Regular sauna bathing ( 4-7 sessions a week ) reduces the risk of stroke by 61 percent, finds a study based on the population-based Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) that involved 1,628 men and women aged 53 to 74 years living in the eastern part of Finland.
Finland is the birthplace of the traditional sauna which involves sitting in a room filled with dry heat at temperatures that top 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a 15-year follow-up study — published in the journal Neurology — people taking a sauna 4-7 times a week were 61 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those taking a sauna once a week.
The study participants were divided into three groups based on their frequency of taking traditional Finnish sauna baths (relative humidity 10-20 percent) : those taking a sauna once a week, those taking a sauna 2-3 times a week, and those taking a sauna 4-7 times a week.
The more frequently saunas were taken, the lower was the risk of stroke. Compared to people taking one sauna session per week, the risk was decreased by 14 percent among those with 2-3 sessions and 61 percent among those with 4-7 sessions.
It’s not clear whether the results would extend to other types of heat therapy — from steam rooms to hot tubs — that are more common in other countries, said lead researcher Setor Kunutsor.
The association persisted even when taking into account conventional stroke risk factors, such as age, sex, diabetes, body mass index, blood lipids, alcohol consumption, physical activity and socio-economic status. The strength of association was similar in men and women.
Mechanisms driving the association of sauna bathing with reduced stroke may include a reduction in blood pressure, stimulation of immune system, a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system, and an improved cardiovascular function,according to the researchers.
Previous results from the KIHD study at the University of Eastern Finland have shown that frequent sauna bathing also significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.
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Vitamin D can help tackle diabetes
Boosting vitamin D — often referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it is created in our skin in response to direct sunlight — can help tackle diabetes, according to a study from the Salk Institute.
The condition is caused by faulty beta cells in the pancreas. These cells manufacture and release insulin, the hormone essential for controlling glucose levels in the blood.
If beta cells produce too little insulin, or none at all, glucose can accumulate in the blood at levels that are toxic to cells and tissues.
Researchers from the Salk Institute have reported a potential new approach for treating diabetes by protecting beta cells.
Previous studies have found a connection between low vitamin D levels and a higher risk of diabetes, but the mechanisms involved have been challenging to unravel.
The researchers found that a particular compound — called iBRD9 — boosted the activity of vitamin D receptors when they were bound to vitamin D molecules. This had a protective effect on the beta cells.
They demonstrated that, in a mouse model of diabetes, iBRD9 brought glucose levels back down into the normal range.
When beta cells become dysfunctional, the body can’t make insulin to control blood sugar (glucose) and levels of glucose can rise to dangerous, even fatal, levels.
“We know that diabetes is a disease caused by inflammation,” explained senior author Ronald Evans adding, “In this study, we identified the vitamin D receptor as an important modulator of both inflammation and beta cell survival.”
The team accomplished this by conducting a screening test to look for compounds that improved the survival of beta cells in a dish. They then tested the combination in a mouse model of diabetes and showed that it could bring glucose back to normal levels in the animals.
“This study started out by looking at the role of vitamin D in beta cells,” said first author Zong Wei. “Epidemiological studies in patients have suggested a correlation between high vitamin D concentrations in the blood and a lower risk of diabetes, but the underlying mechanism was not well understood. It’s been hard to protect beta cells with the vitamin alone. We now have some ideas about how we might be able to take advantage of this connection.”
The underlying process has to do with transcription the way that genes are translated into proteins. Combining the new compound with vitamin D allowed certain protective genes to be expressed at much higher levels than they are in diseased cells.
The discovery’s implications can have far-reaching implications: It identifies a basic mechanism that can be translated into drugging many different targets in the clinic.
The findings appeared in the journal Cell.
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