Sweating in sauna can help brain, heart

Q. Saunas are the only gym experience I enjoy. I’ve led a very active and physical work life and had better-than-average strength and endurance. Exercise never makes me feel better. It leaves me sore and tired instead. Saunas help me feel cleansed, extremely relaxed and energized afterward.

A. Two studies from Finland demonstrate the health benefits of regular sauna use. Finns love saunas, and most visit them at least once a week.

A decadeslong study of more than 2,000 middle-aged men found that those who spent more time in the sauna were less likely to have a fatal heart attack (JAMA Internal Medicine, April 2015). A more recent analysis of data from this study showed that men visiting the sauna at least four times a week were 66 percent less likely to develop dementia than those who went only once a week (Age and Ageing, Dec. 8, 2016).

The researchers who conducted these studies note that blood pressure and heart function are improved after a sauna. Relaxation, improved blood-vessel flexibility and lower inflammation may account for the brain and heart benefits.

Q. I have severe osteoarthritis in my knees. I cannot take ibuprofen due to having had a lap-band procedure. Tylenol is ineffective for my knee pain. The arthritis is quite debilitating and painful, and over time, my flexibility and mobility have drastically declined. I lost quite a few pounds after the bariatric surgery, but I am still overweight. That aggravates the pain in my knees.

I’ve tried various remedies without much success. Recently I read of a study showing that Ashwagandha might help. I ordered one of the brands tested and approved by ConsumerLab.com.

On the second day of taking Ashwagandha once a day (500 mg Withania somnifera extract, standardized to contain 2.5 percent withanolides), I awakened to find that the pain had decreased dramatically. I’ve been taking it for a week, and the pain is almost gone. There still is some stiffness. What should I know about cautionary information – drug interactions, side effects, etc.?

A. Ashwagandha has been part of the traditional Indian medical system for centuries. Modern science has found that it has the ability to suppress many inflammatory compounds that could be contributing to arthritis pain.

There does not appear to be a lot of research on side effects and interactions, but Ashwagandha might affect thyroid function. It also might interact with MAO inhibitors such as selegiline, phenelzine and tranylcypromine. It must not be taken with such drugs.

Q. I had a bad cold with a cough recently and rubbed Vicks on my chest and in my nose. I got a burn on my chest similar to a bad sunburn, with little bumps.

I read the Vicks label, and it cautions against putting Vicks in the nostrils. Should I put Vicks in my nose, and if it burns my chest, could it burn my feet so I couldn’t even walk?

A. Do NOT put Vicks VapoRub in your nostrils. The petroleum-jelly base, if inhaled, could irritate the lungs and cause pneumonitis.

It sounds as if you are sensitive to an ingredients in Vicks, possibly camphor or menthol. Avoid it.

2017 King Features Syndicate Inc.

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