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Killing 1 out of 4 people, cardiovascular disease is a crippling condition that you or someone you know will eventually battle. As the number one cause of death in the United States, cardiovascular disease can present itself in many forms such as chronic heart disease, hypertension, rheumatic heart disease, and stroke. As those conditions progress, eventually, the heart can no longer pump adequately, and heart failure sets in. Once diagnosed with heart failure, the prognosis is grim with a mortality rate of 50% within 5 years.

How does heart failure progress?

The left ventricles in the heart eventually cannot pump to provide proper blood flow. When this happens, the heart compensates by increasing the force of contraction by increasing in size and pumping. While the heart is fighting, the kidneys start retaining sodium and water. This can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, edema, uncomfortable breathing, congestion, and muscle wasting.

While there are many risk factors for heart disease, such as cigarette smoking, diet, exercise, stress, and genetics, the good news is prevention and management are very controllable with lifestyle.

It’s well-known that eliminating tobacco, alcohol, eating a healthy diet is beneficial to the heart, but what does science say about infrared saunas?

When one thinks of a sauna, most think about sitting in a steamy room. In a traditional sauna, heat is used to warm the air around you, and the warm air naturally heats your body. Infrared saunas are something special. Walking in, the air around you stays dry, but your body gets heated by the infrared rays. Heat waves are sent out at a specific energy range that produces sweating at a much lower temperature than traditional saunas. This makes it much more comfortable and enjoyable to sit in an infrared sauna.

And while saunas have been used since the stone age, it wasn’t until 1965 that medical practitioners in Japan started using infrared thermal systems for healing.

The benefits from infrared saunas is numerous such as easing joint pain, muscle relaxation, weight loss, skin improvements, and cardiovascular benefits.

The connection between infrared saunas and cardiovascular disease

There have been over 1,000 studies evaluating the connection between saunas and heart health. A metanalysis from November of 2018 looked at 7 studies specifically on the effects of saunas and cardiovascular disease, evaluating 491 patients with heart failure. The benefit of looking at reviews broken down this way is that you’re able to see specific enough criteria through multiple studies, versus just one.

The results of infrared sauna treatment and heart failure are pretty significant.

The studies found the following benefits

Lowered BNP value

When you have heart failure, your heart makes 2 proteins – BNP (natriuretic peptide) and N-terminal-pro-BNP (NT-pro-BNP). BNP levels help figure out if you have heart failure or something else. Levels of BNP increases as HF gets worse. Testing BNP levels is one of the most sensitive ways to show how well you’re doing on heart failure treatment.

Ejection fraction (EJ) significantly higher

EJ is a measurement of how well your left or right ventricle pumps blood with each heartbeat. Most of the time it refers to the left since the left is the heart’s main pumping chamber.

CTR significantly lower

Cardiothoracic ratio (CTR) is a chest x-ray measurement that measures the diameter of the heart and chest. A standard measure should be <0.5, and a number of >0.5 could indicate an enlargement of the heart, which is not a good thing.

Mortality rate lower

In a five-year follow-up of one study, there was a 38% reduction in cardiac events.

While there was no significant difference in blood pressure of endothelial function, overall, the infrared sauna was associated with improvement in cardiac function.

How exactly can the sauna improve cardiac function?

One theory is that when the body heats up, it produces sweat in an attempt to cool it back to homeostasis. This puts a demand on the body even when it is not doing anything physical. This cardiovascular demand of the sauna is similar to walking at a moderate pace. Exercise is essential when it comes to heart disease, and a sauna should be used in conjunction. And for those who are sedentary due to medical conditions, it’s a great alternative.

Additionally, stress reduction is huge when it comes to preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. Relaxing in a sauna is one way to reduce stress.

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A more formal way of saying this is: clarity in communication with your therapist.

We all have had moments in our massage therapy experience where saying something to our therapist, or the therapist being clear on what the client’s needs are would have helped make for a more successful session. By success we understand it to mean that the session was of benefit to the client and gave them a feeling of relief or satisfaction when they left. Just like in all avenues of life, clear communication is the key to success.

When I am the client, even though I’m usually the therapist, I ask the massage expert to focus on a certain area in my body that is experiencing significant tension. It is here that my therapist will spend some extra time and energy for me. But I always ask for a full body, overall massage because I understand this to be integrating and holistic for me. If a client has a short session for thirty minutes, it might be more beneficial to focus on just upper or lower body tension. However, a quick full body session can be experienced in thirty minutes.

Some clients come in for longer sessions with an injury and need that body region avoided all together or worked more gently. Or there is past trauma, either psychological or physical that requires specific intentions being discussed ahead of time. For example, it has been immensely helpful on occasion when a client has informed me of their PTSD from military service before going into session. Or knowing that my client just survived a collision a week ago, but was miraculously unharmed on the physical level; there would still be some psychosomatic tension expected there. Some of us are coming into massage therapy to feel more comfortable with human touch when we have had some adverse childhood experiences with inappropriate touch. These kinds of tensions are important to communicate to your therapist; the mention of it doesn’t need to be explicit, but just clear as to the source of the tension.

On another note, all therapists are trained to give appropriate touch and be in an environment where appropriate touch is supported as they adhere to ethical and legal boundaries for massage therapy.

The intake form, which we are asked to fill out when we first come into a massage establishment, is setting our intention for one another to have a safe and beneficial massage session. With clear communication, we can return again and again to our massage therapist for a pleasant experience.

Because all licensed practitioners of massage and bodywork are trained in appropriate and ethical touch therapies, clients can request a variety of therapists and experience different types of massage modalities based on their current needs. “Variety is the spice of life” is a useful mantra in the massage world as well as elsewhere. It keeps the massage experience refreshing and literally tells the client’s body that other forms of touch are appropriate and helpful. I often tell my clients about Bob Hope, who had a massage everyday of his life, alternating his sessions among eleven different therapists over the course of...yes!...eleven days; on the twelfth day he would see the first therapist again.

Mister Hope lived to be 100 years old and I seem to remember that he liked to say it was a combination of laughter (he was a famous comedian, as many readers might remember) and massage therapy that contributed to his intestine, I mean longevity!

Enjoy the holidays and be well.

Doug Spaeth LMT, MEd, Dad

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It’s estimated 6-10% of women of child-

age in the United States suffer from a condition called endometriosis. While many women are asymptomatic and do not realize they have the disease until they attempt to become pregnant, for others, it can be debilitating on daily activities.

Hormone therapy, pain relievers, and surgery are the most common treatments. However, many other evidenced-based therapies exist that are often overlooked such as a low-inflammatory diet and massage therapy. Particularly for women trying to conceive, taking oral contraceptives isn't an option and dealing with the pelvic pain can be unbearable.

How does endometriosis occur?

The inner lining of the uterus, the endometrium, normally thickens and renews itself every month during the menstrual cycle. If conception does not take place, the lining is shed during menstruation. With endometriosis, the endometrium grows outside of the uterus in areas such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes, GI tract, or bladder walls. This can cause symptoms such as pelvic inflammation, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), scarring, and infertility.

While the exact cause is unknown, it has been attributed to retrograde menstruation. This occurs when menstrual blood flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of outside of the body.

There is a scientific correlation between the condition and oxidative stress. Studies have found that women with endometriosis have higher levels of oxidative stress markers than women without the disease.

What is oxidative stress?

You may be familiar with the term, as oxidative stress is most well-known in its role in cancer and aging.

It is essentially the imbalance between the natural production of free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defense mechanism. Free radicals are essentially atoms in our body with one unpaired electron. The unpaired electrons are continually trying to find a match. So they take other electrons from other atoms, such as our cells. When a free radical pairs up with our healthy cells, it causes havoc. With endometriosis the damage is done in the peritoneal environment, affecting the follicular fluid and ovaries. This could be an explanation of why infertility often occurs with endometriosis.

The Good News - Antioxidants!

Our bodies do not give up very easily. We have several defense mechanisms to stop the oxidative damage. Antioxidants are molecules that will inhibit the oxidation of the atoms in our bodies that we don’t want to be oxidized. Antioxidants are produced by the body and also found in healthy foods – especially fruits and vegetables. While taking supplements can be beneficial if you have been diagnosed with a deficiency in a particular vitamin, they can be detrimental if taken in excess. The best source of antioxidants is eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

The Connection!

With higher levels of oxidative stress, those diagnosed with endometriosis should focus on reducing inflammation to minimize oxidative stress.

How? Reduce Inflammation through an Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Massage Therapy

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods that reduce inflammation such as olive oil, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, and fatty fish. It cuts foods that cause inflammation such as fried foods, soda's, refined carbohydrates, and processed meats. Check out the anti-inflammatory food pyramid.

Massage therapy is well-known to reduce inflammation. Numerous scientific studies have been conducted, and it's widely accepted that it is an inexpensive treatment method for reducing the pain associated with endometriosis. One study (The effects of massage therapy on dysmenorrhea caused by endometriosis) looked at 18 patients with endometriosis and found that pelvic pain significantly decreased in response to massage therapy before and close to menstruation and ovulation.

Another concluded massage therapy reduces uterine spasm and cervix adhesion. The same study found that massage on various points of the abdominal and pelvic soft tissues not only reduced pelvic pain but also increased fertility.

If you’re looking for evidenced based methods to combat the symptoms of endometriosis, try combining a low-inflammatory diet with regular massage visits!

Article Submitted by Tiffany Cobb

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