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Dr Jari Laukkanen, Cardiologist and Leader in Sauna Research, Uncovers New Collaborative Opportunities

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What a pleasure to sit down with Dr. Jari Laukkanen on this early June 2019 afternoon in Jyväskylä , a city and municipality in Finland in the western part of the Finnish Lakeland, some 130 km north-east from Tampere.

You may not know his name, but as a fellow sauna enthusiast, I guarantee that you know of his work, especially if you have read about the reported sauna health benefits in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, NPR, and pretty much every area of broadcast media in the past year or so.

Sauna is a centuries old tradition from Finland, where people are known for being humble and quiet and low profile, How fitting is it that the person perhaps most responsible for the sudden explosive interest in sauna is equally humble, quiet and low profile?

This is Dr. Jari Laukkanen. He seems less comfortable with the limelight, but very comfortable channeling his expertise as a Cardiologist towards sauna research, to help qualify and understand what we sauna enthusiasts know to be true:

Sauna is good for you.

As you will hear shortly into our interview, Dr. Laukkanen warmed up to Glenn at Saunatimes, who traveled 5,000 miles for this interview.

Saunatimes Glenn and Sauna researcher Dr. Jari Laukkanen

Glenn and Dr. Laukkanen had arranged for a phone interview back when the study results were first announced, but both agreed to wait until a more expanded interview, in person, could be arranged.

This Sauna Talk episode is that interview.

Whereas many of the hundreds of journalists who have interviewed Dr. Laukkanen may have been after a couple quotes and sound bites, Glenn wanted Sauna Talk listeners to fully understand the context of what sauna means to Dr. Laukkanen, personally. Also, he wanted listeners to get an accurate context of what the practice of sauna is for the 2,315 people who participated in the study he and his team conducted.

Why? The results of Dr. Jari Laukkanen’s work has, unfortunately, been used by marketers of products and methods different from what we know as AUTHENTIC sauna. It’s not fair. But we have to tread lightly here. This is our opportunity to share what we know to be true.

Authentic sauna is good for you.

In Finland, there is no need to put the word “authentic” in front of the word sauna. Today, here in the United States, and many other parts of the world, unfortunately, we need to. Yet, there is great news on the horizon. Those that have listened to the Sauna Talk interview with Risto Elomaa, International Sauna Association President, know that in Germany, it is illegal to refer to infrared cabins as a sauna. God love the Germans!

For those not able to listen to this episode of Sauna Talk, here is are some excerpts from our time together:

How old were you when you took your first sauna? “A very small child.”

The development of the study. This was a long term study. Base line examination. Clinical. Blood samples, including a long questionnaire to establish baseline.

2,800 people at baseline.

In 2001, women were included within this population.

The main picture

Summary of the sauna study results: Sauna frequency is inversely related to health outcomes. If you use more sauna, you have lower risk of stroke, hypertension, and even cardiovascular death.

You have a lower risk of death of these events if you use sauna regularly.

Three important parts (to living a good life) are:

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Sauna

Now we have something else:

We want more relaxing ways in our lives. Our working lives are so busy nowadays.

Sauna is nice, it is kind, it is funny, and it can be also healthy.

They are linked very closely together in body and mind.

In Finland, sauna is part of our life

Everyone is using sauna. Temperatures: 80 – 90 c.. Water is introduced on the hot rocks which can change the humidity. Very good ventilation in sauna. Most of them cool down outside. This is part of the sauna habits.

Sauna is a complete experience

A study of 100 people, detailed study of before heart rate variably, an indicator of cardiac anomic function and stress level,  increased. Your body is relaxing after sauna.

We have focused our research on a typical Finnish sauna. None of the people in the study used infrared cabins.

From the study of 2,315 people, a speculation on how many were using wood sauna vs. electric sauna, Jari estimates 20-30% of the people in the study use the wood fired sauna.

Goals for the future

Heat shock proteins are an interesting area for more study. Same with brown fat We’d like to see more long term studies. Changes: are they long lasting.

We need more studies about sauna. “I appreciate international collaboration. Without funding it is impossible.” Jari is very interested in studies in places where sauna is not popular because we have access to a control group who does not use sauna.

This is important for the health of humanity.

New studies can be done with collaboration. If we want to improve health in general, we need wide collaboration research work.

Now we have protocols of studies.

Different genetic backgrounds are important.

Measure what happens in our mind. Sleep habits, measuring heart rate and heart rate variability. Lower risk of hypertension. Lower blood pressure.

“I am always happy to talk sauna. It is a good thing in our life.”

What is most misunderstood about sauna? “Sauna is a very safe place. Even if you have stable diseases, sauna is good.”

You can keep peace in sauna.

Our lives our quite busy. We have to relax after busy working days.

The Emerging Science of Sauna is upon us.

Thanks to the work of Dr. Jari Laukkanen and his collaborators, we are on the cusp of some impactful and expansive studies and research regarding sauna health benefits. Please read more about Dr. Jari Laukkanen here. This is a just published article, thanks to Sally McGrane, a Berlin based journalist.

As you will hear in this interview, the simple question of “If you could bring a mobile sauna anywhere in the World and sauna” has brought an intention for Jari to collaborate with our team here in Minnesota, USA for an extensive and expansive sauna study, and the birth of the Sauna Research Institute.

The Sauna Research Institute, founded on the heels of this podcast

We have 10,000 euros already secured to “turn the lights on” to start our work. We are in the process of securing more funding to build a new comprehensive study on sauna and health. Perhaps 100,000 euros is a more realistic figure, and yet including detailed biomarker and epigenetic testing, the funding budget will be higher. This will allow us to include a large enough population, provide appropriate sauna protocols, a long enough study duration, and detailed testing before, during, and after the study.

Since the recording of this interview, Dr. Laukkanen and the USA team have been building the budget and protocols, as well as initiating University and private partner collaborations.

The World of sauna studies is on the cusp of becoming an international, intercontinental collaboration!

Interested in helping out with this project? Please email and type in the subject heading: “I am interested in sauna studies.”

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12 thoughts on “Dr Jari Laukkanen, Cardiologist and Leader in Sauna Research, Uncovers New Collaborative Opportunities”

  1. Hi Glenn!
    I am loving following your Finland journey through your podcast and blog posts. I have followed Jari’s work for a while and it was awesome to hear your more personal sauna conversation with him.
    The sauna-building bug bit me hard last year and I’m now underway. I bought your ebook and spent April listening to every back episode of Sauna Talk (I won’t say “binge” listening because I consider the whole adventure and future health benefits a positive, but that was a lot of SaunaTalk in a short time.).
    Thank you for this fantastic community and all the great stories and interviews.
    I broke ground months ago releveling a terrace by hand in the backyard for my sauna. Construction is scheduled to begin around July 4th with a good friend. I would love to throw a couple clarifying questions at you if you’re game. Should I do that by email or in comments?
    Again, wanted to introduce myself because I’m hooked on this journey and your community.
    Thank you!

  2. Chris:

    I started the Sauna Talk podcast as a way to share the voice of others. The Finland trip was a fabulous opportunity to share these voices. After Jari’s interview, I stayed where I was and processed the interview right then and there, imagining all kinds of horrors like losing my recorder, etc. It was surreal to share time with him, one on one, and it is exciting that others can hear how the Sauna Research Center was born, unrehearsed and live, within our podcast episode.

    Appreciate your positive vibrations. Questions within the comments are great, as others can chime in and see what we’re saying or if you prefer please email me: Please number your questions, as it’ll be easier for me to answer.

  3. In Dr. Laukkanen 20 research on saunas that reach a temperature at head level of 175, what type of sauna exactly? Rocks being heated of infrared? I am in the US and having a hard time finding a 1 person sauna that will reach 175 degrees, any suggestions are welcome. thank you!

  4. Hi Jackie:

    Appreciate your question. Let’s start with this: infrared is not a sauna. Infrared tries to be a sauna, and infrared hucksters try to hitch their wagons to the published health benefits of sauna, but a sauna is a room, most often lined with wood paneling, with a stove, most often heated by electricity, yet can also be heated by wood or even gas, that has a chamber that contains rocks. Not just any rocks, but really specific sauna rocks that allow for intense heat absorption and temperatures, which then allow for and encouragement for water to be tossed on these hot rocks, to create steam.

