Dear Mark: Bikram Yoga; Stored Toxins Impairing Fat Loss

Bikram FinalFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answer two questions from readers. First, does Bikram yoga qualify as sprinting or high intensity training? It’s certainly intense, and it’ll make you sweat bullets and work hard to the point of nausea, but does it actually accomplish the same training effects as sprinting or intervals? Find out down below. Next, you often hear that body fat is the main repository for environmental toxins. This is true, but does that mean the body “holds on” to body fat to prevent systemic dispersal of the toxins it contains? Can stored toxins make losing body fat harder that it already is?

Let’s go:

I love doing Bikram yoga and wonder if you would consider it a sprint day or a high intensity day, or both?



Neither, actually. What do sprinting and other types of high-intensity training do to the body?

They preferentially burn body fat. Bikram yoga has been shown to induce modest reductions in the body weight of obese subjects, but that’s about it. There’s no indication that Bikram has significant or unique effects on actual body fat.

They improve your ability to burn body fat throughout the rest of the day—the after burner effect.

They improve bone mineral density. Bikram may help younger women retain bone density (PDF), but isn’t enough to stave off the loss of bone density in older women (PDF). For that, you need impact and high stress—sprints and weights.

They increase mitochondrial biogenesis. This is the literal construction of new mitochondria, the power plants of the cell. There’s no evidence that Bikram yoga can induce mitochondrial biogenesis. You need intensity for that.

They take just a few minutes. This isn’t by design; when you’re sprinting or working at truly high intensities, you cannot do more than a few minutes of work. The effort required precludes high volume. Meanwhile, the average Bikram yoga session lasts about 90 minutes. There’s no way you can sprint for 90 minutes, or maintain high intensities for an hour and a half. It just isn’t possible.

They consist of moving really, really fast for short bursts. Bikram is movement but slow and gradual with lots of holds. If it can be classified as anything, it’d be isometric strength and flexibility training. Great stuff. Just not sprinting.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that Bikram is pointless. It’s not. It’s great. There’s considerable evidence in favor of doing it, especially if you enjoy it.

One study found that 24 sessions of Bikram yoga in eight weeks increased deadlift strength, shoulder flexibility, and hamstring flexibility while modestly lowering body fat in healthy adults. The no-yoga control group had no such improvements.

Bikram yoga has also proven useful in the development of balance. Specifically, three sessions per week (identical to your schedule once again) seemed to help the most unsteady subjects improve their balance. Those subjects who were already pretty stable in unstable situations didn’t see as much of a benefit. Balance is crucial, not just for athletes but for older people who don’t want to fall and break any bones.

In another study, Bikram yoga reduced the time it took subjects to fall back asleep after awakening in the night. Subjects were quicker to fall back asleep on yoga days than on non-yoga days. Better sleep is incredibly important.

Bikram yoga is awesome stuff, but I don’t think it qualifies as sprinting or high intensity. That’s okay, though. It just means you can do Bikram and sprint (or do some alternatives) and get the benefits of both.

Dear Mark,

Thank you so much for the wealth of information and sage advice you provide on Mark’s Daily Apple! I love hearing your voice of reason on so many topics. I wasn’t able to find anything specific to this question on your website.

There is a lot of talk out there about “diets failing” because toxins remain trapped inside our bodies. Body fat is a form of protection, the body “enrobes” the toxins with fat to prevent organ damage. So until you find a way to eliminate them from your system, you won’t see long-term success with a dieting program. They also claim that when body fat is burned, the toxins become more concentrated in your body, causing the body to “rebound” and produce more fat to again store thhise toxins.

Now, many of those touting this viewpoint are selling “cleanse” products or products that “support the body’s natural functioning”. I am just wondering if there is any scientific research to support this claim that the body resists burning fat because it is being used to encapsulate toxins. I would love to hear your take on this.

Thank you so much!

They aren’t totally making things up. Adipose tissue does store toxins. A number of studies even indicate a relationship between recent weight loss and elevated serum levels of certain “toxins,” like persistent organic pollutants (which include certain pesticides, industrial chemicals, and pharmaceuticals).

In one, middle-aged people with a history of long-term weight loss had elevated levels of persistent organic pollutants. Those who hadn’t lost weight had lower levels. A more recent paper suggests this effect may be short-lived. Obese women who lost a ton of weight had elevated levels of POPs for the first 3 months, but at the 5-year followup, those who’d kept the weight off had lower levels of pollutants.

