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My journey to recovery - alternative treatments that have helped me heal

Updated: May 15

Living with a chronic illness that hasn't been well recognised or understood by the medical profession led me to research and use natural or alternative treatments and strategies.

From 2018 to 2020 I was not able to work or carry out general daily tasks other than my essential role as a mum. Five years on from this crash I'm able to work part time and participate more in life and my son's activities. Aside from some key medications, natural treatments have helped me heal and recover in a way that conventional medicine has not gotten close to. You can read more about my background here.


Before we get started it's important to note that I'm not a medical professional. I am sharing what has personally helped me and may help others. Everyone's journey is different and it's best to seek your own professional advice to discover the best options for you. Some of the tests and treatments I mention, do have a cost, however, I felt couldn't put a cost value on my recovery, so have financially planned and prioritised as much as I could.

I look at the alternative therapies and wellbeing strategies in a few ways:

  1. the short-term relief of symptoms and long-term improvement in health, often with the first impacting the latter.

  2. the different areas of health, like Te Whare Tapa Wha's model - mental, physical, spiritual, and whanau. For me, it has been important to analyse and focus on each of these areas, at times some more than others.

I have focused on digestive health and nutrients, sleep, energy, and mental and spiritual health. The health areas, strategies, and alternative therapies I will talk about include:

  • Digestion and Nutrition

  • Naturopathy and specifically stool micro-biome testing

  • Nutritonalist expertise for food planning, food intolerance testing, and gut health

  • Essential oils which are woven throughout all areas of my symptom management and long-term health plans

  • Acupuncture

  • Osteopathy both structural and cranial

  • Stretching and Movement

  • Psychology with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)

  • Having a well-being Mindset which includes doing things that: balance and support the nervous system such as grounding yourself in nature, breath work or vagus nerve stimulation; practicing self-care and committing to recovery with mindset work like ACT (Acceptance, Commitment Therapy) and practicing boundaries that enable your self-care and recovery; or supporting mental health with connection and finding purpose in life. I have learned that what's important for mental and spiritual wellbeing is connection with others, creating a sense of purpose, and being able to do something I love each week, even if it's small.

  • Infrared Sauna

  • Light therapy and red light therapy

I haven't yet exhausted my list of options either.... Brain retraining exercises are something that I am starting to look into, but haven't yet tried, as it requires a level of commitment I don't feel I don't have just now.


This all sounds like a lot and some of it takes time planning and executing it, but I didn't do all of these things at once. It wasn't possible, so I prioritised areas, focusing on one or two things at a time and once I had a handle on these or had created a habit I could stick with, I then looked at another. It takes planning and time, which is where ACT (acceptance, commitment therapy) is important. I'll talk about this soon, however, it's more a way of being and thinking that allows you to accept where you are at now to free up space in your head to focus on and commit to doing things that will improve your health and well-being.


Some strategies take time and commitment. The benefit of sticking with a strategy or treatment is that improving some aspects of my life or lessening symptoms in one or two areas has allowed me to start recognising other symptoms more clearly. This has then allowed me to plan more effectively. For example, focusing on digestion and nutrition and lessening my reactions enabled me to see other triggers, symptoms, and the impacts of reactions better than I used to. Before this, I felt like everything was so bad, every day, I couldn't see the wood for the trees, so to speak. So I guess my advice is as much as we all would love a silver bullet, recovery takes time, and sticking with something long enough to determine if it's helping is important.



Digestion and Nutrition

Apart from rest and pacing two of the key strategies for managing ME and Long COVID, the first area I tackled was digestion and nutrition. Due to many food allergies and intolerances, my digestive system wasn't functioning well and with nutrition being the foundation of overall health I knew I had to improve this. If you're not taking in enough of the essential nutrients that the body needs to both function and heal then your health won't improve. Essential Nutrients are called essential as the body needs them from our food, we can't make them so if you aren't getting enough from your diet you will need to supplement with a multivitamin.


