The concept that sweating can cleanse the body of impurities is a myth, expert says
By Jennifer Thomas
Though some may be relatively harmless, the desire to detox was brought to a tragic conclusion last fall when three participants died and several were made seriously ill during a pricey sweat lodge ceremony in Arizona. Self-help guru James Arthur Ray was arrested Feb. 3 and charged with three counts of manslaughter in the deaths.
Doctors say the notion that you can--or should--undertake special efforts to cleanse the body of impurities is not only not necessary but potentially dangerous. The body has evolved through time to detoxify itself through its own processes, said Dr. Rachel Vreeman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine and co-author of Don't Swallow Your Gum! Myths, Half-Truths and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health.
Some studies have indicated that saunas lower blood pressure, enhance blood flow and improve cardiac functioning in people with congestive heart failure or other cardiovascular disease, Vreeman said. One study found weak evidence that saunas could help with chronic pain, and another showed minor benefits for some with chronic fatigue syndrome. There have been almost no studies done specifically on steam rooms or sweat lodges.
Western medicine has largely ignored sweat lodges, but they continue to play a significant role in Native American culture, said David Delgado Shorter, an associate professor of world arts and cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles.