Frequent sauna use may reduce dementia risk in men
After a 20-year follow-up, researchers found that men who went sauna bathing four to seven times a week were 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared to those who went to the sauna only once a week. The study is the first to investigate the link between sauna bathing and dementia risk.
A sauna is a small room designed to induce sweating through the use of dry or wet heat.
The team divided the men into three groups based on their frequency of sauna use: once a week, two to three times a week, and four to seven times a week.
The researchers found that men who used a sauna more frequently were at lower risk of dementia, with the risk reducing further with more frequent sauna use.
Compared with men who used a sauna once a week, men who used a sauna four to seven times weekly were found to be at 66 percent lower risk of any dementia and had a 65 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
These results remained after accounting for a number of potentially confounding factors, including participants' age, alcohol intake, smoking status, body mass index, previous heart attack incidence, and diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
Currently, over five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and more than one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Previous results from the KIHD study have shown that frequent sauna bathing also significantly reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death, the risk of death due to coronary artery disease, and other cardiac events, as well as overall mortality.
According to Professor Jari Laukkanen, the study leader, sauna bathing may protect both the heart and memory to some extent via similar, still poorly known mechanisms.
“However, it is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well. The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role,” said Laukkanen.
While the study results are certainly interesting, some glaring limitations should be noted. Firstly, the study only included men, so the results cannot be generalized to women. Additionally, very few participants reported never having used a sauna, so it is unclear how frequent sauna use might affect dementia risk in comparison to having never used one.