( Dr. Sarah Myhill) Recently we have seen a flurry of extremely thorough medical studies which have looked at the chemical burden in our environment and also our bodies. We are being increasingly exposed to a whole range of new chemicals. In the last fifty years it has been estimated that 5 million new chemicals have been created by man, of which 75,000 are in regular everyday use, of which less than 10% have had any sort of toxicity testing. These chemicals are now ubiquitously present in the environment, and are well absorbed through food, water, by inhalation and through our skins. Many of them are very fat-soluble and bio-accumulate in our bodies. It is now becoming very clear that the internal environment of our bodies reflects our external environment. Furthermore, because we are at the top of the food-chain and because we live for many years, chemical burden is increasing each year. Studies done by the World Wildlife Fund and other such scientific bodies show that we all carry a heavy burden of chemicals. They are present in our fat in mg/kg (this would be similar to the sort of levels in blood if we were taking a therapeutic drug); persist for many years; and their effects are unpredictable. Most of these chemicals are known toxins, cause cancer, birth-defects, damage to nerves and the immune system, to the liver and bone marrow, etc. Furthermore, we now know that cocktails of chemicals have much more serious effects than chemicals in isolation. Low-dose chemicals may be very much more toxic than we ever expected, partly because many of them mimic our own hormones, thereby disrupting the delicate hormonal balance within all of us.
I am coming to the view that everyone should undergo regular detox – even people who are well. Because we all live in such a polluted world, we should probably sauna once a week just to stay healthy! I have yet to do a fat-biopsy on any patients and find that they are completely free from chemicals. We all carry a chemical load because of our polluted environment – we cannot avoid this; but we can try to keep it as low as possible by a combination of avoiding chemicals where possible, detoxing with good micronutrient supplements, and through heating up. Getting hot may cause sweating but it is not necessary to sweat for saunaing to be effective. Heat alone is sufficient to “boil off” volatile compounds onto the lipid layer on the surface of the skin, which is then washed off.
In multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), sufferers’ reactions are often triggered by overwhelming exposures to chemicals such as pesticides, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, toxic gases (carbon monoxide, NOX, SOX) etc. I now suspect that many patients with CFS and MCS not only react to chemicals outside the body, but may also be reacting to chemicals within their own body-fat. If they can unload these chemicals sufficiently, they can reduce their own sensitivity and tolerate inadvertent exposures to chemicals when they stray outside their own safe environment.
Chemicals are detoxified through the liver (and this is helped by good micronutrient status…); they can also be excreted directly through the skin and by exhalation. These excretions occur when the body gets hot and chemicals are released and passed out through the sweat. The most physiological way of doing this is through exercise, but many of my patients are not well enough to exercise.
Time-honoured methods of detox include saunas, Turkish baths and spa therapies, and I recommend all these treatments to my patients. However, the problem with these treatments is that not only do they warm up the skin and subcutaneous tissues, but the whole body is warmed up. This means that chemicals are mobilised from the fat (which largely speaking lies underneath the skin), and when they get into the blood-stream can cause acute poisoning. Many of my patients are therefore unable to tolerate these sweating therapies. Furthermore many sick ME patients cannot tolerate heat because this increases demands on the heart. In severe ME energy delivery to the heart is impaired so it cannot increase its output to cope with the demands of heat.
This is why I became particularly interested in a new technique described in Dr Sherry Rogers’ book “Detoxify or Die” (available from Amazon www.amazon.co.uk). She advocates a technique called “Far Infrared Saunas”. Far infra red rays constitute the main energy-source that comes from the sun and are responsible for warming our skin when we sit in direct sunshine. The rays penetrate several centimetres through the skin and heat up subcutaneous tissues. With enough sun on the skin, the skin will sweat; chemicals from subcutaneous tissues will be mobilised and pass out through sweat. The sunshine does this without heating up the core temperature (although if you lie in the sun for long enough then the core temperature will eventually rise;) therefore chemicals can be mobilised and excreted without causing systemic poisoning. Dr Rogers describes many case-histories in her book of patients who, for example, have severe heart-disease who would certainly not tolerate a sauna, but who can tolerate FIRS very comfortably.
How to use a Far Infrared Sauna properly
Most chemicals come out in the first few minutes of saunaing; so you do not have to “boil” yourself for hours to get a result! The best results are achieved from many short sessions (e.g. one daily just to the point of sweating; but you may want to start with two sessions a week and build up).
Once the skin has warmed up well, shower off at once. If you do not wash off the released chemicals, they will simply be reabsorbed. After 24 hours, chemicals redistribute from deeper tissues into the superficial layers, and the process can be repeated. This way, after some weeks of saunaing, chemicals will gradually be drawn out from even deeper layers. It is very likely that massage will help by physically mobilising chemicals stuck in fat.
If you sauna to the point of sweating, remember that sweat does not contain just the bad things; it also contains the good minerals. This is because sweat is in fact blood without the protein and cellular content. So it is important to rehydrate with a physiological mix of minerals….
Far Infrared Saunaing does not damage the skin (it is the sun’s ultra-violet light which is at the other end of the spectrum which does that), so have no fears on this count. Indeed, primitive man evolved running naked under the African sun, and so to have far infra red rays playing on the skin and warming it is an entirely natural process. I have now seen several patients who have had fat-biopsies done before and after sauna detox regimes. So far, everyone has been able to reduce their chemical load substantially. It is clear, then, that the saunaing techniques are effective. As a compelling example: one patient saw his chemical load reduce to 25% after a daily sauna for 3 weeks.
To sum up the important points:
short sessions in the FIR Sauna
shower after each session
rehydrate with [a] mineral mix after each session