Hot Tubs for Health?
I've got type 2 diabetes and recently heard about a study which found that sitting in a hot tub can help lower blood sugar levels. Is this for real?
Yes, what you've heard about hot tubs and improved blood sugar readings among diabetics is true. A team of Colorado doctors recently published their findings on the effects of hot tubs as part of diabetes therapy in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. In a small study, the researchers investigated whether time spent in a hot tub would be as beneficial as exercise, which is known to help lower blood glucose levels among diabetics.
They recruited five men and three women -- between the ages of 43 and 68 -- to sit in a hot tub with water up to their shoulders for 30 minutes a day, six days a week, for three weeks. After ten days, one patient's insulin dosage was reduced by 18 percent. By the end of the study, all but one patient lost some weight and reported sleeping and feeling better, in general.
The doctors who conducted the study speculated that the benefits of hot tub therapy could be due to increased blood flow to skeletal muscles. They suggested further investigation of hot tub therapy as treatment for type 2 diabetics.
The results sound great, but it probably isn't a good idea to try this on your own yet. During the study, the researchers found that when the water temperature in the tub exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Farenheit), the patients reported feeling hot and became dizzy as they were getting out of the tub. (This problem is actually quite prevalent in diabetic patients who often suffer from orthostatic hypotension. The dizziness is from an inability to maintain adequate blood pressure when changing positions.) As a result, they had to be helped from the tub and seated before they could safely walk by themselves. The danger of burns is also quite real -- particularly if you have nerve damage to your feet, a common diabetes complication, and cannot accurately gauge the heat.
In general, hot tubs can be a relaxing and healthful way to unwind. The only people who should avoid them are pregnant women. A study published a few years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed an association between neural-tube defects and heat exposure during the first three months of pregnancy from saunas, hot tubs, or fever. (Neural-tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida, both disastrous abnormalities.) Everyone else should just make sure the tub and water are clean. To reduce the risk of picking up an infection, I would advise against putting your head under water in any public hot tub (for example, in a gym or health club), and be sure to wash yourself thoroughly after soaking.