HOT YOGA: Thins Your Blood to Clear the Circulatory System

Bikram’s next claim, “hot yoga thins the blood to clear the circulatory system,” is quite vague.  As a medical provider, I don’t know what “to clear” means when referring to the blood nor what is “being cleared” with regards to the circulatory system.

By definition, “to clear” means “to remove,” “to rid of obstruction,”  The circulatory system does not remove anything.  As you may or may not know, the function of the circulatory system is to circulate and transport red blood cells/oxygen, white blood cells, platelets, cholesterol, minerals, vitamins and nutrients to our organs.  It is the spleen, liver and kidney’s job to clear and to remove impurities from the blood.

The spleen removes old red blood cells, recycles iron, metabolizes hemoglobin (the “globin” portion is degraded into amino acids, the “heme” portion is metabolized to bilirubin, which is removed in the liver) and antibody-coated bacteria and antibody-coated blood cells.  The liver filters the blood of chemicals, hormones and drugs as well as food coming from the digestive tract, before passing it to the rest of the body.  The kidney filters waste materials from food, medications, and toxic substances.

If Bikram is talking about clearing the arteries, HDL cholesterol does that function which is why it is dangerous to have low HDL cholesterol.  Exercise increases HDL cholesterol and since hot yoga is a form of exercise, it may play a role if you are partaking in hot yoga in a hydrated body.

Let’s address the idea that hot yoga thins the blood…

  Water maintains our blood volume, regulates our body temperature and is involved in muscle contraction.  

It is true, that like most fluids, blood flows more easily at higher temperatures. It is estimated that a 1°C increase in body temperature results in a 2% decrease in blood viscosity.  However, the amount of fluid loss during a hot yoga class in individuals whose baseline is either dehydrated or euhydrated (normal hydration) will put them in a state of dehydration or a more dehydrated state if they are not rehydrating while perspiring.  Dehydration causes a reduction in blood volume, decrease in blood flow to the skin, reduction in perspiration, decrease in heat dissipation, increase in core temperature and an increase rate of glycogen use.

Perspiration is regulated by the automatic nervous system and controlled unconsciously by the hypothalamus. When too much water leaves our blood stream (dehydration) our blood plasma volume decreases causing an increase in viscosity.  By definition, blood viscosity is a measure of how concentrated blood is in relation to its hydration status. If you are dehydrated, there is less water in the blood. This decreases central venous pressure which reduces the amount of blood returning to heart, thus, reducing cardiac output. Less blood and nutrients flow throughout the body depriving our organs and muscles of much needed oxygen and nutrients.  Drinking water replenishes the fluids lost during exercise restoring our fluids to maintain normal muscle function, helping to prevent a decrease in physical performance and reducing the risk of heat stress. You can now understand how cardiac output is directly affects athletic performance.

The increase in core body temperature during a dehydrated state increases the rate of glycogen breakdown in the muscle increasing lactic acid build up thereby decreasing pH. This leads to increased muscles fatigue in the muscles used during the athletic activity.  Research from the University of Connecticut revealed that dehydrated athletes had an increase level of cortisol which reduces the level of testosterone.  Testosterone being the the primary hormone needed for muscle growth.

Moral of this blog, hot yoga will only thin the blood in hydrated individuals.  In dehydrated individuals, hot yoga increases blood viscosity, increases muscle fatigue and prevents muscle growth.

Any questions or comments???

Namaste,

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