Do Saunas Actually Detoxify?
So you are a fan of sauna who enjoys it a lot but doesn‘t bother his head about the science behind it? Nevertheless, perhaps you have been enlightened by now by your sauna buddies that this activity can considerably detoxify your organism. Why? Because you sweat, of course! However, be cautious as this popular belief appears to be only a myth, widely spread among the fans of saunas where the facts are not usually checked – on social media and internet forums. Just do a small research on Google, and you will see how many influencers or “experts” are encouraging you to take up sauna for no other but detoxification reason. But do saunas detoxify?
The truth is that sweating and detoxification are two different things, not closely related to each other. Sweating is a natural function of human (and some primates, too) body to cool it down when the temperature becomes uncomfortable. While other internal organs such as liver and kidneys are responsible for detoxification – a process of removing the substances that might be harmful from the body, the same can be said about lungs or even guts. However, even though a small amount of toxic substance can be removed with the sweat naturally, it is the furthest from the truth to claim that sweating enforces or significantly contributes to the organism detoxification. Let me explain you why.
We will look deeper into the process of detoxification in this article and try to explain why sweating and detox are two different things. Hopefully, it will answer your question why going to sauna, even though useful, cannot detoxify your organism.
Why on Earth Do We need to Sweat?
Sweating, no matter how uncomfortable and sometimes even embarrassing this process is, is a vital function of our body. It is responsible for the body temperature regulation without which the risk of the organs to stop working increases significantly. We need to sweat! When we work out or go to the sauna it is not the increased heart rate or fast bodily movements that initiate sweating. This function is regulated entirely by the brain. It evaluates and decides when the body‘s temperature increases up to a certain level and sends the signal to the body to start sweating. When the drops of sweat evaporate on the skin, they cool down the body.
What Is the Sweat Made Of?
Sweat is made out of nothing more than simple water and minerals, mostly salt. Nothing special, right? However, we have reached the point here where it is very easy to get trapped by the popular “detoxify in sauna“ myth. It is true that toxic substances can be removed with the sweat through the pores of the skin. Nevertheless, the amounts of it are very small in comparison with the work done by, for example, kidneys. Having those amounts and especially the comparison in mind, it is obvious that to claim that sweating helps to detoxify the body is no less than unreasonable.
The Real Detoxification in a Nutshell
If sweat is not responsible for detoxification, then which parts of the body are? As we mention before, these are the primary functions (not secondary or last as in the case of sweating) of kidneys and liver. Liver is amazing itself by its more than 500 functions and an ability to regenerate itself (yes, you heard it right. If you lost a major part of your liver because of some circumstances, it would be able to grow back). But most importantly it participates in the non-stop detoxification process that is on every single day, not just when you go to sauna. Liver collects the harmful compounds from the body: those produced naturally during the metabolism, bacterias and viruses, hormones and of course all the toxic materials that come from outside. Those include alcohol, medicine, drugs or chemicals.
Unlike liver, kidneys don‘t grow back, however, that doesn‘t reduce their importance for the detoxification of the body. The importance of them can be measured by the fact that we have developed two of them during the evolution, not one, in case one of them stopped working. Quite convenient, right? A large number of people in the world live a normal lifestyle with only one kidney.
In essence, kidneys work as two filters in our physical system. Not only do they regulate pH or mineral balance in the body, but also filter our blood. They do it non-stop (luckily) because if they did stop, we would die soon because of the dangerous concentration of toxins. Kidneys can filter up to a litter of blood per minute. All the earlier mentioned waste products are filtered at kidneys and travel further to the urine. The toxic substances are then removed from the body. Yay!
Sweat vs. Kidneys and Liver
It must be clear by now that the organism has its ways to deal with the toxic substances in the body. Kidneys and liver are two the most important organs in the body responsible entirely for this task. If we compare the toxic substances that leave the body through the pores, the difference is huge. According to some scientists, for example, physiologist Pascal Imbeault who is a researcher on sweating at the University of Ottawa in Canada, the amount of toxic substances in sweat is only around 0.02 percent of those that you intake with your regular food per one day.
If you tried really hard and stayed hours at gym or sauna, this amount might double – up to 0.04 percent of the daily dose of polluting substances. Nevertheless, Pascal Imbeault emphasizes that it is simply physically impossible to get rid even of the daily toxins through sweat because of the particularly low amount of them. The reason for that as we mentioned before is simple: sweating primarily works as a mechanism to cool down the body and regulate its temperature. Not to get rid of toxins, as your neighbour insists.
Conclusion: do saunas detoxify?
There is a number of reasons why saunas are so popular: they reduce stress, sooth pain, help relax muscles after the extensive training and improve the immunity, among others. That would be quite enough to motivate you going there, however, it wouldn‘t be very productive to belief in the myths, populated by the social media or so-called experts. One of them is a popular but not accurate belief that going to sauna and sweating detoxifies your body. While we agree that there is a certain amount of pollutants in the sweat that leaves the body through the pores, it is far from enough to claim that going to sauna detoxifies your body. The fact has been proved by a number of scientists so instead of extending your time in sauna for the purpose of “detoxification“, you‘d better make it a pleasure without the pressure.