Creating a way of eating or food plan that works for you is individual. Some swear by paleo or keto, and I have needed to have a low histamine diet due to MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Disorder) which causes a histamine intolerance. Histamine is a natural chemical in our body essential for the immune and nervous systems. Most commonly it can cause symptoms like swelling, rashes, watery eyes, and digestive issues, however has also been linked to headaches and more.


Improving my gut function has meant I can slowly introduce more foods and I came to realise how food intolerances don't just cause a gut reaction like stomach pain, bloating, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea. Intolerances can also cause nervous system dysfunction. For me that includes anxiety, restless legs, a buzzing in my head, headaches, and insomnia. I recently listened to an interesting podcast that talked about not only H1 and H2 receptors (the more common histamine receptors in the body) but also H3 and H4 and how histamine interacts with these to cause symptoms. Dr Wendy Myers interview with Spenser Feldman - Top tips to reduce histamine reactions


For diet in general simply making sure you are eating whole foods, adequate protein, and appropriate carbs is the best starting point. Most people base their meals around carbs, however, protein is the building block for our cells so getting enough protein is key to healing and recovery. I've increased my protein intake, which has helped with energy and will help me maintain muscle as I get older.


The recommended daily amount of protein is around 0.8g per kg of body weight per day, but, many experts recommend higher rates, especially if the body is trying to heal, maintain or build muscle or you are an athlete. 1.2 to 1.4g per kg of body weight per day is a good starting point for recovery.


I'll just say one thing about supplements as it's a big topic and there are so many options. Expert advice I have received that helps save money is to cover your bases as best you can with nutrition, then a multivitamin, then targeted support for specific things ideally via testing. There are some minerals and vitamins that you need to test for before taking them to ensure you don't have too much, which can be toxic. It's best to test for Vitamin D, Iron, Zinc, and the ratio of Zinc and Copper which needs to be specific for all sorts of key functions in the body. Key supplements to consider are:

Zinc

Magnesium

Vitamin D

Vitamin C


These videos on Nutritional Management for Wellbeing for Long COVID and ME/CFS feature Dr Cliff Harvey, Clinical Nutritionalist and Researcher:

Long COVID Online Support Tool Video 6 Nutritional Management for Wellbeing

Dr Cliff Harvey, Clinical Nutritionist and Researcher - Long COVID Expert Interview



Naturopath and Nutritionalist with Stool Testing and MegaSpore


Initially, I saw a Naturopath to discuss my conditions and symptoms and we did a number of tests including a comprehensive stool test, that showed a bacterial imbalance.


A comprehensive stool test is a diagnostic procedure used to evaluate the health of the gastrointestinal tract and its microbiome. This test provides detailed information about the various components of the stool, which can help in understanding the state of the digestive system, the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria, the presence of pathogens, and other important factors related to gut health. There are a couple of companies offering different stool test options. It's best to discuss the best option for you with your health provider.


I then went to a specialised nutritionist who helped with my low histamine diet plans and supplements to heal my gut and restore my microbiome. Two of the key supplements I use to improve my digestion and gut health are digestive enzymes and MegaSpore.


Digestive enzyme supplements contain specific enzymes that assist in breaking down the proteins, carbohydrate, and fat components of food, aiding the digestive process. Naturally, we produce enzymes in our pancreas which are secreted into the small intestine however sometimes our digestive system needs help and digestive enzyme supplements can help reduce gut-related issues, such as pain and bloating.


A spore-based probiotic is one that reconditions the gut. People with a histamine intolerance can't take a number of probiotics as they release histamine. Spore-based probiotics are different and stay dormant in the harsh stomach environment until they reach the intestine where they are needed and start colonising the gut, which makes them highly effective. After using these in combination for 6-8 months I was slowly able to introduce more foods and am still working on expanding the variety in my diet.


Essential oils for gut health and digestion


5 years ago I was introduced to the therapeutic nature of essential oils, which I previously had not known about. I just thought they smelled nice. I now use these in all areas of my life including cleaning and making body products. One of the areas they have helped me most is to support digestion and help relieve pain and bloating.

  • Topically I use a digestive blend called ZenGest that helps relax the gut and improve digestion. I put a drop in my belly button and massage my tummy with a carrier oil (such as coconut oil).

  • From time to time when I have a bad reaction to something I will use a topical application called Symphony of Cells, specifically developed to support the digestive system. This involves layering a series of oils on my spine and the bottom of my feet and within an hour my gut is significantly better.

  • Taking peppermint oil in a capsule or adding a drop of peppermint or ZenGest to my tea has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle of the digestive tract. I also have these peppermint beadlets that I can pop in my mouth - they live in my bag whenever I go out. These beadlets are great for freshening breath too!

Note: that all essential oils are created equal and most brands are not able to be ingested. Without regulation in the market, an essential oil bottle may say 100% pure when it's not, so do your homework and check how a company sources and tests its oils for impurities and additives. doTERRA essential oils are certified food grade with Food Safe NZ.

digestive support essential oils
Digestive Support Essential Oils


Body pain, acupuncture, osteopathy, stretching and movement


While working on digestive health it was important to do things to help relieve body pain, (short and long-term) and I also found this had an impact on my mental sluggishness, nervous system, and energy.


For the first two years after my crash, I saw an acupuncturist and osteopath to work on both short-term relief of pain and cognition challenges and long-term wellbeing. My acupuncturist is Chinese medicine trained and these treatments work on stimulating acupuncture points located on lines of energy (meridians) that are connected through a network in the body. This enables the balancing of energy and supports healing.


I saw an osteopath for structural work, stretching, soft tissue work, neuromuscular or lymphatic techniques and joint manipulation. I often had immediate relief from pain and tension and 'stuckness' and found it also improved my cognition and overall wellbeing. At times my osteo also uses cranial techniques which involve very subtle movements to the bones of the head and spine to improve movement and fluid flow. One of the aims is to restore fluid balance within the body, allowing good fluid flow throughout the various body systems, which enables healing. For me,the outcomes are improved function, less pain, and improved energy and cognition.

Osteopathy
Osteopathy

Along similar lines gentle movement and stretching also help relieve body tension and I find this also helps with fatigue and cognition. These gentle activities can improve circulation and ensure efficient nutrient delivery and waste removal. If I am feeling tense and groggy/tired, gentle movement and stretching especially in the shoulders, neck, and back make a big difference to my mental alertness, energy levels and sleep. For some people, it helps them to follow a gentle stretching yoga routine. For me, I've got used to listening to my body and have a range of stretches that I use depending on my needs, rather than following a specific programme. Work out what works best for you and seek some help if you need it.


Exercises for chronic pain desensitisation

Earlier this year I started seeing a physio who specialises in injury and chronic pain rehabilitation. He assessed me for injuries and concluded that some of my chronic pain is due to sensitisation of signaling from the brain rather than injuries themselves. I started a series of gentle strength exercises (within my energy envelope) that are designed to create new signaling pathways from the brain to stop the pain. It has so far worked for my hip pain after a minor injury that occurred two years ago and I am now working on back/shoulder and neck pain.


This video by Healing Track talks about Neural Pathways in the brain, how they are made, and how these can be changed with practice.


Research shows that generally exercise improves pain tolerance and I've had friends experience this, however for some chronic pain conditions this is not the case and scientific studies have not yet worked out why this is (1). It is worth trying some form of exercise however and working out what works best for you. In saying this exercise for people with ME/CFS needs to be individually developed to avoid PEM (post exertional malaise) and an excacerbation of symptoms (2).


Exercise can be a controversial topic within the ME community, however, I feel that we have to be careful not to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'. I haven't been able tolerate many of the traditional forms of exercise without bringing on a crash. I can however do a few strength exercises a couple of times a day or 3-4 times a week. I've written a Blog Post about exercise 'snacks' and the research around this. It's worth noting that this is not on top of what I would normally do in a day, but I would replace it with something so that I keep within my energy envelope.


Another consideration is something called allostatic load and being aware of what might be contribute to pain in general. We are holistic beings and pain is a complex multidimensional experience. Allostatic load refers to the cumulative burden of chronic stress and life events effecting someone's ability to cope in general (3).


This is an interesting video on understanding pain: Understanding Pain in less than 5 minutes, and what to do about it!


My physio says that the key to desensitisation is to individually figure out an person's sensitisation patterns and work on these one at a time. Often less is more is this respect.



Essential oils for pain and inflammation


I have also used essential oils to complement these treatments and reduce pain and inflammation. I use them in a variety of ways:

  • a Symphony of Cells application that involves layering a series of oils on my spine and the bottom of my feet specifically developed to reduce inflammation. It addresses Chronic Pain, Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Aches, Joint and Muscle Discomfort, Tendinitis, Bursitis, Digestive Distress, Connective Tissue Disorders, Over-Training, Adrenal Fatigue and general inflammation

  • Copaiba essential oil taken as a gelcap or a drop under my tongue daily. Copaiba is an amazing oil containing Beta-Caryophyllene (the same chemical constituent in CBD oil), most known for supporting the immune system and inflammatory response and promoting healthy cellular function.

  • A muscle rub blend called ice blue soothes tired aching muscles and joints and is great blended with copaiba. doTERRA has a really convenient stick application (like a deodorant stick) that combines the Ice Blue blend with copaiba and is really easy to use - no messy hands afterward!

  • Peppermint inhaled from cued hands and rubbed on the back of my neck is amazing for headaches. This also helps relieve some brain fog as the peppermint contains menthol and menthone which are neuroactive and mind-refreshing and can facilitate the elimination of mental fatigue.



Psychology for mental health - EMDR, Taping and ACT


Moving on to mental health, I have worked with a psychologist for a number of years and this has been helpful to manage the impact of this illness. Through the course of this, we realised the potential impact that previous trauma had on my recovery and started using EMDR. EMDR is an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing tool, that allows rapid processing of events to help with letting go of things from your past. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s and is based on the premise that traumatic events can overwhelm our normal cognitive and neurological coping mechanisms. The therapy aims to help the brain process those memories, reducing their long-term impact.


If you would like to work on trauma it's best to do so with a trained specialist, however, there are activities that work in similar ways that can be done at home to help you deal with emotions and improve thought processes. This includes Taping /EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which draws on acupuncture practices using pressure points and affirmations. There are apps you can use to guide you with this.


EFT is a mind-body technique that draws on traditional Chinese acupuncture using s fingertip tapping on specific acupressure points on the body while voicing positive affirmations. The combination of voicing positive affirmations and tapping is believed to release emotional blockages, providing relief.


I have also learned to change the way I think and 'do' things - let go of perfectionism, practice mindfulness, say no, not push through symptoms, not be critical of myself and voice my boundaries and needs effectively. Psychology has helped a great deal with this, along with the ACT principle. ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) is a system of thinking for managing a chronic illness or other life challenges.


The central components of ACT are:

- Acceptance of where you are at right now

- Values - looking at what you can do within the energy you have available that you value most, and

- Committing to things that will optimise your health and wellbeing


The key is the first and last point, acceptance of where you are at isn't giving up, as it's combined with a commitment to do things that help you improve your health and well-being and ensure you stay true to your values.


These strategies do take work, there is no quick fix to recovery from chronic illness although we all would like there to be one. Acceptance of your situation helps reduce stress because it helps your mind worry less and enables you to use that energy to focus on things that will help you.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy
Acceptance Commitment Therapy

Image credit: Forward Thinking Psychological Services https://www.ftpsych.ca/therapy-approaches/acceptance-commitment-therapy/


Another related strategy I haven't used yet but have looked into and would like to start as the next part of my journey is brain retraining. There seems to be a bit of a controversy to this topic yet some people find it incredibly beneficial and others have aid a lot of money with little results, so please do your research on what might work best for you.


What is brain retraining? it's about rewiring the nervous system and creating new pathways in the brain that help reduce symptoms. Basically, it is a process that enables the brain and nervous system to recognise danger signals from the unconscious brain that may no longer be actual danger, while then sending back safety signals.


The hypothesis behind these approaches for illnesses like ME/CFS or chronic pain is in part, due to the brain not adapting neurologically in response to stressors such as infections, environmental toxins, or other triggers. Many believe the nervous system in people with ME/CFS is 'stuck' in a chronic state of fight-flight. Responses do vary to this kind of therapy, and what works for one person might not work for another.


Raelan Agle released a great video that talks about the nervous system and why brain retraining may not work in some people. Why Brain Training Doesn't Work - ME/CFS & Long Covid Recovery



Having a well-being mindset


The other key to supporting my mental health has been finding ways to fully relax, reduce nervous system stimulation, and find purpose. I plan my week so that I can do something that I love and gives me purpose and this has a big impact on my mental health. For me being involved with my boy's school or sport gives me purpose and enjoyment. I played sports at a high level when I was younger and without being able to play, coaching brings me connection and achievement and allows me to give back to the community.

Getting out in nature and grounding is the last thing I will mention for mental health. There's something relaxing and energising about being out in nature, getting your bare feet on the ground, and exposing your body to natural light. Getting natural light (or the equivalent) in the morning helps the body release serotonin which helps your body regulate its circadian rhythm. This involves two other hormones Cortisol and Melatonin. You can't have high Cortisol and high Melatonin at the same time. Cortisol is the daytime hormone to get you up and going, and Melatonin is the hormone to help you sleep at night. If you are tired in the morning, go outside to get a dose of blue light, as this clears Melatonin and increases Cortisol for daily activities. This signals to our body that it's time to be awake and alert, which then increases the production of Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone and influences learning, memory, and happiness and helps regulate body temperature, sleep, sexual behavior, and hunger. If you can get outside first thing in the morning for 5-10 minutes, and get light in your eyes and then get outside as much as you can throughout the day you will find you sleep better and this has a flow-on effect for energy and mood. This is just one of the reasons light is so important. See below for more information on Light Therapy



Essential oils for nervous system support and mental health


Our olfactory system (sense of smell) is linked to the limbic system in our brain, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions, mood, and memories. When we inhale essential oils, the chemical components of the oils travel directly to the limbic system and can have an effect on the chemicals in the brain and therefore have the ability to affect mood and influence the nervous system. You can impact mood and emotions through anchoring to certain situations like sleep, relaxation, or alertness and memory for a test or presentation.

It's also why when you smell something you can be transported back to a memory from your past. You can read more about how Essential Oils impact emotions here.

There's a blend called Balance which has been my go-to for years when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. I also love Wild Orange, which is not only calming but uplifting and smells divine. If I'm getting that wired or tired feeling that those of us with ME know too well, I'll add Frankincence or Vetiver which I feel is like a thick blanket over my emotions, holding my nervous system safe. I use these topically on my wrists, spine, behind my ears, or the bottom of my feet during the day and before bed.


One of the things I love about essential oils is they won't make your body do anything it doesn't need, like medications which are designed to start or stop a process and often have a flow-on effect that creates side effects. Essential oils help bring the body back into balance and a great example of this is a hormone-balancing blend, Clary Calm. I use this monthly to support symptoms around my cycle, however, it can be used with teenagers, whose hormones are changing, or pre or post-menopause to alleviate symptoms. It's the same blend of oils but works differently for different people depending on their needs.



Light therapy and red light therapy


Three years ago after a lot of research, I bought a red light therapy (RLT) unit to use at home and then also an infrared sauna to aid my recovery. These are now integral parts of my well-being plan.


Most people, especially if they work indoors, don't get enough of the right wavelengths of light and red light therapy can help with this. Not only can red light therapy help boost serotonin and dopamine levels, but it also can increase cellular energy, reduce inflammation, increase collagen production, and increase blood flow.