Visceral fat seems to store a greater proportion of pollutants. A recent study found that people who’d lost most of their weight in the belly had greater levels of pollutants than folks who’d lost mostly subcutaneous fat. Another measured pollutants in existing adipose tissue, finding that visceral fat contained more than subcutaneous. If the hypothesis is true, and body fat carrying the most pollutants is the most stubborn and hardest to lose, we’d expect that visceral fat is the hardest type to get rid of. But that isn’t the case at all. Studies show that visceral adipose tissue goes quicker than other types of body fat, even though it’s the highest in pollutants and other toxins.

Plus, it’s not like those toxins are totally innocuous sitting in body fat. They’re still in your body, and the evidence shows that higher levels of pollutants in adipose tissue correlate to more metabolic syndrome, especially poor blood sugar control and high blood pressure.

Everything equal, it’s better to lose body fat than hold on to it. Don’t let the fear of toxins keep you from losing excess body fat.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the body “knows” it’s storing toxins in fat and prevents weight loss to avoid their dispersal into circulation, though. If that’s the case, and the body is “smart,” it goes both ways: if you eat a weight loss diet replete in liver-supportive nutrients and maintain a healthy lifestyle, the body should “know” it can burn fat without overloading itself with toxins. I’m talking about:



Milk thistle.

Various phytonutrients from colorful fruits and veggies, spices like ginger and curcumin and garlic.

Plenty of exercise and sleep.

A month-long fast consisting of lemon, water, cayenne pepper, and activated maple syrup.

I’m kidding about one of those (it shouldn’t be hard to guess which).

But seriously: don’t worry about fat loss released toxins, or toxins inhibiting fat loss. I mean, what’s your other option? Accumulating even more body fat to act as reservoir for dangerous pollutants? It’s silly. Fat loss is consistently and almost unanimously linked to a bevy of health benefits. That research is conclusive. It’s vindicated. If you’re reading this and following a Primal Blueprint lifestyle, you’ve probably shed some body fat. Has it helped you or hurt you? Has it improved your quality of life or hampered it?


Thanks for reading, all. Take care. Be well.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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26 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Bikram Yoga; Stored Toxins Impairing Fat Loss”

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  1. Great post, as always! This is information I can really use. You had me for half a second with that “month long lemon, water fast”. Probably because I actually tried something like that once, for about a 3 weeks. Didn’t notice much fat loss but I sure was in a grumpy mood for some reason.

  2. Chlorella and Spirulina help to flush toxins out of the system (ixnay on Milk Thistle for men – it being pro-estrogen).

    1. Do you have a bad liver Dave? Some sort of renal failure? No? Then you have no “toxins in your system”. Your liver caught anything and you urinated it out.

      1. True that. The only types of toxins that need intervention are things like opiate overdoses, snake venom, death cap mushroom poisoning and heavy metal poisoning. All of which have specific protocols to deal with it, in a hospital, and are not purchased from a website or come with a juicing plan.

      2. A toxin that is not water soluble will not be excreted through urine or sweat. Nicotine, booze, caffeine, etc. will all pass through the liver and out of the body, but many so-called “persistent organic pollutants” are fat soluble, and are recirculated in the body through a process called enterohepatic circulation, never really leaving without some sort of mechanical intervention. A description of this process, and a method for removal of the toxins, is suggested here by Dr. Eades:

        I am surprised that Mark did not address this toxin concern in greater detail. He links to studies that show blood plasma toxin levels returning to normal after weight loss, but neglects to mention that, although not found in the bloodstream per se, these toxins nevertheless remain in the body. Maybe there have been new findings since Dr. Eades’ 2007 blog post, but Mark’s post doesn’t give me that impression…

        1. So you’re saying chlorella and spirulina bind the POPs and prevent them from being reabsorbed? I know you’re not saying that, so my (and Clay’s) point stands. That link is talking about a different process. True, not the liver catching and expelling everything which I didn’t know, but still, the body having a way of sequestering them. Even Dr Eades mentioned repeatedly, he only suspects that holding onto the POPs is bad, although heretofore, no studies have shown it.

