I am really excited to share my personal take on all the hot new wellness trends this year (sauna pun intended)... As many of you know, I am on a constant hunt for finding wellness methods to heal, balance, and sustain me through new motherhood, running a growing business, and enjoying my life and family. I am always intrigued to try a new trend, but am honest with myself on what works and what doesn't. So, I'm keeping it real with you and sharing what I'm truly seeing - and using - as the top trends of the year. Because believe me, from following the moon eclipses to sitting in a bath of colored oils, I've tried them all. Here's what I'm loving.Read More
On paper, the concept that light can heal depression is poetic. I am not talking about the theoretical light, or spirit, or energy inside us all. I am, instead, speaking of actual light waves. Infrared light is a wavelength that is perceived as heat by the body. A few months ago, I posted about a recent study on near-infrared as a treatment for depression and received an overwhelming response from our community to know more about this link. I did not expect to discover the depth of research on this topic - how infrared, especially near-infrared, therapy can heal our brain.
We all know the seriousness of mental illness, but to put it into perspective for a moment, the WHO (World Health Organization) states that over 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression. Close to 800,000 people die of suicide every year and it is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 29 year olds. Not to mention the millions of people suffering and dying from addictions to drugs, alcohol, and amphetamines, which most commonly used as numbing-agents and coping mechanisms to deal with mental illnesses and emotional issues. People of all genders, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds are affected by mental illnesses, but women are especially at risk for depression.
A network of researchers, scientists and doctors are working tirelessly to learn more about our brains, stress, mental illnesses, and how to create more effective, long-term treatments without negative side effects. One such treatment is light and heat. Of all the types of light and heat available (think a hot bath, a regular sauna, other wavelengths of light such as red light), infrared has taken center stage for many reasons. Infrared light is particularly effective and can penetrate the body up to three inches deep, affecting tissues at a cellular level. It can heat the body comfortably at a lower level, making it more tolerable than other forms of heat. Infrared has been reliably proven to decrease inflammation, which on a basic level is known to positively affect all bodily processes including brain health. Infrared has also been well documented to relieve pain, in everything from chronic low-back pain to rheumatoid arthritis. Given that we know that the same regions in the brain are activated by physical and emotional pain and how inflammation can affect the brain, scientists have turned to infrared, and multiple studies are showing that infrared sauna therapy is a promising treatment for healing the brain and combatting depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s disease.
To be honest, when I began to research this topic, I thought that there were a smattering of studies about the brain and infrared out there and not much more. Infrared has not been studied at length due to the simple fact that it is an alternative healing modality that no one corporation stands to gain money from. The sad fact is most clinical research is sponsored by big pharma and lobbyists like factory farmers, dairy farmers, and so on. That’s for another day, but the bottom line is I was overwhelmed by the amount of data that is proving the link between brain health and near-infrared light. Here is a summary of what I discovered, which is just scratching the surface of the amount of evidence out there on how infrared therapy, namely near-infrared light, benefits the brain, and could possibly be an effective, healthy treatment for everything from depression to dementia.
Let’s start with just heat, meaning all infrared wavelengths. One study found that hyperthermia (i.e. heating the body to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit) stimulated the skin in a way that activated serotonin production, which in turn changes brain functionality. Serotonin is the positivity neurochemical and it regulates mood, happiness and anxiety and low-levels trigger depression. As mentioned earlier, infrared decreases inflammation, and this decreases and heals cell damage in the brain. To dial it back for a moment – not all inflammation is bad, it’s an important immune mechanism for the body, but chronic inflammation has been connected to a wide range of health problems and auto-immune diseases.
A variety of studies are finding that near-infrared light increases connections in between neurons and stimulates the formation of new ones. In 1967, a doctor named Endre Master from Hungary accidentally discovered that near-infrared light could help with wound healing, reduction of pain and inflammation. Scientists have been applying this theory to the brain with stroke patients, and sadly, mice, rats, and rabbits, and have discovered that near-infrared light increases the connections between neurons and stimulates the formation of new ones. It has been proven to restore brain function in stroke patients. Even in a study of mice where they covered their heads with aluminum, the body being exposed to near-infrared produced results of increasing healing in the brain. Other animal models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease have reported that low-level near-infrared light has neuroprotective effects and slows the death of neurons. What near-infrared essentially does is promote the repair of tissue throughout the body, and this function in the brain is the mechanism that has been shown to combat depression and other neurological issues.
These two studies were conducted on real people suffering with depression, with rigorous trial standards, and had remarkable results. They are the first of their kind, with hopefully many more trials on humans using infrared to replicate these promising results to come.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison used infrared lights to heat patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder to temperature of 38.5°C – or 101.4°F – and found a substantial reduction in the symptoms of depression within as little as one week. If you’re interested in the standards of the trial, it was randomized, double-blind and sham-controlled – and worked with 338 volunteers from a range of levels of depression. Researchers concluded that using infrared light to heat the body “holds promise as a safe, fast-acting anti-depressant modality with a prolonged therapeutic benefit.”
