In this blog post, I’ll explore the topic of whether using a sauna for liver detoxification and health optimisation is actually a thing.
Online, you can read many stories about how supposedly spending time in a sauna is directly “cleaning the liver” and that the “liver is filtering the blood”. Both are false. However, you can find, by reading the literature, ways in which saunas support liver detoxification. I’ll explore these mechanisms below. But first, let’s give you a crash course in detoxification in general so that we're both on the same page about this topic:
Liver Detoxification 101 - The Basics
In this section I’ll teach you the basics of liver detoxification:
The liver is not a filter (1). Instead, the liver processes toxins so that they can be eliminated from the body but generally doesn’t store them.
How the liver accomplishes this task is highly complex (2; 3; 4; 5; 6). Although I'm oversimplifying, the liver breaks down toxins and makes them easier to eliminate through several phases.
These toxins are then eliminated through your stools and urine - if all goes well. The problem, however, is that under certain circumstances these processes don’t work optimally. Although these processes work less well with age, many other factors influence your liver’s ability to alter toxins in order for them to be eliminated. If you’ve got an extremely high toxin intake, for instance, or if you’ve got nutritional deficiencies, these liver detoxification phases won’t work as well.
Even your circadian rhythm - the ~24-hour clock that tracks time in your body - affects how well liver detoxification phases function (7; 8). So, liver detoxification processes are upregulated at certain parts of the day and downregulated at other parts of the day.
Not all toxins are always eliminated by the liver though - and that’s where the topic of this blog post comes in. After these detoxification phases, toxins are absorbed by either bile or urine, and can eventually be eliminated.
To make that process more efficient, you’ll have to eat more fibres. Beans and legumes are excellent sources of fibre and fruits, vegetables, and tubers are great secondary sources.
If you’ve been reading about health for a while, you probably know which types of plant foods you respond best to. So, if you’re following a paleo diet and don’t eat any beans or legumes, you can still use vegetables and potentially tubers to achieve a great daily fibre intake.
The problem with improper detoxification from the liver and bile, in turn, is that toxins are re-released into the bloodstream. These toxins then enter the liver again to be processed once more. That process is called “recirculation”.
To avoid recirculation, you can follow some simple strategies, such as eating an organic diet and lowering your overall exposure to toxins, such as polluted air and non-organic and non-natural cosmetic products (9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15; 16). In that case, you’ll remove toxins that come into your body, making the elimination of present toxins easier.
And, there’s more you can do. Let’s now find out how spending time in an infrared sauna can make this process easier:
Infrared Sauna For Liver Detox: How Skin Detoxification Makes Your Liver Work More Efficiently
The skin lays at the basis of the second and equally important detoxification system of your body. Many different toxins are preferably removed through sweating instead of being eliminated through the liver, kidneys, intestinal system, and urinal system (which technically includes the kidneys).
Examples of these toxins are perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phthalates, some heavy metals but not all, toxic leftovers from plastics, and pesticides (17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22; 23). It’s very likely that you’ ’re able to eliminate many more toxins through your skin but these mechanisms haven’t been completely investigated for each known toxin - research in this area is actually extremely scarce but promising.
Now here’s the deal: many of the aforementioned toxins I mentioned also circulate through the blood (24; 25; 26; 27; 28; 29). Over time, it’s reasonable to assume that the liver also tries to detoxify these compounds but doesn’t eliminate them all.
So here’s the kicker:
The more toxins you’re able to eliminate through sweating, the more your liver is able to spend metabolic energy on compounds that are preferentially eliminated through your liver, kidneys, stool, and urine.
I reiterate, that the metabolic processes of the liver, such as the different phases of detoxification, aren’t "free". Your body requires many nutrients and antioxidants for that process, such as different B-vitamins, vitamin C, glutathione - the master antioxidant - and many more.
And, with that being said, let’s take the 30,000-feet overview and conclude:
Conclusion: Infrared Sauna For Liver Detox: True But Misleading
So here’s the very simple conclusion: the more you detoxify through your skin, the less pressure will be placed upon your internal organs. And, by placing less pressure on your internal organs - and prevening toxins from recirculating - you’re giving your liver an easier time.
So, in a sense, sauna for liver detox holds a partial truth. But, if you’re reading online about using an infrared sauna for liver detox, you’re probably reading a quite misleading explanation of what is truly happening. A sauna doesn’t detox the liver directly - instead, it helps detoxification processes become more optimal by removing toxins from the equation! So, injoy your indirect sauna liver detox!