Can thermotherapy help diabetes? A few studies show thermotherapy benefits. In a 2010 study of “quality of life” after 3 months of regular saunas, 15 people with type 2 diabetes reported they had better health and social life, and less stress and fatigue.1 However, the researchers didn’t find any changes in cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, or HbA1c.2 So can thermotherapy make measurable differences to the actual disease?

A small study from 1999 began to answer that question. Eight people with type 2 diabetes who had 3 weeks of hot spa baths, on average reduced their weight by 1.7 kg, their fasting plasma glucose went from 10.1 mmol/lt to 8.8 (182 to 159 mg/dL), and their HbA1c from 11.3% to 10.3%.3

This effect on fasting blood sugar levels seems to be backed up by a 2018 study of 80 healthy people without diabetes who had 7 sessions in a steam bath over two weeks. Fasting blood sugar levels decreased from 6.4 mmol/lt to 5.4 (116 mg/dL to 97) on average.4

In 2014, 40 obese type-2-diabetics had heating treatment, combined with mild electrical stimulation, to their trunk daily for 12 weeks. As a result their blood pressures, fasting blood glucose and insulin levels, and HbA1c were all significantly reduced.5

In 2020, the same researchers using the same treatment, this time on 100 people with type 2 diabetes, reported improvement in all measures of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (a condition often accompanying diabetes).6

Why does Thermotherapy help?

Once again no-one knows for sure what mechanisms are behind these results, but researchers suspect, mainly from studies on rats, that heating the body decreases chronic inflammation, a major underlying cause of diabetes. Thermotherapy changes the body’s production of particular cytokines, that adjust the immune response and also improve insulin resistance and body weight. So-called Heat Shock Proteins are also produced that are not only anti-inflammatory but improve many other body processes including the effectiveness of insulin.7

So can thermotherapy help diabetes?

Let’s see.

  1. Beever R. The effects of repeated thermal therapy on quality of life in patients with type II diabetes mellitus. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16: 677–681.
  2. Beever R. Do Far-infrared Saunas Have Cardiovascular Benefits in People with Type 2 Diabetes? Canadian Journal of Diabetes. 2010. pp. 113–118
  3. Hooper PL. Hot-tub therapy for type 2 diabetes mellitus. N Engl J Med. 1999;341: 924–925.
  4. Shiralkar VV, Jagtap PE, Belwalkar GJ, Nagane NS, Dhonde SP. Effect of Steam Sauna Bath on Fasting Blood Glucose Level in Healthy Adults. Indian journal of Medical Biochemistry. 2018. pp. 18–21. doi:10.5005/jp-journals-10054-0047
  5. Kondo T, Motoshima H, Igata M, Kawashima J, Matsumura T, Kai H, Araki E. The Role of Heat Shock Response in Insulin Resistance and Diabetes. Korean Diabetes Association. 2014. vol. 38. pp. 100-106. doi: 10.4093/dmj.2014.38.2.100
  6. Kondo T, Kitano S, Miyakawa N, Watanabe T, Goto R, Sakaguchi M, et al. Activation of Heat Shock Response Ameliorates Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Biomarkers. Diabetes. 2020. p. 1072–P. doi:10.2337/db20-1072-p
  7. Hoekstra SP, Bishop NC, Leicht CA. Elevating body temperature to reduce low-grade inflammation: a welcome strategy for those unable to exercise? Exerc Immunol Rev. 2020;26: 42–55.

Bruce ThompsonAUTHOR

BAppSc-Physiotherapy, Sydney University 1978

Bruce Thompson is a qualified Physiotherapist who has been using and teaching hydrotherapy for over 30 years.

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