54caba2b494254fc09970b9e_imageHow many times have you or someone you know said they were going to yoga or spinning to “sweat it out,” it being that nagging cold they just can’t shake. It isn’t an uncommon statement and, in theory, sounds great just like Bikram’s next claim.

However, how many times have you felt “under the weather” but your type A personality (much like mine) says, “No, I don’t care that I don’t feel good. I am going to yoga (or the gym) anyway.”  How many times have you felt worse after. You see, exercise of any kind including yoga, is a physical stressor which will actually weaken the immune system.  It’s a lot like going out in the cold without proper attire cause “you’ll get sick.”  It’s not the cold weather that makes you sick.  If your immune system is already compromised, its is the physical stress of the cold that weakens your immune system that makes you susceptible to illness.  If your immune system is functioning optimally, being out in the cold in your birthday suit will NOT make you sick!

Let’s medically discuss Bikram’s next claim that “Just as when your body raises its temperature to fight infection, the elevated temperatures in the yoga room improve T-cell function and strengthen the immune system. When the body is warm, T-cell output from the thymus gland is multiplied 20 fold. T-cells fight infection, in turn, keeps the immune system functioning properly”

CD8+_T_cell_destruction_of_infected_cellsThis statement should read CD8+ cytotoxic T-cells enhance with mild fever range hyperthermia.  This T-lymphocyte cell  is capable of fighting infections/infected cells, viruses in particular, cancer cells and cells that are damaged for any reason.  The study, Elevated body temperature helps certain types of immune cells to work better, evidence suggests, was published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in December 2011 and argues that elevated body temperature changes T-cell membrane in a way to help mediate the effects of microenvironmental temperature on cell function.  The researchers tested this theory by injecting to 2 groups of mice with an antigen,  then elevated one of the groups body temperature by 2 degrees and examined the activation of T-cells. The warmed mice group showed a greater number of the type of CD8+ T-cells capable of destroying the infected cells. “Having a fever might be uncomfortable,” said John Wherry, Ph.D., Deputy Editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, however the research is reveals that having a fever is part of an effective and healthy immune response.  The article goes on to say that very high body temperatures are in fact dangerous but mild elevated temperatures like a low grade fever (< 100.2) have temporary beneficial effects on the immune system when fighting an infection.

Having a fever is very different than being in a heated environment.  Remember, the body has its own internal temperature regulatory system: SWEATING. Sweating lowers body temperature by releasing water that evaporates off of the skin, which is why you sweat when your fever breaks.  Sweating in a hot yoga room/Bikram yoga class regulates the body temperature so it does not rise above it normal approximate 98.6 °F.  It is when heat exhaustion or heat stroke sets in due to the inability to sweat that causes the body temperature to dangerously rise.  Since Bikram yoga/hot yoga causes an excess amount of water loss, dehydration is eminent.  This kind of elevated body temperature due to dehydration causes physical stress.  We know physical stress, activating the fight or flight response, will wreak havoc on our immune systems. 

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