If you have been doing yoga for a while, you have probably at some point heard that one of the benefits of yoga (especially "hot" yoga) is that sweating detoxifies the body.
Now, I am not a biologist by any definition, but something in this has never quite rung true for me. Yes, we have all had our experiences with some of the more noxious secretions of the sweat glands, both on the mat and off, but is that really "detoxifying"? Well, I decided to do a little yoga mythbusting and find out! I apologise for not sourcing all the information below, but I am fairly sure that I have got the science right.
Myth No. 1: Sweat removes toxins from the body
Actually, it turns out that the main function of the sweat glands is to regulate body temperature. They do this by secreting what is basically water plus salt and electrolytes.
Science seems to contradict itself on whether or not sweat actually removes toxic elements from the body. Some studies seem to show that it is an important pathway for excreting certain trace metals like zinc and copper. Others suggest that the amounts of toxic substances such as heavy metals found in sweat are so small as to be irrelevant - less than 1%. The 99% are eliminated the good old fashioned way, via the digestive system.
The verdict? I guess this myth is not confirmed but not busted. Sweating may release some amount of toxins from your body, but not really enough to get excited about. But let's look at the second part of this myth.
Myth No. 2: Sweating more = greater detoxification
If sweat is an efficient way of detoxifying, then we would assume that the more we sweat, the more toxins our body releases. However, here is where the myth has got its biology upside down and backwards. The body has a highly effective system for detoxification: the liver and the kidneys, which filter toxins from our blood. These organs rely on a high level of hydration in order to function properly - if the body becomes too dehydrated, they can't function. In extreme circumstances, sweating too much can actually reduce detoxification if the body becomes dehydrated and the water you lose is not replenished.
So I think it's safe to say that this myth is: BUSTED! While you could argue that sweating a lot in yoga makes you drink more, which helps the liver and kidneys to detoxify the body, you don't actually need to sweat in order to drink more water. So, still BUSTED!
So what's the bottom line for detoxification?
Well, since the liver and kidneys are the critical organs for detoxification, the best things we can do to support the body's detoxification and increase our elimination of toxins are:
- Drink lots of water
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Stay healthy!
I would say that yoga, whether it makes you sweat or not, definitely supports all of the above. So Myth No. 3: Yoga Detoxifies the Body is... CONFIRMED!