It’s Spring and time to get rid of the Winter sludge. Let’s detox!
What does this mean, exactly? One of our most frequently asked questions year-round is: Will sauna cleanse me of my toxins? Can I go hard and party all weekend / season and be absolved by a visit to the sauna?
The benefits of sweating in the sauna go into many levels, physical to spiritual. It has undeniable cardiovascular benefits. It may help prevent alzheimer’s and dementia. There is even some promising research related to depression.
As far as the ever-elusive “cleanse of toxins”, it’s a hard question to answer. It seems like Toxins is a broad term used to describe drugs, alcohol or anything that gets in the way of our health, a kind of amorphous poison that drifts around our bodies, causing everything from hangovers and rashes to mental health issues.
By definition, a toxin is an antigenic poison or venom of plant or animal origin, especially one produced by or derived from microorganisms and causing disease when present at low concentration in the body.
It can be very scary, the idea of these toxins roaming around our bodies, invisible poisons that we are drinking, eating and breathing. The last year brought us some sobering news about heavy metals in the air in Portland. It’s hard for us environment-loving Oregonians to reconcile the idea that our very air can be dangerous. Toxins and pollutants have very real effects, but it’s hard to know where they are coming from or how to get rid of them.
In truth, we are exposed to complex exogenous and endogenous (outside and inside the body) toxins that are all eliminated in different ways. The liver and kidneys are known as the body’s main detoxifiers, filtering toxins out of the blood and the body and releasing them through urine and feces. The liver does what it does, and nothing else in the body can do it. Same with the kidneys. So what does sweating do for toxins? At this point, the most promising data for saunas directly related to de-toxing is for elimination of certain heavy metals excreted through sweat. According to a Journal of Environmental and Public Health article, “an often overlooked route of excretion of toxicants is via the process of sweating.” This is a meta-analysis, a compilation of many studies on sweating and heavy metals.
Luckily, we don’t have to read the whole thing. Dr. Emily Morgan from Oregon Health and Science University read through this study for us and says,
“This is a well-done study, a meta-analysis of all known studies of toxic metals and sweat. The data is strongest for cadmium elimination in sweat with sauna as a therapeutic option for increased excretion. The data is less robust for arsenic, lead, and mercury, but tends towards favoring excretion via sweat, with sauna as a possible therapeutic option. Go sauna!”
The conclusion states: “Sweating offers potential and deserves consideration, to assist with removal of toxic elements from the body.”
So, as well as the benefits above, sauna-bathe to feel joy and relaxation, to get your heart rate going and to sleep well. It might also make food taste better and make you love your neighbor more. You may potentially unburden yourself of some heavy metals while you are at it. Try not to party too hard, your liver can’t be bought off with a quick sauna. Regardless of why you are sauna-ing, always drink plenty of water. If you are a regular sweat-er for any reason, make sure to replenish your electrolytes.