By Dr. James DiNicolantonio www.drjamesdinic.com
We are constantly being exposed to environment toxins such as pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics, flame retardants, phthalates, and more. Many chemicals are sprayed on our food, arsenic can be found in rice, aluminum in deodorants, over the counter and prescription medications and cookware, and heavy metals like mercury and cadmium accumulate in fish and shellfish/bivalves, respectively. The list goes on and on. The very air we breathe is filled with pollution such as automobile exhaust. Thus, we are now living in a toxic environment and these toxins accumulate in our bodies; but is there anything we can do about it?
Evidence suggests that human fat tissue is widely contaminated with numerous man-made chemicals including persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which can stay in the body for decades.1 Examples of POPs include organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. POPs accumulate in the food chain, particularly in animal fat (fish, meat and milk).
If you were breastfed you would have received a hefty dose of these POPs during your most vulnerable years. Even decades later these POPs can still remain in your fat tissue slowly being released into the bloodstream. In fact, it can take decades to completely eliminate POPs from the body and in the meantime, they can cause numerous negative health consequences. Even low-level exposure to these POPs can adversely affect the endocrine, immune, nervous and reproductive systems. And we need a healthy immune system especially nowadays!
Since our own fat tissue serves as a storage reservoir for these POPs – and since they remain with us for several months but up to decades – strategies that can help mobilize and eliminate these toxins from our bodies may help support our health. One such strategy for helping to remove these toxins from the body is through sauna-induced sweating.
Since the 1980s, the Hubbard protocol, which utilizes sauna as well as exercise, niacin, and supplemental oils, has been tested in numerous studies showing beneficial effects for reducing body stores of POPs and improving clinical symptoms in those with environmental POP exposure.2 Typically, these studies find a 25-30% reduction in POP levels in fat and blood thought to be caused by the increase in their elimination in the skin through sweat.2
Clinical benefits with the Hubbard protocol have included improvements in IQ, neurocognitive function, ability to work, pain, fatigue and quality of life. Even respiratory symptoms in first responders at the World Trade Center and Gulf War veterans exposed to oil-well fires have found improvements with this protocol.2 But is the use of a sauna in the Hubbard protocol driving the benefit?
It has been known for a while that enhanced sweat production plays a major role in the benefits of the Hubbard protocol as it coincides with an increased turnover of these toxins in fat tissue. In fact, sweating alone has been used to help improve uremia, which is a build-up of toxins in the blood in patients with kidney disease. Since sweat contains POPs and heavy metals, and sweat volume can reach two liters per hour in those who are acclimated;3 this suggests that sweating in a sauna may be a good way to eliminate these toxins.2
However, don’t just take my word for it. Let’s have a look at the clinical studies testing sauna therapy for its potential to eliminate toxins through sweat.
A research group led by Stephen Genuis from the University of Alberta in Edmonton sought to test this idea. Since 2010, they have published at least half a dozen studies looking at the elimination of toxins from the body through blood, urine, and sweat, referred to by the acronym BUS. However, what we are interested in is their data on the elimination of toxins through sweat.
In their first paper, published in 2010, they collected blood, urine and sweat from 20 individuals, half in good health and half with numerous health issues. The authors noted that many toxic heavy metals were preferentially excreted through sweat. They concluded, “Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body.”4 In the study, all but three of the twenty participants used sauna (e.g., steam or infrared) as the method to induce sweating; exercise was used for the other three participants. In particular, using a sauna was a very good way to help eliminate the heavy metals cadmium, lead, and aluminum from the body; heavy metals which are now commonly found in the environment.
Since then this group has gone on to show that infrared/steam sauna sessions help to eliminate phthalates5, flame retardants6, Bisphenol A7, pesticides3 and PCBs8. Considering that infrared and steam saunas were used in these studies, these results do not necessarily apply to your traditional convection heat saunas. Additionally, the use of a sauna may even help individuals exposed to mold and mycotoxins.9
In summary, numerous clinical studies have shown that utilizing an infrared/steam sauna is able to remove many toxins through sweat; these include but are not limited to, heavy metals, phthalates, flame retardants, Bisphenol A, pesticides and PCBs. Furthermore, the use of a sauna may improve clinical symptoms in patients exposed to mold. Thus, sauna bathing may be a potential strategy to help eliminate toxins from the body. Something that all of us could use living in this toxic world.
1 Lee YM, Kim KS, Jacobs DR, Jr., et al. Persistent organic pollutants in adipose tissue should be considered in obesity research. Obes Rev 2017;18:129-39.
2 Kerr K, Morse G, Graves D, et al. A Detoxification Intervention for Gulf War Illness: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2019;16.
3 Genuis SJ, Lane K, Birkholz D. Human Elimination of Organochlorine Pesticides: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. BioMed research international 2016;2016:1624643.
4 Genuis SJ, Birkholz D, Rodushkin I, et al. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 2011;61:344-57.
5 Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Lobo RA, et al. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. TheScientificWorldJournal 2012;2012:615068.
6 Genuis SK, Birkholz D, Genuis SJ. Human Excretion of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether Flame Retardants: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. BioMed research international 2017;2017:3676089.
7 Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, et al. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health 2012;2012:185731.
8 Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D. Biomonitoring and Elimination of Perfluorinated Compounds and Polychlorinated Biphenyls through Perspiration: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. ISRN toxicology 2013;2013:483832.
9 Rea WJ. A Large Case-series of Successful Treatment of Patients Exposed to Mold and Mycotoxin. Clin Ther 2018;40:889-93.