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"I have over 80% of the mercury poisoning symptoms you list and now realise that I have been mercury toxic for 34 years. I would like people to know that you can be mercury toxic from mercury passed from Mom to child, so that you may never have amalgam fillings, but your Mom could have. I am in a group who can only make a mercury poisoning connection via their mother's toxicity. I wish this information had been around 20 years ago."
Stan Tomaszewski, Mercury Poisoned

Near and Far Infrared Saunas

Abstract red cube

The fatigue syndromes are all illnesses of toxicity - and particularly metal toxicity. More and more people are now being overwhelmed by an onslaught of toxins that their bodies were never designed to handle with all sorts of allopathic disease labels attributed to this one cause. 

An estimated 5 million new chemicals have been created in the last 50 years, of which 75,000 are in regular everyday use. Only a tiny proportion of these chemicals have ever been subjected to any kind of safety testing.

Many of these chemicals are now unavoidable - they are in the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, the various cosmetic and body care products that we apply to our skins, a variety of household products and the very fabric of the buildings in which we live and work. For more on this topic, refer to the article Toxic Legacy.

A great many of these chemicals are fat-soluble and bio-accumulate in the fatty compartment of our bodies which includes the visceral fat around internal organs, the subcutaneous fat beneath the skin, and the cell and organelle membranes. And because humans are at the top of the food-chain and because we live for many decades, our chemical burden inevitably increases each year. 

Many of these chemicals are also extremely persistent and their biological effects are unpredictable and not fully understood. We also know that many of these toxins are highly synergistic such that the toxic effects of any one substance can be potentiated by a factor of a hundred or more by the presence of one or more other toxins. In addition, a lot of toxins also mimic our own hormones often binding possibly irreversibly to receptor sites, thereby disrupting the delicate hormonal balance within all of us.


All toxicological analysis of fat biopsies reveal a variety of chemicals - it is simply unavoidable in today's world. For example, analysis of all tissue samples (blood, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord, breast milk, urine, fat, etc) test positive to the ubiquitous plastic component, Bisphenol A (BPA). As a result we all carry a heavy burden of chemicals and these toxins are present in our body fat at levels comparable to the 'therapeutic' levels of drugs in our blood. For more on this topic see Illness is Toxicity


The average American adult is estimated to carry a body burden of lead of about 120 mg, of which more than 95% is thought to be stored in the bone. The cadmium burden is estimated to be about 30 mg and mercury 13 mg by a few authors - although this figure assumes that it is stored exclusively in soft tissue so the real figure is probably much higher. 

And epidemiological studies have now firmly established a very direct relationship between the use of lead-containing paints and adverse health effects including an increased rate of nephritis some decades later. 

Toxins from recent or acute exposures may be primarily stored in the soft tissues and organs, only being deposited in the bone as the toxicity becomes chronic. The skeleton in particular may act as a store of many heavy metals including mercury and lead, and for the most part this is asymptomatic and goes undetected - until there is an osteoporotic fracture or other symptom. 

This means that it has now become imperative in order to regain and maintain health to be proactive and to detoxify regularly in addition to trying to prevent unnecessary and avoidable toxin exposure. This has implications not only to personal health, but with a growing understanding of epigenetics and foetal origins, it is becoming important in order to maintain fertility and the health of future generations. 

In addition, many fatigue sufferers may not only be reacting to chemicals in the environment, but also to endogenous chemicals produced by microorganisms within their body.

Symptoms of toxic overload include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Joint and/or muscle pain(s)
  • Sinus congestion, frequent colds and flus
  • Allergies, intolerances and chemical sensitivities
  • Hormonal problems
  • Psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration, confusion and memory loss
  • Mood swings and changes in behaviour.


In order to recover, sufficient quantities of the body burden of toxins have to be detoxified and excreted in order to allow the body to re-establish some sort of homeostatic balance. This can increase tolerance when subsequently unavoidably exposed to further toxins. 

The major routes of excretion are in the stool via the liver, in the urine via the kidneys and directly through the skin which used to be referred to historically by doctors as 'the third kidney'. The advantage of encouraging excretion of toxins through the skin by sweating is that it does not further burden the liver and kidneys which may already be overloaded. The skin also presents one of the largest organs of excretion.


The effectiveness of sweating for detoxification

Sweating can be one of the cheapest, most effective and safest ways to detoxify. Furthermore, there are historical reports of individuals recovering from the 'point of death' from chronic mercury poisoning using sweating alone which date back hundreds of years.

F W Sunderman monitored the mercury output of a variety of body fluids during various pharmaceutical treatments of someone suffering from acute occupational mercury poisoning. His conclusion was that 'appreciable' amounts of mercury were excreted in the sweat and the detoxification regime continued successfully without further pharmaceutical intervention by using sweating alone. 

Dr Andy Cutler, PhD estimates that an hour or two of sauna increases mercury excretion by the same amount as 50 mg of the chelating agent, DMSA used every 4 hours for a day (and without the potential side-effects). Analysis of fat biopsies before and after sweating therapies has shown a dramatic decrease in a variety of toxins over a relatively short period of time.