  3. I’ve been taking N-acetyl-cysteine for years to boost glutathione. Good stuff/good recommendation. Probably a lot more effective than a cayenne cleanse. 😉 Hahah.

  4. Good to know that being overwhelmed by the release of “toxins” into the bloodstream won’t be something to look forward to when I lose weight. But the reduced risk of chronic disease still is, so I’m stoked about that!

  5. I love yoga, and occasionally bikram yoga. But I love it for the good sweat and the hour of meditative motion is gives me, not as my daily sprint. Like you said, Mark, it’s great for a number of reasons (just not as a high intensity workout replacement).

  6. Interesting to think that there’s a bunch of visceral fatty sponges in our bodies holding onto various environmental toxins. Luckily we’re equipped with bodies to help neutralize/eliminate those toxins (when we’re healthy and treating those bodies right, that is).

    1. Exactly. The human body has numerous systems for eliminating dangerous pollutants and toxins. Just keep it healthy and forget about those questionable commercial cleanses.

  7. As the king of clumsiness, I could probably use some Bikram for those proprioceptive benefits.

    1. Whoa Nelly – I claimed that title decades ago. And managed to hit my head on a hot-wire (electric fence for horses) just this morning, proving that my clumsiness quotient hasn’t suffered any age related diminishment……

  8. Milk thistle is a great recommendation for keeping your liver in tip top shape. Pretty innocuous in terms of any side effects, but definitely shown to help improve liver biomarkers.

  9. Hm. I’ve been having some trouble with sleep lately. You’ve inspired me to add some yoga back into the mix. I always seemed to have a “yogi high” when I used to go, which probably translated into better calm/sleep.

    1. It can be if you hit it hard. By hard, I mean you core, legs and arms should be quivering from exhaustion when you are holding tough poses. Taken to that extreme it’s more of a body weight exercise. You’ll be sore the next day like you hit the weights.

  10. Sorry Mark, but my perspective is my six pack is hidden by a protective toxic sponge layer, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    1. Come the zombie apocalypse, you’ll be laughing, as faddy zombies chow their way through the clean-eatin’ straight-living crowd, but give you a wide berth. 🙂

  11. There will be no lemon juice, cayenne and maple syrup fast for me! Although i do sprinkle a little cayenne in my morning lemon water sometimes. But then I eat food! And reading the first post reminded me…I really need to start sprinting!

    1. Careful with taking up sprinting Elizabeth. Take is slow. I did a three, ten second sprints and ended up with a sore ankle. When it healed I went sprinting again with the same outcome. Finaly I was diagnosed with Achilles tendinopathy which will need constant managing. These days I do swim sprints.

  12. Those of us prone to gout suffer attacks with rapid weight loss. In taht respect, the toxic fat theory has some teeth. With that said, the best way to eliminate toxins is not to ingest them in the first place. Drink pure water, eat primal and organic. In addition to supplements listed by mark and others, I may suggest supplemental fiber as well. Refined fiber such as Konjac root, is non-caloric but acts as a binder to eliminate toxins as solid waste.

  13. After eating a semi- primal diet for 2 and a half years, I took an oral antifungal (binds to adipose tissue) and experienced significant weight gain. It has been over a year and I have not been able to shed it off. I’ve been taking milk thistle for a week. No change in weight yet.

  14. I used to do Bikram yoga every other day. But I found that after about 15 years of this, I was getting injured more rather than less: that is, when I worked in my garden, pushed a wheelbarrow, or carried heavy buckets, my back would hurt and sometimes my hips seemed to slip out of alignment. I quit doing yoga altogether, and the problem disappeared. I don’t think Bikram yoga is worse than other forms of yoga, but yoga can make you too flexible, to the point that if you work hard lifting heavy things, you can get injuries. There are several accounts on the internet of people, especially long-time yoga teachers, developing serious injuries from many years of yoga. Use with caution. Certain poses such as shoulder stands and head stands are particularly risky.

  15. Yoga is great for flexibility/mobility, strength( depending on what exercise used), range of motion, etc. Everyone should do it at least 2x or more if they can. My best deadlifting days was when I was only deadlifting and yoga.

    Fat tissue stores toxins, so one should be careful about loosing weight. My friend was confused when he went on vaca and got a massage 3x in one week !!!…He ended up so sick, lol. I told him he got to many massage, deep tissue will release toxins in the body, so he got :))))