Diabetes and hot tubs: safe therapy or a dangerous combination?

Most people agree that taking a steamy bath or treating yourself to a dip in a hot tub can be a relaxing way to end a long day. But according to some medical studies, it might also be a way to beat diabetes. The results of a pilot study, published in the New England Journal Medicine, indicated that hot tub therapy helped a group of adults with type 2 diabetes improve their sleep patterns, lose weight and lower their blood sugar levels. Diabetes Health magazine reported on the study.

Dr. Phillip L. Hooper, of the McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colorado, authored the study. Participants included five men and three women ages 43 to 68, who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for more than three years. During the study, the spent 30 minutes in a 104-degree hot tub six days a week, for three weeks.

"These results suggest that hot tub therapy should be further evaluated as a therapy for patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus," Hooper told Diabetes Health. "It may be especially helpful for patients who are unable to exercise."

Hooper also told the magazine that after only 10 days of hot tub therapy, one of the participants was able to reduce his daily dose of insulin by 18 percent. On average, study participants lost almost four pounds during the six-week study, too.

Though Hooper's preliminary work suggests that hot tub therapy can be beneficial for diabetes, many experts advise that diabetics proceed with caution.

Diabetes and hot tubs: safe to use?

According to information from the US Department of Health and Human Services Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, between 60 and 70 percent of all people with diabetes suffer from a form of nerve damage called neuropathy, which usually presents with symptoms including pain, tingling or loss of feeling in the hands, arms, feet and legs. Symptoms like numbness or loss on sensitivity to pain can be extra dangerous for individuals with diabetes, especially when undergoing hot tub therapy.

For example, someone with nerve damage might accidently burn himself in a hot tub, yet would feel no pain. Burns, on the feet especially, can lead to further complications like blisters, infections or ulcers, which can lead to eventual amputation in extreme cases.

Despite the risk associated with hot tub therapy for diabetes, people are willing to test the waters. Edward Isaacs, a retired educator in Homosassa, Fla., was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about 10 years ago. Though he suffers from neuropathy, he said he'd be willing to give hot tub therapy a shot but only under certain conditions.

"Though at first I was leery of using hot water therapy because of the nerve damage in my feet, but I was impressed by the results Phillips' study," Isaacs said. "However, I would only consider trying if the water temperature and therapy was very closely monitored."

Isaacs' idea is on the right track. All treatments, including alternative therapies like hot tub use, should be overseen by your health care provider. With that in mind, hot tub therapy might be worth mentioning next time you see your doctor, especially if you find a good soak relaxing.

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