"The mean concentrations of nickel and cadmium in sweat were higher than those reported for urine; that of lead was similar to urine." 

Cohn et al, Ann Clin Lab Sci. 1978


"Sauna therapy of an individual with evidence of chronic mercurialism was effective at inducing a remarkable excretion of mercury via the sweat." 

Dr. Woodhall Stopford, Industrial Exposure to Mercury, 1979 


"The total amount of mercury excreted in the sweat during 90 minutes ranged from 50% to 90% of that found in a 16-hour composite sample of urine"

Lovejoy et al, Mercury Study Report to Congress, 1997


Some practitioners suggest taking vitamin C as ascorbic acid prior to sweating as they believe it may enhance mercury excretion. This may be because it mobilises mercury from within the cells, may convert the mercuric form into elemental mercury and also because it may stimulate uptake of heavy metals in the liver thus sparing the kidneys.


Infrared radiation

Infrared rays are present in the spectrum between visible light and microwaves and are felt as heat. About half the solar radiation that reaches earth is in the form of infrared radiation. The warming infrared light towards the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum is known as far infrared (FIR) and accounts for approximately 80% of the sun's infrared radiation and that towards the cooler, ultraviolet end of the spectrum is known as near infrared radiation (NIR).

The Nobel prize-winner and discoverer of vitamin C, Albert Szent-Gyorgi, demonstrated that all energy from the sun has a profound effect on humans and that it can alter the body’s basic biological functions. 

Infrared radiation warms the skin to a depth of several centimetres thus promoting the release of chemicals stored in subcutaneous tissues in sweat. The infrared portion of the sun's radiation is not thought to be damaging to the skin - it is the ultraviolet rays at the opposite end of the visible light spectrum which can cause skin damage. 

And studies in Japan and Sweden have confirmed that not only do infrared heating systems not emit dangerous electromagnetic frequencies (EMF), but may actually protect against the negative effects of ultraviolet light.


Infrared radiation

Infrared light as part of the electromagnetic spectrum


The human body generates about 50% of its energy as far infrared radiation (heat) and this stimulates the activity level of atoms increasing the metabolic exchange between blood and the tissues, promoting healing and cellular repair and helping to restore the proper function of the nervous system. In this way the body is similar to a battery that is constantly being charged and discharged.

The intensity of the far infrared radiation the body produces fluctuates constantly with health being associated with high FIR production and low production being associated with illness and accelerated ageing. 

Research conducted in the 1980s by NASA investigated the effects of infrared stimulation on maintenance of cardiovascular fitness of astronauts during long space flights. Their research showed that infrared radiation has a very specific effect on the cells due to our bodies' natural response to specific near infrared wavelengths. 

NASA identified that the mitochondria of every cell contain receptors that are specifically stimulated by near infrared wavelengths. This stimulation promotes energy (ATP) production, increases cell metabolism and protein synthesis (including collagen), and also enhances anti-oxidant activity. The net effect is to reduce inflammation and pain and promote cardiovascular health. 


Conventional saunas

When the body gets hot through exercise or exposure to radiation, chemicals and toxins are released in the sweat. And since humanity evolved for millennia wearing practically no clothes under the African sun, exposure to the infrared rays of the sun may have been nature's way of naturally promoting health and detoxification. 

It is interesting to note that multiple sclerosis (MS) prevalence increases with latitude (north or south) and decreases towards the equator. This has always puzzled researchers, but may have to do with the amount of sweating individuals in these climates do naturally. 

There is a long history in almost every culture of the use of saunas and sweating including Turkish baths, hamman and sweat lodges for health and wellbeing. For more on this topic see The Health Benefits of Saunas. 

However, what these treatments do is to warm up the entire body so that toxins in fat deposits are mobilised into the blood stream and this may cause acute toxin loading in today's world. Some people may also struggle with breathing the hot, moist air of a conventional sauna and the extra burden that the heating and breathing hot air places on the heart. 

The use of any kind of sauna may also serve to introduce heat into a fatigued, compromised system that may be regarded as being 'cold' in Traditional Chinese Medicine terms. See Yin and Yang.


Infrared saunas

The difference between an infrared sauna and a conventional sauna is that the radiation in an infrared sauna penetrates and warms the skin without warming the intervening air. This also means that toxins are mobilised from the subcutaneous tissues directly into the sweat rather than into the circulation as with a conventional sauna.

Far infrared radiation also has a much greater depth of penetration within the body tissues than the heat generated by conventional saunas and is selectively absorbed by the tissues that most need a boost in their output. 

This means that sweating is promoted without a rise in core body temperature when using a FIR sauna thus avoiding the physical stresses induced in some sick people by the additional cardiovascular strain. One study reported that there was only a 50% increase in pulse rate in a dry sauna compared to a 130% increase in a conventional 'wet' sauna.

