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Why Do We Sweat?

by Michael Douglas

Our external and internal environments constantly shift — weather conditions, living space, physical activities, and even emotions like fear, embarrassment, anxiety, and stress — these can all contribute to the changes happening to our bodies that can make us sweat. Why?

Sweating regulates our core body temperature, releasing the excess heat trapped inside. It’s mostly water that’s cooling us down, but sweating also releases small amounts of bacteria and toxins from the body — the reason we might smell after a workout, but that can be easily remedied by antiperspirants and bathing. Sweating also releases pheromones (body odor) that are quite significant for human attraction (now you know!). Sodium chloride, or salt, is secreted from the skin, as well as tiny amounts of sugar, ammonia, and urea (the last two are the by-product when our body breaks down protein).

Many kinds of sweat glands are involved in the process of detoxifying and cooling down your body, namely:  the eccrine, apocrine, and apoeccrine sweat glands. All of them are working to secrete electrolytes and oily substances such as lipids and proteins. So that’s why you still get an oily sheen to your face or hair even when not necessarily sweating. These glands are present on the skin’s surface, in your scalp, armpits, groin area, the palms of your hands, and the soles of your feet.

Some foods have also been known to trigger sweating. This kind of perspiration is known as gustatory sweating often triggered by spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, and alcoholic beverages. These foods are known to raise your body temperature, prompting the body to sweat to cool you down as it evaporates on your skin (and maybe even prompting you to eat or drink more, but that’s wholly on you).

There are many reasons why we sweat, now let’s tackle the all-around question if it’s really good for you.


Is Sweating Good For You?


buff guy lifting weights

Sweating is possible by the many eccrine glands found in most regions of our body, and this helps in what we call homeostasis, which is the tendency to stabilize our internal environment against the outside. Let’s say that the room you’re currently in is around 20–22 °C (68–72 °F). It’s quite comfortable, right? But if your body temperature drops that low, you’d suffer from hypothermia, which can shut down your internal systems. Opposite that is hyperthermia, which happens when you have an abnormally high body temperature (about 100.4°F or 38°C) which can cause swelling, dehydration, and organ failure.

Homeostasis contributes to the body’s function to maintain an average temperature of 98.6 F (37 C), keeping you alive.

We sweat not just when it’s hot, but also when we’re nervous or stressed. This is caused mainly by adrenaline, and this hormone can activate your sweat glands. It’s the body’s natural “fight or flight response”, signaling the body to produce a burst of energy so that it can respond to dangers like public speaking and marauding animals.

There is also something called Dermcidin, an antimicrobial peptide or molecule, that is secreted by the eccrine glands. A study was done to prove that Dermcidin peptides in sweat contribute to skin defense against bacteria. Sweating can also keep the skin moisturized. Activities that promote sweating also helps blood circulation throughout the body to distribute oxygen and nutrients to replenish your cells.

Working out a good sweat can mean that your workouts are on your proper fitness level too. If your exercise routine makes you feel a little faint or sore in your muscles, then it’s too much for you to handle. Having the right routine can help minimalize fatigue and over sweating (we don’t want that). After all, you need to replenish your water content or else you’ll have a risk of dehydration afterward.


Maintain A Good Sweat Response

Why Do We Sweat?

We mentioned that sweating rids the body of toxins, but only minimally. It’s the digestive tract, kidneys, livers, and the excretory system that do the bulk work of filtering and removing all that waste. So don’t be tempted to dedicate all your time in a sauna or some intense workouts to “sweat it out”. Eating plenty of fibers and staying hydrated are still some of the top ways to detoxify your body.

Of course, every person is different when it comes to sweat rates. It all depends on how well our bodies respond to our environment, physical activity, and diet. Some people may start sweating immediately upon going outside, and others might not. Clothing may also play a part as layering up on a good day can be stifling in warmer temperatures, and dressing down on a cool day can end in slight shivers. Women are known to sweat less than men, and we all know that our sweat rate decreases as we age. Weight is also one variable that changes how much you sweat, and thus, the water you should be getting, so try to consider that too.

Observe these changes in your body, and with the advice of your physician or nutritionist, develop a hydration system that is fitting for your body in the ratio of what you release. The more active you are, the more you need to replenish to avoid dehydration, which causes hard stools and constipation, along with abdominal pain and even cramps. Strive your best to follow the daily recommended water intake of at least 2 liters a day.


Excessive Sweating


Hyperhidrosis is a condition that causes this, and it’s not necessarily connected to heat or exercise. Antiperspirants have been known to help, as well as other medications such as neuromodulators (like Botox), and therapy. In extremely rare and severe cases, your doctor may suggest performing surgery to remove some sweat glands or disconnect the nerves responsible for excessive sweat. If you experience an overproduction of sweat, make sure to work with your doctor or another health professional to address this. Sometimes, there is an underlying medical cause for hyperhidrosis such as Diabetic hypoglycemia, leukemia, malaria, or tuberculosis, among other illnesses.

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