Some scientists believe that depression is a metabolic disorder, “an under functioning of the cellular process by which complex molecules are broken down to produce the energy to maintain life.” Paolo Cassano at Massachusetts General Hospital theorized that an infrared “jolt” could possibly restore normal brain function in people suffering from depression: “Cassano’s idea was to target those sluggish neurons close to the surface where mitochondria, the power sources of cells, could convert the near-infrared light into chemical energy. More chemical energy would mean more neuronal growth and repair, and more and better-functioning neurons in the prefrontal cortex would mean better control over the hyperactive amygdala.”
Participants in the study received twice-weekly twenty-minute treatments of near infrared light for eight weeks. The device used was about the size and shape of a TV remote and sent concentrated light-beams into a specific spot on the head, penetrating the scalp, skull and brain tissue. Patients in the trial had dramatically decreased levels of sadness, anxiety, lethargy, and agitation.
This journal post truly just scratched the surface of the data that is available on brain healing, depression, stroke, and infrared and light therapies. As you can tell, there is a vast amount of research out there on everything from depression to Parkinson’s to Alzheimers and strokes, and I encourage you to read the sources listed below and do your own deep dive. I walked away from this investigation with a deeper appreciation for this healing modality of infrared light than I have ever had before. Yet what affected me the most is that while reading about all of these studies, all the science and data and numbers, I found myself feeling deeply grateful for all the men and women behind them who are working tirelessly to solve these dire medical issues. It made me think of Mr. Roger’s mother’s reminder that we should always “look for the helpers.” How beautiful is it to remember that each and every day, there are incredibly smart, creative, and loving people waking up and giving their time, their lives, to find new ways to heal us and our human family.
Benefits of infrared sauna therapy for new mothers, nursing and breastfeeding.Read More
Self-care is the practice of taking time and space to tend to one’s needs in order to rest, energize, and connect to the Self, from the physical level down to the soul level. It’s a big buzzword in the wellness world and many have said that it is a trend - I believe it is a movement and it is here to stay. It's an essential act that helps us show up as our best self in all aspects of life. It benefits our children, spouses, family, friends and co-workers, as these small acts of love create a positive spiral that reaches outward into society at large.
I’m writing this blog as a way to share my experiences & experiments in self-care and wellness. My self-care journey has superficial beginnings – wedding day preparations. Like many brides, I believed that I had to be perfect to be beautiful and happy on my wedding day. Although my initial aim was physical perfection, my self-care practice led me to what became a spiritual journey. Self-care helped me defeat my body-image issues, anxiety, perfectionism, and low self-esteem. In retrospect I can see that it truly changed my life. I discovered a deep spirituality, connection with my highest Self, and the deepest happiness.
At it’s core, self-care is about love – it is a physical, tangible way to show yourself love. We are all programmed by our culture to be self-critical and these negative thought patterns are deeply ingrained. Neuroscience has proven that thought patterns are wired into our brains, and we can only create new patterns by consistent repetition of new, positive thoughts. Acts of self-care are steps towards re-wiring our brains for self-love and happiness. In a culture that encourages negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and running our bodies ragged, self-care is a small act of revolution to create positive change. It has a ripple effect and raises the love, health and vitality of all those around us.
Self-care has taken on an entirely new meaning and I have been learning new tactics and reprioritizing what it means to me. Motherhood has shattered any lingering attachments to perfection and taught me to truly love myself and my body. I am constantly experimenting and learning my way around the wellness world and I’d love to take you on that journey with me. This will be a space where I share the things I’m already doing, reading about, making, and inspired by in the hopes that it might help or inspire you too and allow us all to learn more about our individual Selfs together.
I’ll leave you with a few things that are self-care rituals for me at the moment. My life has very little rhythm other than the feeding times of my four-month old twin babies. When I do get a spare minute, here are some simple things I’m doing to take care of my Self, with a capital S:
MOMENTS OF MEDITATION: I used to think meditation must be a silent, still twenty or so minutes – another preconceived attachment to perfection that motherhood has beautifully adjusted for me. I now take any collection of minutes I can find to follow my breath and be in my body. Sometimes I find my mind racing while I’m nursing or holding one of the boys and I stop and remind myself – you’re in your body, holding your baby’s beautiful body, and this helps me cherish these fleeting moments.
HEAT THERAPY - BATH & INFRARED: I missed the heat so much when I was pregnant. Baths are great in that they can be super quick – just a 5-10 minute Epsom soak can reset me. Although Inner Light is my business, it has been hard up until now to find the time to sit in the sauna. Now I am trying to use the saunas 2-3x a week. It immediately changes my mood and I love how it gets my heart rate up and circulation going.
MOVING MY BODY: A twin pregnancy is very limiting for exercise – I had to stop spinning at 14 weeks and walking at 30 weeks. In addition to losing all my muscle tone, the 70lbs I gained put a massive strain on my body. Not to mention that I fell and pulled my groin 3 days before giving birth. This is a long way of saying I am very out of shape and it has taken my body a long time to heal. I have been seeing Rachel at Resolution Physical Therapy for pilates-based PT past three weeks and I am so grateful to for her. I am also starting to walk with the boys, which feels so good. While I loved being cooped up this winter with our new family, it feels incredible to be getting back outside.
Thank you for reading my first-ever blog post! I am so excited to share more and be learn on this journey together.