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Infrared saunas could hold the key to detoxification of deadly chemicals absorbed by Firefighters.

Optimal health is, in part, a balance of toxins-in and toxins-out. You need a process to eliminate stored chemicals.
We all face health risks from exposure to industrial toxins. In fact, the umbilical cord blood of a newborn baby can be sampled and will reveal an average of over 200 synthetic chemicals, some of them with carcinogenic potential. But, what about those individuals who are exposed to toxic chemicals are part of their occupation? In particular, professional firefighters.

The following cancers are now recognized as firefighter occupational diseases: brain, bladder, colorectal, kidney, ureter, testicular, lung, esophageal, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, breast, prostate and multiple myeloma. The International Association of Fire Fighters says occupational cancer continues to outpace other causes of death in the fire service and is second only to heart disease. 60% of firefighters are diagnosed with cancer and the numbers continue to rise. It is the most talked about health issue amongst firefighters today. (More information is available here.)

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Cancer Institute, and the University of California at Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, completed a five-year study in 2015 of nearly 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The study concluded that firefighters in the study had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths. )

The cancers associated with firefighters, as a profession, go far beyond those caused by smoke inhalation. How do these toxins enter the body – despite using full turnout gear and breathing apparatus?
A study from the University of Ottawa seems to have found some concrete answers. Firefighters absorb toxic chemicals through their skin. They are exposed to toxins initially in the fire. Then afterwards, because soot left on their clothing is absorbed via the skin or inhaled. This is especially a hazard in a modern building with synthetic building materials, contains thousands of toxic chemicals which can enter the body both through exposed skins, and through the lungs.

The findings were published on the Environmental Science & Technology journal’s website on Oct. 18, 2017 and detailed the results of a research team’s examinations of Ottawa Fire Services (OFS) members from Jan. 2015 to April 2016.

The report revealed that after fighting fires, urine samples of OFS workers show four times the potential for DNA damage and contain between three and five times more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are harmful chemical compounds often linked to cancer. Examples of common PAH metabolites in firefighters include naphthalene, pyrene, phenanthrene and fluorine.

Jennifer Keir, an author on the study, said “There’s a relationship between firefighters’ urinary PAH metabolite levels and the levels of PAHs on their skin, which leads us to suspect that dermal contact may be an important route of exposure.”

Many would miss this on a trivia quiz, but the skin is the human body’s largest organ. And the importance for firefighters to protect their skin also goes largely unrecognized. With a huge surface area and critical biological functions, the skin is key to providing a barrier to toxins and regulating temperature.

The skin is very porous and extremely vascular with a lot of small blood vessel, sweat glands and pores that can all act as potential pathways for toxins to enter the body. Also, toxins that sit on the skin can easily migrate to the hands or eyes, making it easy for substances to be ingested or pass through the even more vascular eye.

More significant is how these chemicals embed in the pores that open to help thermo-regulate heat stress during firefighting operations. With every 5 degrees that body temperature rises, skin absorption rates increase by as much 400 percent.

The other major component of the skin is the lipids or a thin layer of fat that makes the skin elastic. The skin is made up of a lipid bi-layer that helps protect the body from a variety of substances getting into the body.
The sweat glands and subcutaneous tissues have a lot of lipid or fatty structures. Many toxins are lipid soluble meaning that they pass though the layers or they lodge in the lipid layer.

The unfortunate part of toxicology is that lipid-loving toxins stick or migrate to fat tissues. The commonly used flame retardants known as polybrominated biphenyls has an affinity to lodge in lipid layers or fats. When it comes to skin exposure, these four terms should be part of a firefighter’s vocabulary: furans, dioxins, benzene and radical aldehydes.

In a 2014 article published in the Annals of Occupations Hygiene entitled “Systemic Exposure to PAHs and Benzene in Firefighters Suppressing Controlled Structure Fires,” researchers from the Illinois Fire Service Institute and NIOSH found that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other aromatic hydrocarbons were present in firefighters after fire suppression and overhaul activities in fire simulations.
The PAHs most likely entered firefighters’ bodies through their skin, with the neck being the primary site of exposure and absorption due to the lower level of protection from hoods. Aromatic hydrocarbons could have been absorbed through the skin during firefighting or inhaled while doffing gear that was off-gassing contaminants after the fire simulations, according to the study.
The hood serves as a big sponge full of the toxins sitting around the neck. The skin thickness of the neck along with the blood and lymph vessels in the neck make it a super highway for skin absorbed toxins and carcinogens.
Dermal absorption is the transport of a chemical from the outer surface of the skin both into the skin and into the body. Studies show that absorption of chemicals through the skin can occur without being noticed by the worker, and in some cases, may represent the most significant exposure pathway. Many commonly used chemicals in the workplace could potentially result in systemic toxicity if they penetrate through the skin (i.e. pesticides, organic solvents). These chemicals enter the blood stream and cause health problems away from the site of entry.
Research has revealed that skin absorption occurs via diffusion, the process whereby molecules spread from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. Three mechanisms by which chemicals diffuse into the skin have been proposed:
1. Intercellular lipid pathway (Figure 1)
2. Transcellular permeation (Figure 2)
3. Through the appendages (Figure 3)