Red light therapy panels are usually red spectrum LED lights or a combination of red and near-infrared (NIR) lights that feel like the warmth of the sun on your skin on a sunny day. They stimulate the body's natural healing and regeneration processes. The specific spectrum of red light wavelengths and intensity interact with your skin and the wavelengths of NIR penetrate into the tissues and organs and reach the cells, which stimulate cellular change.

Benefits include:

  • muscle recovery and repair

  • reduced joint pain and inflammation

  • improved circulation

  • improved cellular health

  • increase recovery time

  • Improve thyroid health

  • stimulating hair growth

  • Improve skin tone and health

  • Improve mental health by regulating stress response

  • boosting mood

  • Improve thyroid health

  • improve sleep

To understand how RLT works, it's important to understand a bit of cell biology. Within every cell are mitochondria (‘power stations’ of the cells) and these produce almost all the body's energy needs. The dysfunction of mitochondria is cited in many conditions and diseases including ME/CFS and Long COVID.


The light-penetrating tissues are absorbed by chromophores in the mitochondria and cause a photochemical reaction in our cells, where electrons jump into a higher energy orbit. This extra energy is then available for cellular processes in the body and cellular metabolism can be increased by up to 200%.


Research also indicates that the light photons from the RLT are also absorbed by Cytochrome c oxidase (CcO), a respiratory enzyme in the mitochondria that is essential for producing ATP (energy). When CcO absorbs these light wavelengths, Nitric Oxide (which builds up in our mitochondria due to toxins in our environment and inhibits the energy production process) is released from the CcO, enabling the mitochondria to make more ATP so that more energy is available for all biological process. This process also serves to strengthen and grow mitochondria (which decrease in number and become less effective as we age), thus having an overall impact on health and longevity.


Some scientists have studied this reaction and have seen the process happen under a microscope.


Red and near-infrared light also enhances the production of basic fibroblast growth factor increasing the growth and numbers of fibroblasts (a type of cell that produces collagen) and therefore improving skin and joint health and healing. It also affects factors that influence gene expression and protein synthesis, playing a role in cytokine modulation, muscle recovery, tissue repair and collagen formation, tissue oxygenation, liver regeneration, inflammatory mediators, and central nervous system health (by increasing bone-derived neurotrophic factor). This is why RLT is popular for skin health and muscle and joint recovery and repair.


Red wavelengths benefit the skin and systems within the skin tissue, including the circulatory system, peripheral nervous system, and hair follicles. The longer wavelengths of NIR light reach beneath the skin to cells deep in your body, including muscles, joints, and bones.


More information is available in my Blog about RLT and Infrared Sauna and the research into the benefits of these treatments.


Research has shown red light therapy to help with:

  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness and Muscle Performance

  • Body Pain and Fibromyalgia

  • Mood and is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder SAD

A 2014 trial with Fibromyalgia patients evaluated red and near-infrared laser light therapy three times per week for 4 weeks and showed marked improvement compared to placebo in physical impairment, work missed, pain, fatigue, stiffness, anxiety, and depression scores. (18)


Like most things, RLT and Sauna are not a silver bullet but rather a tool in the toolbox that could help many people with chronic conditions like ME/CFS and Long COVID. They have to be used consistently over time and in some cases like medication or exercise, started slowly and built up, to allow your body to build its tolerance.


20 minutes is a standard red light session. When I first started using red light therapy I started at 10 minutes daily but after 3 days, I had headaches so pulled it back to 3-5 minutes and slowly built it up to 10-15 minutes. It's super relaxing and a wonderful way to start the day or help pick you up in the mid-afternoon.


This podcast interview with New Zealander Dan Ebbett from Block Blue Light is really interesting and he talks about his journey, why, and how he started getting into light therapy.


In the light therapy space I've also just started using a Loop light, which is a desk lamp that delivers the specific wavelength of light at the right time to support your circadian rhythm. During the day it's an exact wavelength of blue light that mimics the intensity of daylight and sets your circadian rhythm and then it slowly changes to amber at night to help signal to the body that it's time to wind down and prepare for restful sleep.


