The company had sent me two papers from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology on small Japanese studies: one showing improvements in vascular function in patients with chronic heart failure, another in patients with risk factors for heart disease. But the most far-reaching assertions for this technology center on detoxification. Claims for the ability of infrared saunas to rid the body of heavy metals and the like populate the Internet like Viagra ads. A press release for Sunlight Saunas mentions Dietrich Klinghardt, a Seattle-area physician who asserts that infrared saunas, but not conventional ones, rid the body of "cholesterol, fat-soluble toxins, toxic heavy metals, sulfuric acid, sodium, ammonia and uric acid."
A trip to Klinghardt's Web site turns up a document that states that sauna therapy can leach toxins from the body. But Klinghardt notes that the poisons can also be displaced from "one body compartment to another." Mercury (beware those old dental fillings) might shift from connective tissue to the brain, according to Klinghardt. That is, unless the patient ingests sufficient quantities of cilantro, garlic and chlorella (green algae) in conjunction with taking saunas. Oooo-kay. Needless to say, I didn't follow up by looking for references to this area of research in the National Library of Medicine. Sunlight Saunas also provided me with testimonials about the Solo's benefits from patients with Lyme disease, cancer and "general toxic overload."
I wasn't ready quite yet to go hunting down chlorella. I wanted to see what the allopathic (nonalternative) world had to say about detoxification. I called Roger Clemens, director of an analytical laboratory at the University of Southern California that evaluates environmental toxins in the food supply. Clemens remarked that the most efficient system for detoxification is not an infrared sauna but rather the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract and immune system. "Except when one of the major organs breaks down, there isn't a medical device or any diet that can accelerate the body's natural process of detoxification," he says.
Hearing this, I decided I would rather rely on the multimillion-year track record of detoxifying my body by just going to the men's room. Shorn of health claims, the sauna was pleasant enough. But a moment of revelation came when I climbed into a car heated by the July sun. Once again, I felt a warmth indistinguishable from what I had experienced at both the Y and when I was wedged into the Sunlight Sauna Solo under the desk at work. Given the almost $2,500 total price for the sauna and the heating pad together, I wagered that I might be able to get the same benefits by spending less time looking for a parking spot in the shade. With a son in college, I don't think I'm going to take the big plunge for a Solo anytime soon.
This article was originally published with the title Heavy-Metal Sweat.