Infrared saunas are a great way to significantly expedite the detoxification process. A medical grade infrared sauna heats your tissues several inches deep, enhancing your natural metabolic processes, increases circulation and helps oxygenate your tissues. Inside the sauna, you sweat. You sweat a lot!
Infrared sauna detoxification works by way of its unique far-infrared light source. Infrared rays don’t heat the air around you, they are a radiant source of heat, which means they only heat physical objects that have some mass (such as your body). These light rays penetrate several inches in the skin, fat, and muscles of your body.
Your skin is a major organ of elimination, and the fact is, sweating is one of the best ways to remove toxins from our body.

Medical research can explain how this happens.

  1. Sweating can help eliminate phthalates.
    Phthalates are used in plastic toys, cooking utensils, fragrances, nail polish, cosmetics and paints. Researchers in Canada examined blood, urine and sweat concentrations of various phthalates in 20 people. They found that the concentration of these chemicals was twice as high in sweat as in urine and suggested that perspiration may help eliminate of some toxic compounds. (Information about the study is available here.)
  2. Sweating can help eliminate BPA.
    Bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used to make clear plastics but is also used in cash register receipts, water pipes, electronics, and eyeglass lenses. This compound has been known for years to have estrogenic properties and exposure to it has been linked to obesity, early puberty, sexual dysfunction, miscarriage. The same group of Canadian researchers found BPA in the sweat of 80% of subjects tested. Some of these people had no detectable levels in their blood or urine, which suggests that sweat was the best way to excrete stored bisphenol A.
  3. Sweating can help eliminate heavy metals.
    The heavy metals arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are confirmed or suspected carcinogens and are toxic in all sorts of ways to your body. Studies show sweat can concentrate arsenic up to 10 times more than blood, cadmium up to 25 times more than blood, lead up to 300 times more than blood, and mercury somewhat more than blood, leading to effective elimination.
    The “sweat study” compared measurable amounts of toxins, including heavy metals, and found them more pronounced in sweat than in blood. Urine measurements are similar to those that come from sweat measurements. The study also found sweat more reliable than blood for detecting cadmium antimony and tin from the test subject that did not show up in their blood or serum.
    Testimony by Canadian firefighters about how quickly the gas and smell of a fire is removed is also an indicator of the detoxification potential sweat. And, the most efficient way to sweat is by using a medical grade infrared sauna.
    Currently, scientific studies do not form any conclusive evidence that sweating in a sauna will actually “detoxify” you, but a clinical trial that just concluded by the University of Arizona may soon offer the evidence needed to convince skeptics of the essential role that infrared sauna could play in saving firefighters lives after the fire.
    Working with Scottsdale Fire Department firefighters during training fire exercises, Dr. Jeff Burgess and his study team compared a chemical commonly excreted in firefighter urine samples after firefighting to assess the value of adding sauna to rehab post-fire. Firefighter heart rate and temperature was monitored using a core body temperature/heart rate monitor data recorder. Urine was collected for 12 hours immediately before the scheduled training fire and for 12 hours afterwards. After the fire, the firefighter performed the standard rehab.
    During this time, the UA study team randomly selected half of the firefighters to an additional sauna rehab and the other half of the firefighters to no additional rehab. Dermal (skin) wipe samples were taken off the calf, arm, and neck before the fire, before standard rehab, and after sauna/no additional treatment. (Evaluation of Post-Exposure Sauna Treatment of Firefighters – A Pilot Study, IRB# 1801201082)
    The study concluded on January 31st of this year and we are awaiting the final report from Dr. Burgess, which he anticipates will be complete and published in March/April 2019.
    Perhaps then, we will see more firefighters sitting in saunas, and municipalities running to their aid to fund them.
    NOTE: To find out more about our Medical Grade Infrared Saunas and how detoxification can optimize your health, please give us at 855-728-6248
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