Can You Really 'Sweat Out’ Toxins?

by Allen Gil July 16, 2015

Can You Really 'Sweat Out’ Toxins?

Exposure to environmental factors like polluted air, water, oil and some of what we consume in our diets can affect the metabolic activity of the human cells. These factors include toxins that we ingest through our lifestyle choices—alcohol, cigarette smoke, fast foods, certain drugs, etc.— and those in the environment—mold, certain metals like arsenic, mercury, and lead. So, can you sweat out toxins? While the prevailing conception is that stringent detox regimens, juice cleanses or sitting in a sauna for hours on end will detoxify us, the truth is our bodies have amazing mechanisms in place to get rid of these harmful elements.

This means that detoxification occurs naturally in our bodies every single day. To debunk the notion that a lemon juice and maple syrup cocktail has the power to remove toxins (I’m looking at you, Master Cleanse) we’re going to talk about what really happens when our bodies need to detox.

Your Liver is Essential to Detoxification

The liver is an essential organ and the responsible for most of the toxin metabolism in our bodies. Nutrients and metabolites are transported from the intestines to the liver through the portal system. In addition, the bile duct transports molecules from the liver to the intestines (enterohepatic circulation). Every xenobiotic that enters the GI tract (metals, drugs, alcohol, etc.) will reach the liver to be metabolized and later excreted. (Liver, 2009)

Needless to say, your liver does a lot; treat it right!

Your Gut Bacteria and Kidneys

One of the biggest barriers we have to protect us from the outside world are our intestinal epithelial cells. This intestinal mucosa forms a protective layer against bacteria that enters the gastrointestinal tract. The antigens present in the gut flora protect our bodies from infection. (Hausmann, 2010)

Microbial mass is a significant contributor to fecal bulk, and it is a determinant of bowel health. Fermentative bacteria in the gut in association with water help to dilute and eliminate toxins (xenobiotics) from our diets through fecal bulk. For example, the fermentation of protein produces ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide that can be toxic. These toxic elements are excreted via stool or urine. The same is true for certain minerals like cadmium, lead, and mercury. (Jarup, 2003)

A high-fiber diet promotes the ability of the bacteria to increase digesta mass, by diluting toxins, decreasing transit time, and increasing defecation frequency. (Conlon, 2014)

Most Western-style diets are highly refined, high in animal protein and saturated fat. Intake of high dietary fat is metabolized by bile acid from the gall bladder entering the small intestines and the portion that is not absorbed enters the colon for disposal. (Conlon, 2014). Also, contamination of water and soil with metals like lead and mercury are metabolized in the liver and excreted in the urine.

The integrity of the gut mucosa and bacteria is of critical importance to our health. Because it is such a large area of defense against toxins, we must understand which dietary components strengthen it. Its importance relays in the fact that it promotes health by impeding toxins to be absorbed and preventing disease. (Conlon, 2014)

Your Skin and Sweat

Our skin is the largest organ in our body and provides an important barrier in protecting us from external chemicals and pathogens. There have been several studies done on the topic of the skin as a “detoxifier”. These theories have attempted to show that upon temperature increase (like in a sauna or during exercise for example), the skin is able to help get rid of xenobiotics. (Zhou, 2012)

However, science-based evidence is still needed to determine if the skin is as a big participant in eliminating toxins from the environment and diet as the GI tract, the liver, and the kidneys. 

“To date, the large body of research into homeostasis of the most common metals (sodium, potassium, and to a lesser extent, magnesium, calcium, and zinc) and conditioning or adaptation to regular sweating by athletes has not been matched with studies of excretion of trace elements. Limited research suggests indirectly that conditioning may not restrict excretion of nonessential elements. Optimizing the potential of sweating as a therapeutic excretory mechanism merits further research.”  (Sears, 2012)

The Takeaway?

Exercising to “sweat out” toxins from alcohol, cigarettes and even heavy metals is not where you should be focusing your efforts. Science says our organs are the primary way we excrete toxins, so don’t wear a trash bag and camp out in a sauna, just treat your liver, kidneys and digestive tract respectfully more often than you abuse them.


1. Martin Hausmann: How Bacteria-Induced Apoptosis of Intestinal Epithelial Cells Contributes to Mucosal Inflammation. International Journal of Inflammation.Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 574568, 9 pages.

2. Michael A. Conlon and Anthony R. Bird: The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients 2015, 7(1), 17-44; doi:10.3390/nu7010017

3. Margaret E. Sears, Kathleen J. Kerr, and Riina I. Bray: Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review. Journal of Environmental and Public Health. Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 184745, 10 pages. [336_mobile_bottom]

4. Jarup: Hazards of heavy metal contamination. British Medical Bulletin Oxford Journals Medicine and Health 2003

5. Zhou et al: The skin function: a factor of anti-metabolic syndrome. Journal of Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome 2012

6. Bjorkholm et al.: Intestinal Microbiota Regulate Xenobiotic Metabolism in the Liver.

Allen Gil
Allen Gil


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