Lowering Blood Sugar By Turning Up Our Body Heat
Some of us might be thrilled if we could manage our blood sugar by sitting in a hot tub or sauna, instead of working up a sweat biking, or using an elliptical.
Unfortunately, passively raising our body temperature will never provide the same variety of benefits as aerobic exercise. Yet, research suggests hot baths and saunas may benefit people struggling with insulin resistance or glucose control, and those unable to exercise.
Body Heat and Blood Sugar
The glucose lowering benefit of heat was revealed when some non-diabetic research volunteers, whose blood sugar and core temperatures were monitored, ate similar meals after sitting in a hot bath (104 degrees F) for 60 minutes, and after an hour long bike ride.
Researchers were surprised to discover that the participant’s after-meal glucose readings were 10 percent lower following the steamy bath than after biking.
Raising our core temperature may lower post-meal glucose because of HSPs, or heat shock proteins. These proteins are part of the immune system, released as our body temperature rises. HSPs are believed to reduce blood sugar levels by transporting glucose from the blood to our skeletal muscles.
More Heat Benefits
While enjoying a 60 minute hot soak before dinner is not a daily option for most of us, incorporating heat therapy into our weekly routine is something to consider since - besides improving insulin sensitivity - hot baths and saunas offer other diabetes-related perks:
- The researchers found an hour long hot bath increases the body’s energy expenditure by 80 percent. That’s significant, though it’s far less than the energy spent on a 60 minute bike ride. An hour of pedaling burns about 630 calories, whereas 60 minutes in hot water uses 140 calories.
- Saunas are more efficient calorie burners than hot baths. Thirty minutes in a sauna will burn about 300 to 500 calories, depending on our body’s height, weight, age, and sex.
- The immune system is stimulated by elevating our core temperature to just below 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and some research suggests using saunas may help us ward off infection.
- Stress triggers hormones that can elevate blood sugar. Spending time in saunas helps reduce chronic stress, and may promote deeper, more restful sleep.
Keep in mind that our body functions best at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and raising its core temperature above 104.8 degrees Fahrenheit constitutes a medical emergency. Hot baths and saunas should be relaxing and rejuvenating, not a time of torture. To be safe, always enjoy the sauna or hot tub with a buddy, and stay hydrated.
Individuals with peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, or diabetes, and people who smoke should consult with a doctor before spending time in hot tubs and saunas—reduction in extremity blood supply or reduced sensation might lead to localized skin damage.
Those taking beta-blocker medications should also talk to a physician before engaging in extended heat therapy. These drugs can impede the heart’s ability to adjust to increased core body temperature. Lightheadedness or fainting might occur.
Finally, a caution for couples with or without diabetes. As body heat rises, sperm count and motility are reduced. Though this effect reverses in about five weeks, men should avoid saunas and hot tubs when trying to create a baby. Pregnant women should avoid saunas, as well.