Sweat is 99% Water, 1% Natural Stuff and 0% Toxins

Yoga claims many health benefits, most of which are anecdotal, the collected stories and somatic truths of its millions of practitioners.   A few claims  are solidly supported by research – like improvements in pain, reduction in inflammation, enhanced body awareness, and those work horses of yoga – better strength and flexibility. Yoga’s promising effect on other diseases and conditions, like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, are seeing a greater number of quality studies. But one thing for certain is that releasing toxins through sweating or twisting asanas is pure myth.

What is Sweat?

Sweat is 99% water with a dash of essential salt minerals, urea and other wastes from protein metabolism, and some trace elements like zinc. Sweat’s main job is thermoregulation – to cool the body. When your internal temperature rises, your sweat glands secrete a non-toxic mix of mostly water to your skin’s surface, where heat is removed by evaporation – aka sweat. When you sweat in yoga class, you are not releasing alcohol, angst, toxic chemicals, drugs, illness or supersized happybad meals – you are secreting mostly water for the physiological purpose of cooling your body. If you are hoping to rid yourself of the aforementioned toxic brew, rest assured that the actual parts of your body that do this work – your liver, kidneys, colon and mind – are actually doing this work. Unless…and this is a big unless, you have been occupationally exposed to high levels of heavy metals – arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, etc. A 2012 review that looked at 24 studies on toxicants and sweat, found levels of heavy metals in the sweat of subjects who had been occupationally or geochemically exposed. For the typical Western yoga practitioner, who has not had an occupational exposure, has not been exposed via geochemistry, and is not in kidney failure, the science has simply not shown sweat to be a major route for ridding the body of unwanted toxins.

Sweating is not a case of more is better. Excess sweating means elimination of water and its associated weight – aka water weight, which is not a true loss of fat or mass. In an ironic turn of events, heavy sweating is associated with a significant diminishment of urinary output, thus concentrating uric acid and other cellular wastes in your blood – the buildup of which is toxic to your body.

What About Wringing Toxins Out Your Organs?

I often hear yoga teachers refer to the detoxifying effects of spinal twists. While there may be a metaphorical truth to this claim, it’s more nuanced and complex than that. Whether you are flexing, extending, or twisting your core muscles, the act of generating force in a muscle causes the smallest of blood vessels (arterioles and capillaries) to vasodilate (get bigger), which pulls oxygen rich blood out of the arteries (lowering arterial blood pressure) and into these tiny vessels, feeding the work of your cells.  Your body’s waste removal system (lymphatic system) works in parallel with your cardiovascular system, thus while blood is being drawn into the muscles, cellular waste (toxins) is removed. This happens wherever and however you move your muscles and is not the territory of twists alone. Although a twist is an effective way to bring blood to your intervertebral discs, which do not have their own blood supply but rely on diffusion from the blood supply at their margins, flexing or extending your trunk may accomplish the same thing, as movement is thought to enhance the process of diffusion.

Now you see how using your muscles in yoga facilitates cellular waste removal and keeps your  spinal discs nourished, but what about wringing stale blood and toxins out of your organs to allow fresh blood in? Well, I lean on the wit of Kim & Mel at Smarterbodies to eviscerate this myth. “So twist and do so knowing that you are helping create movement in your internal organs, but in NO WAY are they “wrung out.”  That is not possible and if that happens to you or inside of you please go to a hospital, because you are going to die. Also, do the organs fill with fresh blood after a trunk rotation? No, they are CONSTANTLY filled with “fresh” (I’m assuming this means oxygenated) blood, because we have these vessels called ARTERIES whose job is to deliver this type of blood constantly from birth to death.”

As always, I am happy to elaborate on this or any previous content. Post your questions/comments here or email me at michele@footloveyoga.com.

Namaste, Michele

Q. But don’t I need to “do cardio” to stengthen my heart?

Actually, no, you don’t. You need to move more, and not at intense levels. Let me explain. Of all the wonderful, amazing things our bodies do, the most critical, the most imperative is to regenerate cells. 50-70 billion cells (which make up our tissues, which make up or organs, which make up our bodily systems, which make up us) die each day in the average adult human. Your body has the capacity to replace all of these cells. In fact, your life depends on you regenerating these cells. The recipe for cell regeneration is quite simple:

  • 1 part electricity (to move your cells)
  • 1 part blood (to feed your cells)
  • 1 part lymph (to remove cellular waste)

Mix together. Grow cells.

In baking, you can get all the ingredients right, but if you mix it wrong, you may end up with a culinary disaster. The same with  cellular regeneration. Mixing it correctly means moving all of your skeletal muscles as often as you can throughout your day. A combination of stretching, squatting, pulling/pushing your body weight with your arms, and walking comes closest to moving every skeletal muscle.  It is through muscle movement that blood is pulled from our arteries into our smallest of vessels bringing it to our cells (aka tissue food) and facilitating nerve health and cellular waste removal (you have to take out the garbage, bruh!).

So back to the heart. If cellular regeneration is our biological imperative, then you could consider your body a cell-making factory. Your heart and all 600+ skeletal muscles are its workers. If you are sedentary much of your day – sitting for breakfast, sitting for your drive to work, sitting at work, sitting for lunch, sitting for your drive home from work, sitting at dinner, and sitting in front of the TV/computer/book in the evening, and the only time you really get moving is for 30-45 minutes of intense cardio at the gym, you are relying on one worker, your heart, to pump hard enough to get blood to all of your cells in a very brief window of time. Wouldn’t it be more cost efficient for your heart to calmly pump blood into your arteries and the other 600 plus workers, your skeletal muscles, to get the blood into your tiny capillaries and hence your cells? If you are running a cell making factory, would you rather have one worker for 30-45 minutes or 600 workers all day long?

Q. Ok, so I’m moving all day long, don’t I still need to get my heart rate up?

Actually, no. Your heart gets plenty strong pumping blood all day long. When you push towards your maximum heart rate, it’s the stress equivalent of being chased by a bear. When your heart goes from a calm, steady rhythm to fast & furious, your body automatically secretes stress hormones and goes through all its fight or flight reactions. This is not good, as many of us already are plagued with constantly high levels of stress hormones.  No matter how much cardio you do, it will never be enough to effectively pump your blood into the tiniest of vessels. You need muscle movement to do this. And you need it all over. And you need it all day. And you can even get more of it at night, if you sleep on the floor.

Q. Uh, how exactly does one move all day long?

  • Walk every day – one long walk or multiple short walks; walk errands that you would otherwise drive.
  • Transition to a standing work station. See my favorite movements for my standing work station.
  • Take a 2 minute movement break every 30 minutes
  • Get a squatting platform for your toilet
  • Install a pull-up bar and hang from it daily; work towards being able to pull yourself up
  • Go to your neighborhood park and play on the children’s play structure. Seriously. Go. Now.
  • Garden with hand tools – shovel & hoe instead of a rototiller; manual push mower instead of gas-powered; clippers instead of a weed eater; watering can instead of a sprinkler.
  • Every choice you make throughout your day, which will be almost every choice you make, ask yourself how can you do it with more movement?

Get moving, there are cells to be made!

Namaste, Michele