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Q&A: Why Do I React Badly to Saunas?


Today’s subject: saunas. But I want to touch on angle that gets very little coverage, which is: what if you feel worse after taking them?

Now this follows a question I received on email, which asks pretty much exactly that. But before I touch on my thoughts, I want to make clear I am not for a second suggesting that we rethink what we know about saunas, or that they are in any way, shape or form bad.

There’s a good reason why pretty much all traditional healing systems make use of heat exposure, why almost all scientific studies come away with the same conclusion on sauna usage. It’s a very powerful tool, very reliable tool. There’s a lot of benefits to be taken from there. However, just because something has a whole host of benefits, doesn’t automatically mean that every single person undertaking a sauna is going to receive them.

And this is where the mechanisms are very much key. So how do saunas work? Well, we know that there’s benefits from inducing the sweating from the adaption to heat, but also from beta endorphin release. But there’s also the induction of a host of heat shock proteins. Why is that so important? Because of the way that they go on to support a very special part of the cell called the endoplasmic reticulum, or the ER.

Now this is best thought of as the protein factory of the cell. These heat shock proteins… they will help the ER work better. And, when the protein factory of your cell works better, your cells work better. Which helps to explain a whole host of benefits that we receive. Now here’s the kicker. If you have low levels of ATP – low levels of cellular energy – you will not be able to create the right shape of one of those heat shock proteins. Heat Shock Protein 70 is reliably misfolded under conditions of low ATP. So this is particularly relevant to individuals with any sorts of energy metabolism issues, especially things like chronic fatigue.

Now key thing here is that when it’s misfolded, it doesn’t actually help that ER part of the cell anymore, it actually harms. Now that needn’t actually result in any negative outcome. The endoplasmic reticulum is able to induce its own localised stress response and bring homeostasis back to the cell. Unless, of course, it’s missing the cofactors that it needs to actually do that. And this is where we start to hone in on options to resolve these challenges.

Step number one, I would want to look at cellular energy production. Is there low ATP and if so, why is that? Is this due to excess inflammation, especially excessive stress induced inflammation leading to reduced oxygen availability at the cell? Is it due to a lack of cofactors? An organic acids test can actually help us very quickly identify both of those common patterns I’ve just touched on. There are of course additional ways to boost ATP, especially through supplementation, but those would be the starting points there.

Equally, we can actually inhibit that troublesome protein I mentioned, HSP70. One herb in particular stands out there, and this is Cat’s Claw, aka Gou Teng, aka Uncaria Rhynchophylla, (not Uncaria Tomentosa!). Now that is a herb that essentially limits any effect, positive or negative. So yes, in theory you’re going to not quite maximise the benefits that you could have otherwise got, but there will still be a family of other heat shock proteins helping things on their way. And naturally we want to make use of that as an interim measure while we get that ATP status where it need be and thus making the issues irrelevant.

On top of that, we want to take care of the Endoplasmic Reticulum, make sure it’s got all the items it needs to maintain homeostasis, conduct its own localised stress response. And this is where two items stand out, especially Inositol… the enzyme that your Endoplasmic Reticulum uses when inducing its own ER stress response is actually called in Inositol Requiring Enzyme 1a, which gives us some sort of clue. But on top of that, TUDCA, a bile salt, is particularly helpful for the Endoplasmic Eeticulum.

So yeah, these are all strategies that we can look at in combination and then see, okay, has that now resulted in a change? I hope that that’s useful to frame discussions you might want to have with your practitioner if you are yourself responding badly to saunas. But also, even if you’re not, to just provide a very brief journey into how personalised nutrition can help us solve these problems when things that shouldn’t be happening, are happening. And how that, if we look at what’s going on on the front line, and work backwards through the mechanisms and the drivers of those mechanisms – what is needed for each step – that allows us to come away with some clarity using both screening and lab tests to do so. Meanwhile, if you have any burning questions, anything that you cannot find the answer to, then by all means, hit me up and I’ll happily give you my thoughts.

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