News & Perspectives

Hot Tubs and Diabetes

Can taking a dip in the hot tub actually help ease symptoms of diabetes? Maybe so. That's the preliminary finding from a small pilot study conducted by endocrinologist Philip Hooper, MD., and colleagues at the University of Colorado Medical School.

The study, reported in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at eight 43- to 68-year-olds with diabetes. The men and women sat in a hot tub (100° to 106°) for 30 minutes a day, six days a week, for three weeks. The result: Blood sugar levels dropped, and patients slept and felt better overall.

"The warmth increases blood flow to the muscles," says Dr. Hooper, "And we suspect that this process may simulate the beneficial effects of exercise." Larger studies, though are needed to assess whether this is a valid form of therapy.

Who might benefit most--or least--from hot tub therapy?

"Hot tubs, or even saunas or steam rooms, may prove especially helpful to people with type 2 diabetes who are unable to exercise," says Dr. Hooper, "Though more research is needed."

Those with loss of feeling in the feet (neuropathy), however, must be very careful not to burn themselves; they should use a thermometer to maintain water temperatures below 102°. Others who might want to avoid the hot tub include those with type 1 diabetes (blood sugar may drop too low) or heart disease, pregnant women or anyone who gets dizzy easily when standing up (many of the patients felt shaky after their soak).

A few additional caveats: Before jumping in the tub or sauna, always check with your doctor first. The very high heat can be dangerous, especially for people with heart disease. And, make sure your hot tub is well sanitized. Contaminated indoor hot tubs have been linked to lung infections, report doctors at the National Jewish Medical Center in Denver.

Date Published: 04/24/2001
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