Most people can also tolerate higher temperatures for longer in the dry heat of an infrared sauna compared to the moist heat of a conventional sauna. Using dry saunas also helps to overcome the problems some may experience relating to respiratory problems due to inhaling moist air and air contaminated with moulds. 

An added advantage in many models of infrared sauna is that your head remains cool so that you are breathing room temperature air and the body is not as stressed by breathing hot or moist air. The hands can also be free in the dry environment to read. These factors make infrared saunas a gentle and comfortable way to detoxify.

Most of these toxins are mobilised in the sweat within a few minutes in a far infrared (FIR) sauna, so no extensive period of sweating is required. Once you are covered in a sheen of sweat, the chemicals in the subcutaneous fat will have been mobilised onto the skin. You should shower or bathe immediately to prevent the toxins drying on - and being reabsorbed into - the skin. Some of the best results are achieved from many short sessions (a couple of times a week ideally building up to once a day).

After each session, over a period of 24 hours, the chemicals in the subcutaneous fat redistribute from deeper tissues into more superficial layers, and the process can be repeated. In this manner, with several weeks of regular sauna treatment, toxins are drawn from deeper fat layers. Massage may also help this redistribution and mobilisation. 

Far infrared saunas have been shown to produce substantial reductions in heavy metals, pesticides, and organic acids over a period of weeks and months of use. These toxins become encapsulated by clusters of water within the body and, under the influence of the far infrared radiation, the water molecules and toxins break down into smaller elements which can be easily eliminated and released in the sweat.

In addition to toxins however, the sweat also contains valuable minerals and water and these need to be replaced. It is important to rehydrate with either plentiful supplies of water and/or fresh vegetable/fruit juice and also to supplement minerals whilst using sauna therapy. 

In addition far infrared energy:

  • Boosts immune function by stimulating increased production of white blood cells (leukocytes) by the bone marrow and killer T-cells by the thymus
  • Improves circulation and oxygenation of the tissues thus generally boosting function, relieving pain and stiffness, decreasing blood pressure and improving heart health
  • Promotes lymphatic drainage
  • Regenerates skin via promoting blood flow and unclogging pores
  • Has anti-microbial actions
  • Has antioxidant effects slowing ageing and protecting cells and
  • Is currently being investigated for its ability to promote healing of the brain. 


Physicians around the world, but particularly those in Germany, Japan and Canada have been recommending the use of whole body infrared therapy for several decades. It is estimated that over 30 million people worldwide have used infrared sauna treatments to rehabilitate and treat a multitude of ailments. 

For many people who are very toxic, their ability to sweat and detoxify through their skin is compromised. However, with regular infrared sauna use, the ability to sweat appears to become conditioned.

Near infrared radiation also heals and regenerates human cells and increases blood circulation promoting a healthy flow of nutrients to the skin. It also helps to unclog the pores leaving the skin fresh and glowing and is particularly used to relieve acne, eczema and psoriasis. 


Types of infrared saunas

Both near and far infrared saunas come in a variety of different designs at different price points. Some of the simplest and cheapest methods involve infrared mats, blankets, cocoon/sleeping bag style set ups, lamps and arcs which can be placed around or over any part of the body. More expensive is a portable sit-in cube and most expensive are either portable wooden infrared saunas or built-in wooden saunas.

The cocoon is recommended for fatigue sufferers in wheelchairs who cannot manage the sit in cube arrangement and also provides 360 degree far infrared coverage. The arc and lamp can be used for deep penetration of specific areas such as arthritic conditions and diabetic ulcers.


Cocoon style sauna


Movable arc style sauna


Far infra red saunas

Portable saunas can be packed away under a bed or in a cupboard. One of the most important aspects of using these saunas is not so much the time spent in the sauna, but the frequency with which they are used and having one in your own home makes the treatment highly accessible.

Treatments do not need to be terribly time consuming provided you sauna before you intend to shower or bathe. And you can read, listen to music or the radio, watch TV or simply relax or meditate whilst using many of the models. The best sort of multitasking!

Even if you have not been able to tolerate a conventional sauna, you may find you tolerate an infrared sauna very comfortably. 

Finally, remember how important it is becoming for everyone to detoxify regularly in today's world and encourage other family members to use the sauna before they too become ill.


Further resources

You might also be interested in the following: 

Read button

The Health Benefits of Saunas


How the Body Heals

The Descent into Illness

The Naturopathic Model

Toxic Legacy

Illness is Toxicity

For a comprehensive approach to detoxification and diet refer to The Natural Recovery Plan book

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Ways to Detoxify the Skin

Infrared Sauna: Detoxification & Cleansing

A Doctor Talks About Far Infrared Sauna

Benefits of Near Infrared Light


Or for all media use the Search facility at the top of the page


Infrared saunas: Article summary

This article looks at the effectiveness of near (NIR) and far infrared (FIR) saunas as a means of excreting toxins including toxic metals - without overburdening the kidneys.


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The Natural Recovery Plan Ezine February 2012 Issue 26. Copyright Alison Adams 2012. All rights reserved
Dr Alison Adams Dentist, Naturopath, Author and Online Health Coach

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