. Patrick has said about COVID-19 and sauna therapy, it must be emphasized that she has not offered that sauna therapy can be a cure for the acute disease. At best, it can be a preventive measure or a method to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.
Dr. Patrick argues that there has been evidence of sauna therapy offering benefits to the immune function and promoting “broader changes in immune function that may bolster defense in a contextually beneficial way.” In a recent post, Dr. Patrick has also pointed out that sauna therapy has been used to prevent the development of conditions such as pneumonia (and other chronic or acute respiratory illnesses). Studies have shown that sauna therapy can help alleviate such illnesses by 40%.
It is a terrifying fact now widely known in the world that some of the most severe complications of COVID-19 are pneumonia and other symptoms that impact the lungs. While sauna therapy will not cure COVID-19-induced pneumonia, it can certainly be a way to enact broader immune changes.
Sauna has an interesting way of reducing lung inflammation and other instances of pulmonary congestion. Prolonged use of the sauna induces mild hypothermia in the body, which triggers several physiological responses. One of the results of these responses is that oxidative stress and inflammation are reduced and the defense systems of the cell—such as heat shock proteins—are activated. Heat shock proteins are special antigens that strengthen the already healthy cells even further and prepare the immune system to fight infections and diseases.
Frequent use of the sauna can not only reduce pulmonary congestion but can also promote other benefits for the lungs, such as tidal volume, minute ventilation, vital capacity, etc. Dr. Patrick has pointed out.
Citing a study published in Taylor & Francis, among 50 participants, Dr. Patrick has pointed out that 25 of the participants who used the sauna once or twice a week for six months had also bolstered their immunity from the common cold, as compared to the 25 others who had not.
Healthy levels of white blood cells can decide the fate of someone suffering from COVID-19 as this is crucial in helping fight inflammation. There is evidence that suggests, as Dr. Patrick has also pointed out that sauna therapy has been useful for increasing levels of white blood cells like neutrophils, basophils and lymphocytes in the body.
Prolonged use of the sauna could, therefore, be a way to prepare the body for a disease like COVID-19. Even if one were to contract it, sauna therapy could give the body the right devices for a fighting chance. White blood cells are a key factor in resisting inflammation, which becomes crucial in the fight against coronavirus.
As described earlier as well, sauna therapy stimulates the production of heat shock proteins in the body. These are antigens that are incredibly useful for protecting the cells from stressful conditions. Dr. Patrick quotes a study that found that among the healthy young men and women surveyed, HSPs increased by 50% after spending half an hour in a 163℉ (73℃) sauna. She also pointed out that once activated, the HSPs would remain in the body for 48 hours.
Since sauna therapy automatically increases the temperature of the body, it simulates a fevered state. In doing so, the sauna helps to increase heat shock proteins like HSP70, which are induced by fever. When these HSPs are released from the cells, they also trigger corresponding immune responses.
Heat shock proteins have a direct correlation with producing an innate immune response and are especially useful weapons to have during a pandemic situation. The coronavirus was initially being described as a disease, not unlike the common cold.
However, as more time has passed, it has become clear that such is not the case. COVID-19 is a novel disease, one that the human body has never experienced before. The immune system, therefore, needs every ounce of strength in its arsenal to fight this new disease.
Sauna therapy is one of the ways that one can bolster immunity and take care of their health in this unprecedented time. Since news of the pandemic broke, people began to do what they could to protect themselves from the disease. Everybody was encouraged to wear a mask and wash their hands. People who had the means also added vitamins and other home remedies to their diets to increase their immunity should their body have to fight the disease.
Sauna therapy could be another one of those methods that can be used to improve immunity and reduce the chances of lung inflammation and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, which is one of the most common complications of the virus. While this is certainly not a cure, prevention may be an equally important thing to think about while fighting this disease.