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Many of us who are trying to live a healthy lifestyle run up against one enormous challenge. We live in a toxic world. We eat organic food, use natural cleaners, drink filtered water, and run air purifiers. But at the end of the day, we are still exposed to environmental toxins.
Many of these toxins are fat-soluble and accumulate in the tissues of our bodies. They are things like pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and heavy metals. Small exposures might not affect our health, but cumulative exposures over time might. Some people become so sick as a result of exposures to environmental toxins that they develop “multiple chemical sensitivities” or hard-to-explain symptoms and conditions.
Some doctors and nutritionists specialize in environmental medicine, but wouldn’t it be best if we could avoid ever becoming sick because of toxins? Our bodies are designed to process and eliminate toxins. We remove them in our urine, stool, breath, and sweat.
Sweat may be one of the most effective ways to eliminate toxins from the body. Read on to learn the many health benefits of sweat and the compelling research to back up these benefits. We hope this information will inspire you to make a habit of sweating—in whatever way that works best for you.
6 Health Benefits of Sweating
1. Cleansing Pesticides
Organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), like DDT, have been around since the 1930s. Even though the use of DDT has now been banned, it and other similar pesticides persist in the environment and accumulate in humans. The health effects in humans are controversial, but these pesticides might damage mitochondria, create oxidative stress, or disrupt hormonal function.
In a study called the Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study, healthy adults in Canada were evaluated for a variety of chemical exposures. They were then induced to sweat, via exercise or sauna, and their sweat was also tested. One of the outcomes measured was OCPs. Except for DDT (which was detected in the blood and sweat), none of the pesticides released in the sweat were detectable in the blood. This result showed that the act of sweating pulled pesticides out of body tissues and released them through the skin.
2. Cleansing Flame Retardants
Flame retardants have been used since the 1960s in everything from construction materials to baby blankets. Most people are exposed to these chemicals in everyday house dust. Flame retardants are made with chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are fat-soluble chemicals that accumulate in the body and persists in the environment for years. PBDEs are thought to disrupt human health by interfering with normal hormonal and cellular function.
In the Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study, PDBEs were measured in 20 healthy men and women. The study detected at least one type of PBDE in the blood of the vast majority of the participants. When sweating was induced by exercise or sauna, PBDEs were also detected in the sweat. Just as was seen for pesticides, PBDEs were detected in sweat samples even if they were not detected in the blood. That means that sweat pulled flame retardant out of body tissues and got rid of it.
3. Cleansing Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is commonly used in plastics, canned goods, and even on receipt paper. Studies show that most people are exposed to this chemical. Health effects of BPA are still in question, but it may disrupt metabolism or hormone balance.
In the Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study, BPA was detected in the sweat of 16 out of 20 individuals—even if it wasn’t detected in the blood. This is similar to what was seen for pesticides and flame retardants and indicates that induced sweating pulled this toxin out of body stores.
4. Cleansing Heavy Metals
Heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, are everywhere in the environment. These metals can accumulate in the body over a lifetime and potentially lead to health problems. These metals are either confirmed or probable carcinogens and might affect the health of the brain, heart, immune system, or other body systems.
A review of studies that was published in 2012 concluded that heavy metals are, indeed, released in the sweat. In people who had a higher body burden of heavy metals, the concentration of metals in the sweat was higher than that in the blood or the urine. This is a compelling argument for the benefit of induced sweating for removing metals from the body.
5. Supporting Brain Health
Sauna bathing is one way to induce sweat and release toxins from the body. Sauna bathing was evaluated in relation to brain health in a study that was published in 2017. A group of 2315 healthy men between the ages of 42 and 60 enrolled in the study during the 1980s. They were then followed for an average of 20 years and evaluated for memory problems over time. After adjusting for other variables that affect brain health, the study found that men who participated in routine sauna bathing (2-7 times per week) had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
6. Supporting Overall Health
The health benefits of sauna bathing have also been evaluated in relation to other health outcomes. In a group of 524 healthy Finnish men in their 80s, routine sauna bathing was associated with better heart health and better musculoskeletal health. A systematic review of similar studies found that sauna bathing was associated with health benefits ranging from better heart health to less pain to fewer allergies and more.
Sweating in Action
We don’t mean to claim that sweating every day will promise complete elimination of toxins from the body. We cannot promise that it will let you live forever without disease. But there is a growing body of evidence that sweating could be beneficial for your health in many ways. So, how do you apply this to everyday life?
There is no wrong way to sweat. You can induce sweat by exercising, sitting in a steam room, or sitting in a dry sauna. If it’s summer and the weather is hot, don’t shy away from doing your exercise outside and working up a dripping sweat. If you have access to a sauna at your local gym, try it out and see if you can turn that into a habit.
There’s not much research on how important it is to shower after sweating, but many experts suggest that you wash off with gentle soap and warm water after intense sweating. The soap will help to bind any toxins that have been released and ensure they are not reabsorbed through the skin. Once you’ve washed away the sweat, turn the shower briefly to cold. That burst of cold water on your skin will stimulate your circulation and leave you feeling refreshed.
About the Author
Sarah Cook, ND, is an instructor at the Nutrition Therapy Institute. She is also the owner of ND Pen, providing branding, copywriting, and website design services for integrative healthcare practitioners. Connect with Sarah at www.ndpen.com.
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