Cultures have been getting their sweat on for over a thousand years. While the Romans lounged in steam baths, the Finnish were warming their bones in saunas. While these were likely developed as a way of relaxation and comfort, there have been many proposed health benefits of raising the body’s core temperature and inducing sweating. One of these is detoxification, or removal of toxic substances through the skin. In fact, both Ayurvedic Medicine from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine both advocate for perspiration to aid a diseased or toxic body.
But is there any scientific evidence to back this up?
Many scientists and dermatologists have written this idea off as another ‘old wives tale’ stating that the purpose of sweating is to cool the body down. Even those who might consider the idea state that 99% of sweat is water so any detoxification by our skin would be negligible compared to that from our kidneys and liver.
However, as it often happens, current research is beginning to show there is more to the picture. In 2011, researchers collected studies investigating the role of perspiration in heavy metal excretion. These 24 studies looked at arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury - 4 particularly insidious heavy metals that can wreak havoc on our health and well-being. Not only were all 4 heavy metals identified in sweat, these levels matched or exceeded the levels in the urine. Additionally, those with higher heavy metals in their body had higher levels in their sweat, giving credence to the concept that the skin steps in as an elimination organ when the liver and kidneys are under toxic stress.
The verdict? Sweaty is the new healthy!
While the primary role of perspiration is still to help us cool off, it seems our skin does play an important role in detoxifying certain toxic substances through our sweat, especially when the liver and kidneys may be over-taxed.
That being said, supporting the liver, which is our primary detoxification organ, is still going to be the most effective way to support toxic elimination. This would include a healthy diet and lifestyle as well as some key natural supplements like milk thistle, medicinal fungi, artichoke and dandelion.
By Rachel Erwin, Health Coach
B.Sc With Distinction in University of Toronto
Postgraduate Degree in Human Nutrition from HKU