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Can heat make you healthier?

Thinking of taking up hot yoga or drinking hot water and lemon? Our expert tells you why cranking up the temperature isn't always necessary for well-being

Lime and honey is not a weight-loss drink (Pexels)

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In the pursuit of optimal health, glowing skin and toned bodies, adding a little temperature to your drink, your exercise or even your vagina seems to be the trend. From Gwyneth Paltrow, convincing you to steam your vagina or, the now infamous Bikram Choudhary who once promised that his brand of Bikram Yoga could help practitioners lose the "jiggly wiggly"  as he put it, the relationship between heat and health is—to this day--a topic of much debate and discussion. 

Here are three health practices that take the heat to the next level and whether you should or should not adopt them.

Hot drinks and weight loss

Last year, the most searched topic on Google was this: how to lose weight. If you are one of those Googlers (I, for sure, am), you must have come across the suggestion to have warm water with lemon and honey in the morning. No one knows where this suggestion came from. However, nutritionists and doctors still treat this advice with disdain.

For starters, there is no concrete study that proves this fact. If anything, a study published in 2003 claimed the very opposite—that drinking cooler water added to more weight loss. The logic behind it is that the cool water took the body's energy to the body temperature and burned more calories. And as for the lemon and honey? Honey is one of the safest sweeteners, no doubt, but it is more of a marketing gimmick to sell more honey rather than based on actual science. As for the lemon in the water, there is very little evidence that lemon can increase metabolism. Most of it is in animal studies, and not much result has been seen in humans.

But if you drink warm water with or without the honey and lemon added, you are going to have a nice bowel movement in the morning. Hot water or hot tea first thing in the morning has been the norm in many Indian households as warm liquids stimulate gut movement, aka peristalsis.

Having said that, there is not much harm in taking the warm liquid in the morning. You will feel lighter after your toilet visit, and you will definitely be fuller after drinking up, leading to smaller breakfast portions. These indirect effects are more likely the reason for the endurance of this practice in the world of weight loss.

But it comes with a catch. Drinking very hot stuff puts one at the risk of oesophagal cancer. So be sure to blow on your hot drink before taking a sip.

Also read: Is drinking milk actually good for you?

Vaginal steaming and sitz bath

This practice traces its popularity back to, well, Goop. Founded by movie star Gwyneth Paltrow, this website proclaims many untested hacks as wonder remedies for holistic health. Vaginal steaming is one of their most controversial practices. It is proclaimed that vaginal steaming can treat haemorrhoids, restore fertility, cleanse the vagina, cervix and uterus and restore hormonal imbalances. Unfortunately, the science behind these claims is non-existent. And to add insult to injury, vaginal steaming is harmful in the least and hazardous in some cases. Steaming can cause burns in the delicate region, dry out the vagina, kill protective bacteria and make way for the growth of fungal infection. Also, you should know that none of the 'goodness' of the steam can reach your uterus thanks to the tightly closed cervix.

On the other hand, a sitz bath is a practice of sitting in a tub of warm water with an antiseptic for haemorrhoids or after labour can be helpful. This practice restores blood supply, promotes healing, and protects the vulnerable tissues from infection. Note that a sitz bath's temperature is much less than the steam (which is obviously above 100 degrees). While sitz bath is routinely recommended, vaginal steaming has no place in medicine.

Bikram yoga (Hot Yoga)

This form of yoga is fraught with controversy. That's not just because of the sexual allegations against the founder Bikram Choudhary but also because we are yet to decode how hot is too hot? Bikram Yoga includes doing a set of asanas and breathing exercises in a hot room (over 40 degrees) with high humidity (over 40%) for an hour and a half. Its superiority to other forms of yoga is still being questioned with no evidence to prove it yet. Those who practice this hot yoga stand to raise their core body temperatures to fever levels. If they have hypertension, diabetes, or obesity, their temperature regulation has already been compromised by the said conditions. Bikram yoga practitioners say they feel a spiritual high after the session, but it begs the question: is this high a sign of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance? While previously, the yoga instructor would ask the student to push through the session without drinking water and 'detox' naturally with the sweat pouring down their bodies, nowadays, a gentler approach with adequate water breaks and shorter timings is practised in hot yoga. Also, if you wish to step into one of these steamy yoga sessions, make sure you don't drink pure water and go for electrolyte water as you stand to lose so much salt when you break that sweat.

Also read: Why slow eating promotes better digestion, satisfaction and weight maintenance

Dr Farah Adam Mukadam is a Bengaluru-based family physician and author of Newborns and New Moms. She vlogs on Instagram and YouTube as Dr Farah_Momstein

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