You Can't Sweat Out Toxins. That Doesn't Mean Sweating Isn't Good For You.

Sweating is your body's way of regulating internal temperature. It's not a cleansing program. 


Twice a week I teach a heated yoga class in Hollywood. While I was initially skeptical about accepting these classes, when I realized the room reached a high of 85 degrees and fans were required throughout class, my concerns were alleviated. That’s warm, but nothing like the hundred-plus degree rooms marketed as weight loss and flexibility gaining havens by yoga chains. 

A little bit of heat is a nice way to get a body warm. The problem with a lot of it—one of the problems, as there are a few—is that you often trick yourself into thinking you’re doing a lot of work when really, it’s just the heat. I’ve witnessed a number of new yogis in Bikram classes, which I practiced for about six months a decade ago, being told to straighten joints that have never been straightened before. 

That’s not how to treat your body. The quick-fix, quick-sweat mentality dominates a segment of the fitness population—a segment usually new to fitness. They desire the sweat, not good form or sustained workouts where temperature is not a motivating factor. As with diet myths, fitness myths are rampant, the need for sweat near the top of the list. 

You’re not going to sweat off pounds. That is, you might, but they’ll quickly return. You lose weight through a combination of factors, most importantly diet, as well as regular movement and stress reduction. Tied into the weight loss myth is another, the biologically odd notion that sweating equates to freeing your body of that clean foods-era buzzword, “toxins.” 

Sweat is not a fitness goal. You perspire because your body is regulating it’s internal temperature. Not sexy, I know, but our bodies are not designed to be sexy, but to function well. It gets hot outside, or you start running, or you enter a heated yoga studio, and your body sends signals to your brain’s hypothalamus, which returns signals for your pores to open and your skin to get lubricated. 

During intense activity your body sweats out roughly two liters of water (plus solute) per hour. The solute includes a few so-called toxins, including heavy metals and BPA. The total amount of water in sweat is 99 percent, meaning the combined amount of chemicals in the solute is no more than 1 percent. 

Toxins are removed by your liver and kidneys. Your liver breaks down a variety of hormones and insulin, turning some into bile and excretion. It transforms ammonia into urea, shuttled out of your body in urine. Your kidneys filter your blood to remove waste products and nitrogen, also leaving as urine. That’s how your body detoxifies. 

Sweat won’t do it, nor will your diet. This is not the same thing as saying what you eat doesn’t matter for your health. Your nutritional intake very much affects your organs and the process by how your body handles toxins. But a specific diet doesn’t do what your body is already doing. That is, superfoods and sweat aren’t magically clearing your body of toxin. You eat well to eat well and be healthy, not because you think your body is being cleansed of impurities.

None of this is to take away from the necessity of exercise. A regular movement practice is essential for good health. For sweat fans—and I am one, stepping into a sauna a few days a week—saunas appear to beneficial aspects, including on cognitive function, relaxation, and longevity. Plus it feels great, something few would contend. Just don’t buy into “cleansing programs” or do it for the toxins. They’ll find their own way out, provided you don’t have a major illness. 

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Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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