    Now this is a sauna. And this is the type of experience that these 2,300 subjects of the sauna studies have done for 25 years, and Finns have enjoyed for thousands of years.

    As fare as finding a 1 persona sauna that will reach 175 degrees, most saunas are at least 2-3 person size, and I can help steer you in a good direction, depending upon where you live. Email me, please and we can advance.

  5. I am so happy in the middle of my 72 year to find there is a sauna society and that i can build my own outside sauna and fire it with wood. I will explore this site more for this ebook by Glenn that is mentioned often and that i need to order. I am so happy as well to find a Finnish cardiologist studying this subject. Kiitos. I am a fullblooded Finn from the UP of Michigan. I had many saunas as a youth and now have a chance to have my own and want to build one as authentic as i can. If it turns out electric alright but all of my experience in any sauna has been a wood fired one and i think i’d rather do that if i can. Mike Hakala, D.O.

  6. Hi Mike. So great! Thanks for chiming in. Pleased to help with your project, as you are not alone in your quest for good sauna.

    I am partial to wood fired. It’s not unreasonable to have firewood delivered and use that (vs. flipping an electrical switch). Kitos for investing in the ebook and the kind words.

  7. Hi Glen,I have a infared sauna-my mistake-and it only goes to 145 degrees farhenheit. It’s not a true finnish sauna..How much longer minutes do I need to stay to get same benefits that Dr Lauri recommends?

  8. Jeff:

    well, i don’t know much about infrared except that, by definition, it is not a sauna. Sorry about this, and not trying to sound cocky or whatever.

    Finns (and me) relate to sauna only in the context of what they’ve known for generations… the real deal.

  9. Glenn,

    Oxford defines “sauna” as: “a small room used as a hot-air or steam bath for cleaning and refreshing the body.”

    How is an IR sauna not a sauna, “by definition”?

    Finns have a sauna tradition. Great. They are not the only culture who discovered the benefits of heating the body. They created their traditions around the technology they had available. Claiming that “traditional” sauna is superior to infrared sauna, without any data to substantiate this, is not scientific in the least. It’s like saying that “real” transportation is via horse and buggy, and is superior to these new-fangled “motor-carriages” peddled by hucksters.

    Are there crappy IR saunas on the market? Absolutely. Probably most of them are sub-standard in power, EMF and VOC emissions. Are there high quality IR saunas on the market too? I would say yes.

    By intentionally leaving out IR saunas in new studies (as opposed to all the Finnish observational data, which obviously won’t have IR), we are deprived of data that could put this debate to rest. If IR is so inferior, the data would consistently show this. So, why hide from it?

    Principles of heat transfer show that IR is certainly capable of heating the body at a similar rate to traditional, despite the lower air temperature. I wrote this to start that conversation:

    I have modified my IR sauna to include a small electric heating element as well, to boost the air temp. It can hit a legitimate 185* at head height, which with the IR heaters on, has me on the ropes in 15-20min. But even at 185*, if I turn off just the IR panels, it becomes far easier to stay in longer.

    Keep an open mind.

  10. Interesting comments.
    My question is whether the sauna/cool-down process creates ill-advised risks for a 80 year old fellow who has non-symptomatic but persistent Atrial Fibrillation, has controlled hypertension, and is pre-diabetic.
    My doctor & cardiologist said they had no answer but were concerned that the cold water action might created stresses on the heart that could cause unforeseen problems.
    I have searched for a more helpful answer but have avoided sauna for the last few years because of this warning.
    Any further information?

  11. David:

    It makes great sense that your doctor and cardiologist would extend such a warning. It’s the nature of medicine (my uncle is 91 year old, practicing medicine for 60 plus years, and had let me in behind the liability curtain).

    But Dr Jari Laukkenen is a cardiologist. He’s seen heart health first hand. Cold and heat can be great strengthening techniques for this vital muscle / organ. We listen to our bodies and take it easy. That’s what had worked for me. Hope for you as well. Thanks.

  12. Yes. Oxford dictionary may have loosened the definition. As sauna is the only Finnish word to be accepted into the English language, the Oxford folks could have taken note that sauna is about heat, steam, and ventilation, and steam is something we get with hot rocks and water being tossed upon.

    Infrared is possibly a great thing. But it’s not sauna.


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