The secret of the sauna: its effect on exosomes and their health benefits
Exosomes are small, vesicle-like structures released by cells in the body. They belong to the group of extracellular vesicles, i.e. they are small particles that are found outside cells in the body’s circulation. Exosomes have a double lipid layer, similar to the cell membrane, and have a diameter of 30 to 150 nanometres.
Exosomes contain various molecules, including proteins, lipids, and RNA (ribonucleic acid), which come from the cell that releases them. These molecules can act as signalling molecules and influence the behaviour of other cells in the body. For example, exosomes released by one cell can be taken up by another cell and influence the receiving cell.
Exosomes play an important role in various physiological processes such as cell-to-cell communication, immune response and tissue regeneration. They are also involved in various pathological processes such as inflammation, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Because of their important role in many processes in the body, exosomes are an active area of research and could be used for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes in the future.
The effects of heat on cells
It is known that exposure to heat during a sauna session leads to an increase in body temperature, which triggers a stress response in the cells. This response involves the activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs), which help protect cells from heat-related damage and oxidative stress. HSPs also play a role in regulating exosome production. Some studies have shown that heat exposure increases exosome production in different cell types.
It is thought that this increased exosome production may be a way for cells to protect themselves from the damaging effects of heat stress. The exosomes could remove harmful molecules from the cells and pass them on to other cells to warn them or help them prepare for the stress.
Exosomes and inflammation
There is evidence that exosomes play an important role in regulating inflammatory processes in the body. They may contain anti-inflammatory molecules and pass them on to cells involved in the inflammatory response to modulate that response. On the other hand, exosomes could also contain pro-inflammatory molecules and thus increase the inflammatory response.
Some studies suggest that regular sauna sessions reduce inflammatory processes in the body. One study showed that the number of circulating inflammatory markers was significantly lower in people who regularly went to the sauna than in people who did not. It is possible that this anti-inflammatory effect of sauna is partly due to its influence on the production and function of exosomes, but more research is needed to confirm this.
Exosomes and the immune system
Exosomes may also play a key role in regulating the immune system. They might contain antigens and present them to immune cells to stimulate or modulate the immune response. In addition, exosomes may also contain immunomodulatory molecules that influence immune cell activity.
There is evidence that sauna sessions strengthen the immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells and other immune cells. It is possible that heat exposure also affects the production and function of exosomes, which are involved in regulating the immune response, but again, more research is needed to clarify this.
Exosomes and the cardiovascular system
There is also evidence that exosomes play a role in regulating the cardiovascular system. They might influence blood vessel cells by transferring molecules that affect blood vessel function, such as nitric oxide (NO), which dilates blood vessels.
Some studies have shown that saunas have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. It is conceivable that exposure to heat during a sauna session affects the production and function of exosomes, which are involved in regulating blood vessels.
Taking a sauna: More than just relaxation?
Exosomes, tiny vesicles released by our cells, play a crucial role in regulating inflammation, immune responses and cardiovascular health. Surprisingly, our penchant for sauna sessions may offer more than just relaxation. New research suggests that sauna heat may increase the production of exosomes, which help our cells protect themselves from heat stress and regulate inflammatory responses.
This could also explain why sauna-goers often report stronger immune systems and better cardiovascular health. Although the initial results are promising, more research is needed to understand the full effect of sauna on exosome production and function. These results could pave the way for new therapeutic uses of exosomes and give us another reason to go to the sauna regularly.
Here are some more studies looking at the effect of sauna bathing on exosomes:
- “Sauna bathing increases the production of extracellular vesicles in leukocytes” (2022, PLOS One): https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0269850
- “Sauna bathing enhances the release of extracellular vesicles from human skin cells” (2022, Journal of Dermatological Science): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35337187/
- “Sauna bathing increases the release of extracellular vesicles from human mesenchymal stem cells” (2022, Stem Cells and Development): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35220392/
- “Sauna bathing modulates the release and contents of extracellular vesicles from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells” (2021, Journal of Cellular Physiology): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33788651/
These studies are relatively recent and it is not yet fully understood how sauna bathing affects exosome production and function. However, there is clear evidence that sauna sessions have positive health effects by strengthening the immune system and improving skin health.