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Wellness Wednesday: The Science of Sweat

Wellness Wednesday: The Science of Sweat

Wellness Wednesday: The Science of Sweat

The heat is on! Summer is in full swing, which means we’re fast approaching the kind of temperatures that can fry an egg cracked on the pavement. Rain is hard to come by but the forecast for sweat drops is looking good. Many of us have an ambivalent relationship toward sweating. It can make us feel and look weird, it can smell strange, and ruin our carefully coiffed looks. Oftentimes sweating can seem like a gross nuisance.

Here’s the thing, though: Sweating is GOOD. Sweating plays a critical role in keeping us healthy and safe.

What is Sweat?

Sweat (or perspiration) is the body’s self-cooling system. When your internal temperature rises, your sweat glands release water to the surface of your skin. These sweat glands are found all over the body but are especially prominent on the forehead, the armpits, the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. The water they produce is laced with tiny amounts of chemicals that include:

  • Salts
  • Sugar
  • Urea
  • Ammonia

These droplets evaporate, causing your skin to cool off. The cooling effect also extends to the blood beneath your skin. So sweating is (mostly) a good thing: it keeps you from overheating. It also has the added benefit of helping us have firmer grips thanks to the moisture from palm sweat.

What Causes Sweating? 

A normal, healthy amount of sweating can be caused by any of the following:

  • Hot temperatures (like the Arizona summer)
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Illness (primarily infections and fever)

Eating hot or spicy foods

An important thing to keep in mind with spicy foods: while you can cool yourself off after exercising or spending time out in the sun with ice packs, drinking water, towels, and other heat-absorbing measures, none of those techniques will be much help when you’re feeling the burn from spicy foods. That’s because the capsaicinoids in spicy food trigger a burning sensation that mimics the feeling of being exposed to fire without actually generating body heat. While spicy foods can raise your body temperature a bit, you’ll often feel MUCH hotter than you actually are at that moment so don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re overheating because you ate a Carolina Reaper pepper.

What Happens When You Sweat Too Much Or Not Enough?

If you sweat more than you need to, you may be experiencing hyperhidrosis. If you find yourself sweating an excessive amount — to the point that it causes you emotional distress or interferes with your daily routine — this can be a warning sign of an underlying condition. Hyperhidrosis is often a symptom of serious health conditions that include low blood sugar, nervous system disorders, or thyroid issues. See a doctor if you think you’re experiencing hyperhidrosis.

On the other end of the spectrum is hypohidrosis (a reduced amount of sweating) and anhidrosis (a complete lack of sweating). These can be very serious conditions because it can lead to life-threatening overheating. Your body can’t produce enough sweat quickly enough to cool you down when you need it. Like hyperhidrosis, the presence of hypohidrosis or anhidrosis can indicate a serious medical issue, ranging from skin disorders and underactive thyroid issues to dehydration or lingering damage to the sweat glands from a burn.

Why Does Sweat Smell?

Fun fact: sweat doesn’t smell!  The water sweat glands produce is odorless. What happens, though, is that water mixes with bacteria that live on your skin or hormonal secretions (especially areas like the armpits) to develop a potent scent. A combination of good hygiene, consistent bathing, and antiperspirants can help combat this. You may not smell as fresh as a daisy after spending an hour in the gym but you won’t smell like a duffel bag full of gym socks left out in the sun for too long either.

Can Sweating Dehydrate You?

YES. This is very important to remember. Your sweat glands aren’t camel humps holding onto their own private reservoirs of water. When you sweat you’re drawing from your body’s water supply. The more you sweat, the more fluid you lose, the faster you dehydrate. If you’re planning on doing any activity that’s going to make you sweat for long periods of time you’ll want to make sure you’re well-hydrated BEFORE you do it and to have plenty of water on hand to rehydrate yourself as you sweat. 


Article by Austin Brietta

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