For centuries, saunas have been lauded for their supposed health benefits, from improved cardiovascular function to detoxification. The recent trends around longevity seem to have revitalized the use of saunas, now considered a popular "health hack". But could spending time in these heated chambers also benefit your brain? Recent research suggests that sauna use might indeed play a role in mitigating the risk of Alzheimer's disease. In this article, we'll explore the scientific evidence behind this claim and consider how sauna use may impact your brain health.
The Connection Between Saunas and Alzheimer's Disease
The Finnish Study
A study from Finland has brought attention to the potential benefits of saunas for brain health. According to the 2,315 person study1, men who used a sauna 4-7 times a week showed a 65% reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease compared to those who used it once a week. Although the study mainly focused on men and thus requires further exploration for generalization, the findings are promising - 65% is a staggering number. If true, this would imply we could cut Alzheimer's prevalence from 6 million to 2 million in the US if only everyone used the sauna daily!
The Underlying Mechanisms
Scientists have proposed several mechanisms through which saunas may benefit the brain. One suggestion is that saunas can significantly improve sleep quality and time in deep sleep, which improves the brain's ability to clear toxic proteins. Moreover, heat stress activates heat shock proteins that can repair damaged proteins, which may play a role in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Lastly, saunas may improve various markers of vascular function, such as blood pressure and blood circulation, known risk factors for Alzheimer's.
Caveats and Considerations
First, the impact was more muted for those who used the sauna only 2-3 times a week (~22% risk reduction). Additionally, while the Finnish study shows a correlation, and certainly attempted to control for relevant variables, it is always very challenging to prove causation in retrospective studies.
The notion that saunas could "incinerate" your Alzheimer's risk is captivating, they should not be viewed as a standalone solution. While promising studies hint at a beneficial correlation, saunas are not a guaranteed prevention method for Alzheimer's. However, given their other health benefits and the intriguing data suggesting a potential role in brain health, saunas could be a worthwhile addition to your wellness routine. Plus, who doesn't enjoy an intense sauna session followed by a cold plunge or shower?