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Benefits of infrared saunas: TIME story needed to turn up the heat

Rating

2 Star

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You Asked: Are Infrared Saunas Healthy?

Our Review Summary

Young couple in infrared saunaThis is a quick story looking at any potential health benefits from saunas, particularly infrared saunas.

The story attempts to address the issue by looking at a handful of small studies, and interviewing two people directly involved with the research. An outside source would have been helpful to sort through the claims and discuss what isn’t known or poorly researched–such as the benefits and harms to pregnant women, babies and children. We were also disappointed how the story used hospital-based infrared warmers for newborns as an example of why infrared saunas are safe–when the setting and equipment are vastly different.

 

Why This Matters

For many people, using a sauna is enjoyable. Is it also good for their health? The research is unclear, and any claims of benefit need to be examined carefully, especially as “infrared saunas” become the next trendy way to spend money, and get aggressively marketed by private companies as having both specific and mystical health and beauty benefits.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention costs. Standard saunas are generally available at fitness gyms, but it’s unclear where a person finds an “infrared” sauna, and if they cost more to install and/or use.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The discussion of benefits when quantified, relied on relative and vague numbers, such as “people who spent 15 minutes a day for two weeks in an infrared sauna enjoyed a significant drop in blood pressure compared to a control group.” We’re not told by how many points their pressure dropped, nor if the change was clinically meaningful. Also, the unhelpful fact that a study in Finnish men “enjoyed a 23% drop in their risk for a fatal heart disease or episode” doesn’t really give us a sense of the overall magnitude of the effect. (As a side note, the verb “enjoy” was used three times to explain findings in clinical studies–which isn’t the most accurate way to explain to readers what was measured.)

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Effect on sperm count is mentioned. But that’s far from the only risk. There are large segments of the population who are generally told not to use saunas–such as pregnant women or people with chronic diseases. What makes saunas inherently dangerous for them? Is it also true for infrared saunas? We don’t know or learn in this article.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

We’re told that there isn’t a lot of research and that the studies are with low numbers and almost all looked at traditional saunas–yet it might be better if the conclusion re-emphasized these important limitations, instead of “you have little to lose and possibly something to gain.” Readers do stand to lose money from trying out an infrared sauna, especially if it does nothing for their health.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No obvious disease mongering

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

Both of the sources have direct ties to the research mentioned.  One of the sources, Dr. Beever, appears in advertisements/advertorials for the Sunlighten brand of infrared saunas. The story would have been strengthened by including an expert independent of the research.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Alternatives are not discussed, especially for the health claims mentioned like sleep improvement or better heart health. How do infrared saunas compare, for example, to exercise, diet modifications or other alternatives? Also, can the effects of a sauna be replicated by going out in hot weather and/or working up a sweat? What makes saunas unique and worth the time, effort and cost?

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

Saunas can be found in many health gyms–but what about infrared saunas, which is the focus of the piece? We’re not told.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The column is titled “You asked” so we’re assuming this story was prompted by a reader query. One thing we would have liked to have seen included is why they’re asking right now--a Google search revealed lots of news outlets writing about infrared saunas in the past few months, with health claims that might be exaggerated.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Multiple sources would suggest low reliance on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 10 Satisfactory

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