September 28, 2012

The Dangers & Delusions of Sweating to Detox. ~ Kathleen Summers

Sweating Isn’t So Cool.

There’s a baffling new obsession with dripping sweat.

As Courtney Rubin writes in her New York Times article, “Some Like it Hotter,” more yoga studios and health clubs are accommodating their clients by baking them in heated temperatures of up to 105 degrees–or even more.

“We’re turning it up to 110 degrees by popular demand,” the instructor, Kate Albarelli, 31, announced in the sort of cheerful tone that would usually signal a time to rest. The women looked as delighted as if she’d given them one.”

Rubin says devotees get a sense of satisfaction from sweating. It’s satisfying because they believe it helps them to detox. And there’s the brag factor. It’s satisfyingly hip to be the hottest.

But high temperatures can be hard on the body. Heat-related illness isn’t so sexy, and it occurs when the body’s temperature control system is overloaded. The hotter the air and the higher the humidity, the more likely that is to happen.

Every year about 500 people die from getting too hot, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While death from heat overload is more likely in the elderly and small children, anyone can be adversely affected—even athletes.

The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research reported that more than 40 high school athletes have died from heatstroke within the past 20 years. Heatstroke is a potentially fatal condition that can occur when the temperature gets too high.

Heat stroke is 100 percent preventable simply by avoiding extreme heat—the kind of temperatures that we’re now seeing routinely in the yoga and fitness world.

Maybe if heating up to near the tipping point for catastrophe actually helped the body to detoxify from environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and the ubiquitous onslaught of synthetic chemicals in our world, it would be worth it. But the truth is, sweating doesn’t really help much with detoxification at all.

Chris Woolston’s reports in the LA Times,

“Sweating definitely won’t clear the body of mercury or other metals, says Donald Smith, a professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz, who studies treatments for metal poisoning. Almost all toxic metals in the body are excreted through urine or feces, he says. And less than 1 percent are lost through sweat. In other words, you’ll do far more detoxifying in the bathroom than you ever could in a sauna.”

For meth addicts, it might be a good idea. There’s evidence the body detoxifies from amphetamines and a few other “fat-loving” molecules like seizure medicines through sweating. Allen Barnes and his colleagues at the National Institute on Drug Abuse have been studying the sweating out of meth and other abused substances to support drug treatment programs and workplace screenings. Meth heads aren’t likely the ones rapidly transitioning through sun salutations in 105 degree heat. They may need detoxing, but they’re not getting it at the gym.

Yet, when it comes to what most of us want from detoxing (a way to get to rid of the potentially toxic synthetic chemicals we take in to our bodies through eating, drinking, and breathing in a polluted world), there’s little evidence that sweating helps at all.

In 2010, the journal, Public Health, reported on the detoxing potential of sweating out perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). PFCs are the synthetic chemicals we pick up from stain repellants on furniture, clothing, carpets and food packaging. One form, polytetrafluoroethylene, is the non-stick stuff on cookware. PFCs and other similarly structured persistent organic pollutants accumulate in the human body and are becoming an increasing public health concern. They’re implicated in liver toxicity, reproductive problems and nervous system dysfunction. It’s too bad the authors found that you can’t detox from these environmental toxins by turning up the perspiration.

Sweating through an intense workout at 110 degrees may be the hipsters obsession right now, but it doesn’t help much with detoxification.

On the other hand, there are known dangers of overheating—heat exhaustion, heat stroke, electrolyte depletion and dehydration. Opt for energetic workouts in 70 to 85 degree temperatures and sweat a little, but not too much. What it boils down to is that sweating isn’t really all that cool.


Kathleen Summers, M.D., Ph.D. is a board-certified internist with a background in toxicology research. Prescribing balance, she shares her insight on natural medicine, yoga and  health at www.theYogaDr.com.




Editor: Edith Lazenby

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