by Dr. Bill Rawls
When you’re dealing with a chronic illness like Lyme disease or fibromyalgia that comes with stubborn pain, you need as many tools at your disposal as possible to manage symptoms. With a range of options at different price points, heat therapy can be an effective way to ease discomfort and aid in your healing. It’s also especially welcome this time of year, when we could all use a little warming up. Let’s take a closer look at it.
Why Heat Helps Ease Chronic Illness Symptoms
Elevated body temperature is one natural way your body fights infection (think: fever). If you’re trying to recover from persistent infections, like Lyme disease and coinfections, brief episodes of elevated body temperature may inhibit microbe reproduction and enhance the effectiveness of your treatment protocol.
Furthermore, raising your body temperature results in increased blood flow and sweating, which helps remove toxins from your body, stimulate endorphin secretion, and reduce pain. For some people, increased body temperature helps alleviate Herxheimer reactions associated with Lyme disease. The best part? It feels good.
The simplest way to measure body temperature is by using a thermometer in your mouth or under your arm. The goal of heat therapy is to raise your body temperature by 1-2 degrees for 10-20 minutes each day. For techies, there are more advanced products on the market that are designed to monitor body functions, such as skin temperature and heart rate. But you should expect to pay a hefty price tag for these types of devices — around $200 each. For our purposes, a cost-effective thermometer will work just fine.
Of course, you should never try to raise your body temperature if you have a fever (99 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), or if you are acutely ill.
4 Natural Ways to Raise Your Body Temperature
1. Far Infrared Sauna
Far infrared (FIR) saunas are possibly the most precise way to raise your body temperature. You can regulate the temperature of the sauna so that it can be gradually increased as your tolerance to heat improves. FIR saunas provide dry heat, which tends to be better tolerated by Lyme and fibromyalgia patients than steam saunas.
Additionally, FIR saunas are backed by scientific studies demonstrating the removal of toxins, including heavy metals, from the body. In fact, it may be the safest and most efficient way to remove heavy metals from the body. Regular use of FIR sauna supports optimal immune system functions and stimulates endorphin production.
There is no absolute right or wrong way to use a FIR sauna. You have to figure out what works for you. To find your level of tolerance, start with short episodes of less intense heat, and gradually build up as your stamina improves. The time period for this to happen varies very widely — don’t overdo it! You may start with as little as 5 minutes at time; most people start at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-30 minutes and gradually build up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
As for frequency, aim for at least two to three times a week; whether you choose to do it daily or less frequently is up to you. Most people find that they progress faster if the sauna is done less intensely — but consistently — on a daily basis, when possible.
2. A Hot Bath
If you don’t have access to a sauna, a hot bath can provide detoxification and pain-relieving benefits as well. Consider adding Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate salts) to your bath, which may enhance detoxification and aid in muscle relaxation.
For a hot bath, it is best to get into the tub before turning on the water. Next, add warm water and gradually increase the heat as your body acclimates to it.
An important note about both hot baths and saunas: If your health is significantly compromised, you should discuss these remedies with your healthcare provider. Excessive heat is a stress factor for your body, and you should work up to elevated body temperature very slowly. If you feel stressed or dizzy, you should exit the sauna or hot bath immediately.
3. Thermal beds
The ultimate heat treatment (and also one of the most expensive) is the Migun thermal bed. This sophisticated device combines heat, massage, and acupressure to treat the entire body. It’s FDA approved, and the company claims it provides relief for chronic pain and muscle tension. For a less pricey option, Migun makes several versions of thermal mats that provide localized heat and acupressure as well.
There are other thermal mats on the market, and trying to figure out which one is right for you can be confusing. To gather some suggestions of which devices might be helpful, consider asking members from an online or in-person Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain support group for their personal experiences. That way, you can hear firsthand accounts of what worked for others before you invest in the product.
4. Moderate to Intense Exercise
Once your health rebounds, moderate to intense exercise is another way to favorably raise body temperature, improve blood flow, and induce sweating. It is the best natural way to stimulate endorphins. Regular exercise can gradually replace the need for a sauna or regular hot baths.
If you’re looking to segue into exercise, hot yoga is one way to get back in the groove. This variation of yoga is performed in a hot environment, with temperatures ranging from 85 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat induces sweating, which removes toxins from the body. Heat also relaxes and soothes sore muscles. Many patients with fibromyalgia report decreased fatigue and pain with regular practice of hot yoga.
Care must be taken not to get overheated. Start with brief exposure at lower temperatures. Stop the session if you start to feel bad; some days are going to be better than others. Stay hydrated and never exceed more than an hour of exposure.
Whenever you embark on an exercise regimen, pace yourself; exercise should help you feel better, not worse. If you’re stuck in bed due to pain or fatigue for three days following a workout, you’ve pushed yourself too hard and need to reduce the intensity.
On the positive side, raising body temperature suppresses microbes, enhances immune function, stimulates endorphin production, and removes toxins via sweat. On the other hand, intense heat is a significant stress factor for some people to handle. You must balance the benefits of heat therapy with the potential for harm.
Discovering how much heat your body can withstand really depends on your state of health and stamina. The best way to approach heat therapy is low and slow — begin with low heat, and slowly increase the amount of time you can tolerate it. After a few attempts, you’ll get the hang of it and have another self-care tool to combat chronic illness and pain.
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