A relaxing way to protect your brain

One of my patients’ biggest fears as they get older is that they will lose the cognitive function, memories, wit, and intelligence that make them who they are. That’s why Alzheimer’s disease and dementia rank among the most dreaded conditions — because they don’t just alter the body, they alter a person’s entire identity.

Unfortunately, there are no good drugs for Alzheimer’s. There are, however, excellent supplements and lifestyle interventions that can help. I try to stay on top of the latest research so I can help my patients and the people they love protect their brains from this devastating disease.

In fact, that’s why I took part in a pioneering webinar on Alzheimer’s disease recently. It offered a lot of wise opinions from some of the nation’s leading alternative healthcare practitioners, and I left with a renewed sense of urgency when it comes to Alzheimer’s prevention.

So I did what I always do…I started reading everything I could get my hands on. And as I did, I came across a lot of research on diet, nutrition, exercise, and supplements for Alzheimer’s disease. But I also found one article that stood out from the crowd. That’s because it looked at an approach to Alzheimer’s prevention that is definitely not part of most discussions.

What was the off-the-beaten-path brain booster they investigated? I’ll give you a hint: It’s pill-free, super relaxing, and popular in Scandinavia.

Yes, I’m talking about saunas.

I have to admit, that’s not something that has been at the top of my list of brain health recommendations. But after reading this research, that may change…

The study was conducted in Finland, where saunas are an integral part of the culture. It’s not seen as a luxury, but as a health necessity — for mind, body, and spirit.

To put it in perspective, in a country with only 5 million people, Finland is home to 3 million saunas. That’s how important they are there.

So the researchers looked at sauna use, comparing those who were diehards — visiting the sauna four to seven times per week — with those who only used them once a week. And they found those in the first group were 66 percent less likely to develop dementia at the 20-year follow-up than those in the second group.

If these impressive cognitive health benefits aren’t enough to convince you, consider this: The dementia study was an offshoot of another one in which researchers were investigating the link between sauna use and cardiovascular disease.

And in that study, researchers found using the sauna as little as two to three times per week had a significant effect on heart health. Rates of sudden cardiac death, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality were lower in men who used the sauna twice or three times weekly compared with those who used them only once a week.

Why do saunas have these impressive health benefits? In part, it comes down to inflammation, which has been linked to dementia and cardiovascular disease (not to mention most other illnesses). Sauna use has been shown to boost vascular endothelial function, and that leads to reduced inflammation. Plus, saunas may be help reduce high blood pressure and elevated pulse pressure, both of which are well-known risk factors for dementia.

So if you’ve always thought of time in spent in a sauna is an indulgence, think again. Even if saunas aren’t quite as ubiquitous here as they are in Finland, many gyms, spas, and recreation centers have them. And based on these results, it may be well worth seeking one out. Consider it an investment in your health.

Your brain — and heart — will thank you.



“Sauna Use Linked to Lower Dementia, Alzheimer’s Risk,” MedScape Medical News (www.medscape.com), 12/29/16