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Can a sauna help your cold?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Immune Support

Estimated reading time: 5mins

Can a sauna help you fight off a cold? | Bulk Nutrients blog

Sweating out a cold?

The theory is that we can speed up our recovery from a cold and flu and even reduce symptoms, by using a sauna as the illness approaches.

Apparently, it improves drainage, weakens viruses, and flushes out toxins from our bodies. But is there any truth to it?

Well, there is early research to support its efficacy: you might just be able to get over a common cold quicker with help from a sauna. 

Twenty-five volunteers took to sauna bathing, with 25 controls abstaining from this or anything else like it. In both groups, the frequency, duration and severity of common colds were recorded for six months.

The researchers discovered significantly fewer episodes of the common cold in the sauna group.

And this was reported particularly during the last three months of the study when the incidence was approximately halved compared to controls. 

The average duration and average severity of common colds, however, did not differ significantly between both groups. It led the researchers to conclude:

"...regular sauna bathing probably reduces the incidence of common colds, but further studies are needed to prove this."

So, how does it work?

The theory is that a sauna will cause artificial hyperthermia, which is the fever state you experience with a cold that helps your body fight off the infection.

A sauna will cause your temperature to rise to around 40 degrees celsius, and your internal temperature to rise to around 38 degrees celsius.

And an increased body temperature (thus, fever) can help to reduce the chances that the causative agent survives in your body. 

But it isn't always the case. 

Sweating out our colds seems unlikely according to research.
Sweating out our colds seems unlikely according to research.

Another study, a randomised controlled trial, studied common cold sufferers sitting for three minutes, fully dressed, in a small sauna (Finnish sauna) every day for three days.

They breathed in "hot dry" sauna air versus the "cool dry" air in the control round, whilst wearing a face mask.

And on the second day, there was a decrease in symptoms in the sauna group in comparison to the control. But this wasn't sustained through days 3, 5 and 7 of the study. 

And on the first day, fewer doses of cold and flu medications were taken by the treatment group.

But in the end, the research results weren't significant enough to excite the authors, who concluded: 

"Inhaling hot air while in a sauna has no significant impact on overall symptom severity of the common cold."

Another review into breathing in water vapour was conducted in 2017. 

The authors spoke about how heated and humidified air has long been used by people with the common cold to help them: "the theoretical basis is that steam may help congested mucus drain better and that heat may destroy the cold virus as it does in vitro" (eg, test tubes). 

So, what did they find?

"The current evidence does not show any benefits or harms from the use of heated, humidified air ... for the treatment of the common cold. There is a need for more double-blind, randomised trials that include standardised treatment modalities."

So, whilst the research doesn't look terrific, the researchers confess they want more data to solidify their decisions.

So, the results are all mixed, and more research might be needed, so the way to test whether or not it will work or not is to ultimately try it.

It might be that early on with your symptoms is the best time to give it a test.

Sauna for hay fever?

The research into saunas looks to favour sufferers of hay fever, however, and may well be worth our time here. Subjects with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) were randomly assigned to two groups:

Control: Maintained a normal life. 

Study: Received sauna treatment over a six-week period, 3 days per week, with 6 sets of 5 minutes per set per day for 30 minutes. They spent 5 minutes in the sauna followed by 5 minutes of rest. Their peak nasal inspiratory flow and lung function were recorded at the start of the study and after three and six weeks of the sauna period.

So, what did they find? 

The researchers reported that peak nasal inspiratory flow improved in the sauna group compared with the control group.

Saunas do appear to help with hay fever sufferers.
Saunas do appear to help with hay fever sufferers.

The bottom line is that there's not enough research at this stage to warrant diving into the sauna to help with your cold. Early research found it to be beneficial, but subsequent studies haven't found the same. 

Researchers admit more research is needed before any final decisions, but it might be that we try it ourselves and see if it helps, even if it is just "all in our head", as we await more in-depth research! Saunas appear to help those with hay fever, though. 

References:

  1. Downing J.F., Taylor M.W. The effect of in vivo hyperthermia on selected lymphokines in man. Lymphokine Res. 1987;6(2):103–109. 
  2. Ernst E, Pecho E, Wirz P, Saradeth T. Regular sauna bathing and the incidence of common colds. Ann Med. 1990;22(4):225-7. doi: 10.3109/07853899009148930. PMID: 2248758. 
  3. González Plaza JJ, Hulak N, Zhumadilov Z, Akilzhanova A. Fever as an important resource for infectious diseases research. Intractable Rare Dis Res. 2016;5(2):97-102. doi:10.5582/irdr.2016.01009 
  4. Pach D, Knöchel B, Lüdtke R, Wruck K, Willich SN, Witt CM. Visiting a sauna: does inhaling hot dry air reduce common cold symptoms? A randomised controlled trial. Med J Aust. 2010 Dec 6-20;193(11-12):730-4. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb04127.x. PMID: 21143077; PMCID: PMC7168476.
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