The Real Truth About Sweating out Toxins in Hot Yoga

Woman sweating while doing upward facing dog pose
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You may have heard that you can "sweat out toxins" by doing Bikram yoga or other styles of hot yoga. The term has become so popular that many have begun to ascribe hot yoga with medical benefits that may not actually be there.

Understanding Sweat and Detoxification

Your body is a sophisticated unit with a system of its own to rid itself of things it can't use or doesn't need. We refer to these things as toxins.

After being broken down by the liver, the toxins in our blood or bile are filtered by the kidneys or intestines and excreted from the body in urine or stool. Despite what some may tell you, sweat really isn't part of the equation.

The function of sweat is to cool the body down when it is overheated. This can happen during strenuous activity, when you are overdressed, or on a particularly hot summer day. Ultimately, the cause of the sweat does not impact its content, at least not in ways considered beneficial. Sweat is mainly comprised of water and trace amounts of urea, lactic acid, and minerals.

With the exception of water, none of the products in your sweat are excreted in large enough quantities to alter or improve the body's metabolic function. If anything, the excessive loss of fluid through sweat can be harmful unless it is readily replaced.

Even the sodium excreted in sweat is so quickly re-absorbed through the epithelial sodium channels of the skin. It does little to alter the sodium levels in the blood, except in cases of endurance athletes who need to replace sodium and electrolytes lost through sweat.

Minimizing Environmental Toxins

Our bodies are exposed to all sorts of toxins every day, including pollution and pesticides in the air, preservatives in the foods we eat, and the detergents and cosmetics we place on our skin. Are these things bad for the body? Probably.

But to suggest that a sweat-based exercise can mitigate these effects is unfounded. Rather than trying to sweat out the chemicals you are exposed to, minimize your exposure by eating healthy food, using natural cleaners, and reading the label of any product you plan to place on or in your body.

Benefits of Sweating in Hot Yoga

When it comes to "sweating out toxins" in a hot yoga class, many people will do so under the presumption that they can rid themselves of last night's martini or the plate of chili cheese fries that didn't sit well in the stomach. While yoga won't help you sweat these things out, the practice can still offer benefits.

Physical exercise alone will help burn some of the fat from the calories you've consumed. However, the fact that the temperature has been raised in a hot yoga class doesn't mean that you'll burn more fat. Rather, it is the simple act of exercising—getting out of your chair and working out—that helps burn fat, regardless of the temperature of your surroundings. Other benefits of hot yoga include:

  • Increased blood flow to the arms and legs, delivering more oxygenated blood to the muscles
  • Improved muscle tone and flexibility
  • Stress relief, which helps you feel better about yourself
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  1. Hanukoglu I, Boggula VR, Vaknine H, Sharma S, Kleyman T, Hanukoglu A. Expression of epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) and CFTR in the human epidermis and epidermal appendages. Histochem Cell Biol. 2017;147(6):733-748. doi:10.1007/s00418-016-1535-3

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