Both near and far infrared provide heat which in itself has many health benefits, however in this article the two types of heat source are compared.
The term 'near infrared light' refers to electromagnetic radiation with a wave-length between 0.75–1.4 µm. This accounts for 37% of the suns natural output of light perhaps explaining why the human body has evolved in such a way that this light source can have such a profound effect upon us. With more and more research beginning to be conducted in this area it is becoming clear that the benefits of such infrared technology are only just beginning to be realized. NASA began researching this particular wavelength only 40 years ago and found the regeneration of cells stimulated by this heat source was unparalleled by conventional heating methods.
To explain such a finding it must first be understood how infrared light differs to other types of heating. Infrared heat directly heats the object as opposed to having an affect on the surrounding air. Although perhaps a difficult concept to grasp this is in fact the sensation experienced when stepping out into the sunshine. Thus the warm sensations one associates with the sun are in fact infrared heat, meaning that heat radiated in such a way is distributed much more evenly than any other heating method. This consequently means that when using infrared heat the air around you wont feel as hot as one would expect given the heat of surrounding objects. For example in a sauna, due to the intense heat of the surrounding air many find spending long periods of time in such heat intolerable. However when compared to modern saunas, commonly used by athletes which utilize the heat of near infrared light, the room will seem much cooler as the air is not heated.
So given this difference in heat transfer it is reasonable to expect that both heat sources have different effects on the human body, and indeed research has confirmed this. Near infrared heat in itself has much deeper tissue penetration (more than 3 inches), allowing it to target cells throughout your whole body that far infrared and conventional heat sources would not reach. The mitochondria of cells (organelles responsible for cellular respiration and subsequent energy production) directly absorb near infrared heat enhancing their production of the energy-carrying molecule ATP. This therefore has the effect on the human body of providing more energy to respiring tissues. As well as this, additional health benefits were found. Exposure to this wavelength has been shown to aid cell regeneration and the turnover of dead cells meaning skin appears more youthful and revitalized. Cells are also protected through near infrared's antioxidant powers, which again contribute to the slowing of aging. Another beneficial effect of near infrared heat technology is its ability to boost nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide is also a benefit to those who suffer with high blood pressure and thus leads to a healthier heart as found by NASA who used this heat source to keep astronauts hearts in optimal condition.
This type of heat benefits circulation of blood around the body through the dilatation of capillaries, allowing more heat to reach the extremities and supplying blood to muscles increasing their tone. It is for this reason that many athletes choose to use infrared heat when healing injuries. This type of heat source is able to target one specific area producing reflex-modulated vasodilators in other areas of the body even without changing the core body temperature. This method of heating muscles produces an increased blood flow similar to that experienced during exercise. Due to the improved circulation, this heat source is said to speed up the healing process of wounds, muscle and tissue drama.
Added to this reports have claimed that regular exposure to this heat source may reduce the appearance of cellulite due to the deep cell penetration which has the ability to liquefy fat. Moreover radiant heat can also provide benefits through short term pain relief to those who suffer with arthritis through stimulating the circulatory system through persistent peripheral vessel dilation (in a way some cant otherwise do through exercise due to physical limitations.)
In much the same way, far infrared heat has been found to in fact antidote the effects of toxic electromagnetic heat sources after extensive work by Japanese researchers led to this conclusion. More research has shown that there is a 20% decrease in rheumatoid finger joint stiffness at 45 degrees Celsius as opposed to 33 degrees Celsius, once again lending evidence to radiations health benefits in treating joint stiffness.
Both types of infrared heat can also be said to play a major role in weight control and general conditioning. Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology states that only 0.586 kcal are burned in producing one gram of sweat. When linked to the fact that the average person can easily sweat away 500 grams in an average sauna (around 300 kcal ) , but up to two or three times this amount in a infrared sauna ( around 750 kcal ), it becomes clear that infrared exposure provides a powerful alternative to exercise. While this water loss weight can be easily regained after heat exposure, the calories lost are not.
How is infrared used for health benefits?
Far infrared rays penetrate deep into the body tissue; up to 3 inches, releases nitric-oxide into the haemoglobin which delivers higher levels of oxygen to the damaged cells. The rays gently heat the joints, as blood vessels are heated they dilate allowing more blood cells to flow to the affected area, therefore helping to eliminate the pain.
Infrared energy is naturally produced within skin tissue in our bodies for warmth and cell repair without the use of extra intervention, at times when cells are damaged a boost of external infrared rays will greatly help the healing process and repair damaged tissue faster than it would naturally do so alone.
Is it safe?
Yes it is.
The Swedish National Institute of Radiation Protection have found that the use of infrared heaters are completely safe as they are free from any harmful toxins, as the skin cannot burn from the infrared rays they are completely healthy and safe to use; it is so safe that infrared heaters are used to warm new born babies. The body tissue cells that need an extra boost of infrared will absorb this and any unneeded rays will pass harmlessly through the body, this is known as resonant absorption.
How new is using Infrared heat for health benefits?
Using infrared heat to aid health is not a new thing; China and Japan have been using these methods for around 25 years with great success. Japan even have their own Infrared Society which consists of highly qualified medical professionals, doctors and therapists who are all dedicated to the research and development of the use of infrared therapy as a method of healing.
Below are just a few of illnesses/ailments that they have found that infrared healing has proven to help:
Post-Exercise Muscle Pain