Why are steam and sauna baths popular among weight reducers?
To a good many obese people, life is a constant battle of the bulge. Obese people are easy prey to all sorts of fads, gimmicks and gadgets. Most obese persons out of consideration for their health and their families would rather not weigh too much, and with all the best intentions they become victims of miracle cures and “health culture” business which thrives on calisthenics, dancercises, exercises and massage. The steam sauna baths are particularly popular, because they promise to melt fat away, catering to the wishful thinking on the part of the obese person.
Is it not true then that the steam and sauna baths ‘melt’ unwanted fat away?
The answer is an emphatic No. Fat in the body is present in the form of an oily liquid. How then can anybody in his wise senses ever think of melting body fat away which is already in a liquid state?
Consider the steam cabinet. You sit in a small cubicle that encloses you to the neck and steam plays on your naked body. The steam bath where you enter a room filled with steam ( moist heat). The sauna bath where you sit in a wood panelled room with a moist towel around your head and your naked body exposed to dry heat.
You emerge from the cabinet, steam or sauna bath, and depending on how long you have stayed inside, when you weigh yourself , you discover you are several kilos lighter than you were.
What has happened? Has the fat melted away, like sunshine melts snow? No. Then what have you lost? Water and nothing else. The steam and sauna have not melted your fat away. It has made you perspire and the perspiration loss brings down your weight. This weight loss lasts until you have drunk a few glasses of water.
My friends say that the steam and sauna baths help them to relax, so much so that they say that they are addicted to it. Is this true?
Yes. The steam and sauna baths for some people can prove addicting. The alternate hot and cold jets aid physical and mental relaxation and that is why one gets addicted to steam and sauna baths. Well this may be true but once you understand the scientific basis of this pleasant and relaxed feeling, don’t be surprised if you are shocked out of your dangerous addiction to steam and sauna baths.
When the body is subjected to the heat of the steam or sauna bath, the blood vessels of the body surface dilate (expand diametrically) and the flow of blood to these ‘peripheral’ blood vessels rapidly increases. The blood flow to the brain consequently decreases. The decrease in blood flood to the brain, in turn, leads to a decrease in the ‘thought’ or ‘thinking’ process. A somewhat transquilizing effect sets in. One experiences relief from tension and anxiety and feels relaxed and light-headed. No wonder then that a person enjoying a steam or sauna bath gets addicted to it. Unfortunately getting addicted to the steam and sauna baths is medically harmful and sometimes dangerous.
So what is the harm in getting addicted to steam and sauna bath?
Even though you enjoy taking steam and sauna bath think before indulging yourself. The enjoyment could prove risky and endanger your health and well-being.
What are the health risks of steam and sauna baths?
Steam and sauna baths lead to dehydration. The heat makes you sweat a lot and in the process important salts are lost. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron are literally sweated out.
People believe that drinking water before and after entering a sauna bath prevents dehydration. The truth is that no amount of plain water intake can replace loss of vital body salts and the danger of dehydration due to this ignorant belief persists. The medical fact is that only water containing electrolytes ( i.e. sodium, potassium etc.) and not plain water can prevent dehydration.
Another notion is that steam and sauna cleanse the body of waste materials. This is false. There is no evidence to suggest that sweat contains toxins.
Proponents claim that the steam and sauna baths help to increase the metabolic rate in a person, which in turn reduces excess fat. No doubt, the profuse sweating raises the metabolic rate of the body. But this rise in the metabolic rate is far too less to cause any significant fat loss in an obese person. The important question is “whether it is wise and justified to subject your body to serious consequences on health for such a meagre and insignificant gain?”
The more serious and direct consequence is that sweating causes the blood volume to decrease, blood pressure to fall and circulation of body tissues to decline. The blood circulation is impaired and consequently oxygen supply to vital body tissues also reduces. Dizziness, nausea and weakness are common symptoms.
The very art of removing water from the body is medically wrong. It is highly risky and damages the body as large proportions of water lost through sweating comes from the blood. Circulatory capacity is adversely affected, as sweat loss progresses and is manifested by a decrease in circulating blood volume, compensatory increase in heart rate and decrease cardiac output.
A serious and much more tragic consequence is the adverse effect of extreme heat on the sperm production by testes ( spematogenesis) in an obese male. The testes descend, at birth, from the abdominal cavity into the scrotal sac lying outside and below the abdominal cavity. This is the way nature has intended , as the temperature in the scrotal sacs is much lower compared to the higher temperature in the abdominal cavity. A higher temperature is not conducive to proper sperm production by the testes. Statistical studies have shown that , as it is, the sperm production is hampered in an obese male. An additional tax imposed on the testes in the form of extreme heat of the sauna, over a period of time can be detrimental and cause a severe decrease in sperm count ( Oligozoospermia) leading to infertility (inability to reproduce) in such an unfortunate male , who otherwise could have been a happy parent.
A common experience felt by persons especially the obese regularly visiting the steam and sauna bath is that they get relief from joint pains and arthritis. According to Dr. Nitin Gajjar, M.S. (Bom), qualified in Hand Surgery ( U.S.A.) and present attached to M. G.M. Hospital, Bombay, ” the same relief can be obtained by simple hot fomentation of the painful joints using , a hot water bag or electrically heated commercially available pads. These simple household remedies are far cheaper and above all saves one from the dangerous consequences of steam and sauna baths.”
Among other dangers of frequent steam and sauna baths is the thermal stimulation leading to excessive sweating. Experimentally, after such prolonged periods of secreting, the affected sweat glands fatigue. Ultimately this leads to development of ‘Milaria’, commonly called prickly heat.
Fungal infections of skin are also common after sauna bath, the commonest being Tenia Versicolor, which appears as white patches on the body. Sauna baths have a drying effect on the skin. The Subsequent increased friction and sweating in skin folds encourage bacterial and fungal infections.