This is a fantastic podcast that talks about the specific wavelength of light that helps set the circadian rhythm during the day and more. The Quantum Biology Collective Podcast - Circadian Scientist Dr. Martin Moore-Ede Explains How Artificial Light At Night Leads To Diabetes, Obesity and Cancer



Infrared Sauna

There are a number of reasons why infrared sauna is good for some people with a chronic illness:

  • the heat causes reactions in the body that are similar to moderate exercise, increasing circulation and enabling detoxification along with the benefits these provide.

  • Infrared sauna is a more tolerable heat than a traditional sauna, eliciting a deep sweat at a lower temperature with the added benefits of infrared technology.

  • regulating the immune system and suppressing autoimmune overactivity.

  • the repair and clean out of damaged cells.

  • the removal of free radicals and growing antioxidant capacity, which results in less muscle breakdown from less oxidative stress.

  • improved energy through mitochondria health (the energy producers of our cells) - heat exposure has been shown to stimulate the body to make more mitochondria (and therefore an improved capacity to make energy), grow stronger bigger mitochondria, and clean out and repair damaged mitochondria.

  • increase growth hormone levels which leads to greater exercise performance.


How it works is that the wavelengths from the heat panels penetrate your tissues up to 1 1/2 inches and heat your body directly (rather than heating the air around you in a traditional hot rock sauna) causing an intense sweat at a lower heat tolerance. This causes vasodilation and increased blood flow to tissues and organs, and which delivers nutrients and and oxygen. The flow-on effect is healing, relaxation, boosting immunity, and the release and mobiliasation of toxins.

Just like anything new, I suggest starting slowly. I started with 5-7 minutes and slowly build up so that I can now have 30-minute saunas. It's important to listen to your body and sometimes I still only do 20 minutes if I start feeling tired, or have a headache or dizziness.


I feel great after a sauna, relaxed, and usually more energised, and I also sleep really well that night. Often an afternoon sauna gets rid of the afternoon slump in energy, however just like anything though you can overdo it. Occasionally I have had to go home and go to bed after the sauna, but wake up the next day feeling better, so it's important to be flexible and work within your body's limits.


There has been extensive research done on the benefits of sauna for various conditions.

This includes:

  • Tension Headaches

  • Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Joint Pain and Arthritis

  • ME/CFS

  • Heart health

  • Athletic Performance

  • Mood

  • Detoxification

  • Brain health

  • Longevity

In several studies of ME/CFS, participants reported decreased fatigue, improved anxiety and depression scores, reduced pain, and less sleep disturbance. In one study (Amano et al. 2015) 77.8% of participants noted improved symptoms after 8 weeks of regular sauna. (6, 7)


I have to also mention longevity, as aside from dealing with a chronic illness, living a longer more healthy life is something to aspire to. A 20-year study of 2,315 men in Finland found that those using sauna 2-3 times per week (as opposed to once a week) had a lowered risk of dementia and Alzheimers and were 24% less likely to die from all causes. Plus the effects were greater with increased sauna use. Those who used the sauna 4-7 times per week were a massive 40% less likely to die from all causes! (1)



Book a sauna now to try it out


Summary


My journey to recovery is ongoing and a few things I've learned are; that it's not one thing that helps, but a combination of treatments unique to the individual; and that a combination of modern medicine and natural options is often needed. I have found relief from taking Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) for pain, medication for POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) has been integral, and nat times have needed anti-anxiety and medication to support sleep including melatonin and I have also needed hormone replacement therapy. Hormones are a whole other blog, however, I do recommend seeking lots of advice on this as it can be more complicated than it looks. I have had low progesterone and recently my testosterone was incredibly low, which as it turns out is more common in women as we get old than much of the medical profession may recognise.


Finding the right medical professional who listens and understands your condition and is willing to work with you to try things is super important. Making the decision to change doctors can be hard, but it's the best decision I made and led to my diagnosis and much more support.


References:

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