The Science of Sweat — And Why You Need It!

June 26, 2019

"You are always sweating as a way to regulate body temperature and to assist your immune system in fending off certain viruses and bacteria."

Temperatures are rising and in many places of the country, at this time of the year, we don’t have a choice – the sweaty season is upon us. But not all sweating is healthy, and some people even deal with a condition called excessive sweat.

Today Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD is explaining why we sweat, what’s healthy and what we should be concerned about when it comes to sweat. She’ll explain why sweat makes us smell bad (and why it is worse on some people). She’ll review the real dangers of antiperspirants and deodorants, and share some of her favorite natural alternatives — including an effective, all-natural deodorant you can make at home.

Video Highlights

  • 03:52: What is Sweat?
  • 05:01: Sweaty facts
  • 08:53: Sweat and Your Health
  • 13:09: What is Sweat Made Of?
  • 14:47: Excessive Sweating
  • 15:53: Primary Hyperhidrosis  
  • 16:05: Secondary Hyperhidrosis  
  • 16:52: Absence of Sweat
  • 17:39: Why Sweat Causes Odors
  • 18:31: What can we do to prevent body odor? 
  • 23:24: Deodorant or Antiperspirant
  • 29:32: All-Natural DIY Deodorant
  • 33:12: Wrap-Up

What is Sweat?

When you think about it, sweating is really a crazy process — we exercise, get warm, or get stressed out and water starts pouring out of our skin… it sounds like something that would happen in a sci-fi movie. Believe it or not, we are always sweating, whether we know it or not.

Sweating is our bodies’ way of distributing heat that is created by our metabolism and muscles. 

Here are some Fun Facts: Did you know?

  • A normal human being sweats approximately 270 gallons each year — enough to fill three full-sized SUV gas tanks.
  • Aside from humans, horses are one of the few mammals that regulate body temperature by sweating. Horse sweat is high in latherin, a protein that helps the water in sweat travel from the skin, past the animals’ heavy waterproof pelt and to the air, where it can evaporate and keep them cool.
  • Cows sweat through their noses. Dairy farmers have to spray off the cows’ noses to keep them cool in the summer.
  • Hippos actually produce a red-colored sweat, which acts as an antibiotic and sunscreen.
  • In some Micronesian cultures, sweat is thought of as a warrior’s essence, and to drink the essence of a warrior is considered a great honor.
  • Swedish scientists have created a beverage machine that dispenses freshly secreted sweat from the clothes you wear. It’s called “Sweat water”. It sucks the moisture out of sweaty clothing and purifies it enough to drink. 
  • Scientists at the University of Florida used this same process to create Gatorade.
  • Sweating is our body’s natural, essential process designed to help your body stay cool.
  • The bottoms of your feet have 250,000 sweat glands.
  • There are two different types of sweat glands in your body: eccrine sweat glands, which are distributed over your entire body, and apocrine sweat glands, located on your scalp, armpits, and genital area.

Sweat and Your Health

Obviously, you sweat through your skin. Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and serves important roles just like any other bodily organ. For example, sweating helps your body:

  • Maintain proper temperature and keep you from overheating
  • Expel toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload. In fact, your skin is a major organ of elimination, but many people do not sweat on a regular basis.  Sweating can help reduce your toxic load quite significantly and has been shown to be a great way to detox trace heavy metals. 
  • Sweating is also effective in removing the chemical BPA from your body. BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means it mimics or interferes with your body's hormones and "disrupts" your endocrine system. The glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they release are instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes. 
  • Kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit 
  • Clean the pores, which will help eliminate blackheads and acne

So you’re actually born with anywhere between 2 million and 4 million sweat glands, and it’s the number of these glands that you have that will determine, in part, how much you sweat. 

Interestingly, while women generally have more sweat glands than men, men’s glands tend to be more active and produce more sweat than women.

As your body temperature rises, your body will automatically perspire and release salty liquid from your sweat glands to help cool you down. This process is controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which you cannot consciously control. However, certain emotions, such as anxiety, anger, embarrassment, fear, and stress can also cause you to sweat more.

What is Sweat Made Of?

What your sweat is composed of actually depends on which gland the sweat is coming out of:

  • Eccrine glands produce most of your sweat, especially the watery kind. But eccrine perspiration doesn’t taste like water, because it contains small amounts of salt, protein, urea, and ammonia that get mixed into it. These glands cover the entire body, but are mostly concentrated on the palms, soles, forehead, and armpit.
  • Apocrine glands are larger. They’re mostly located on the armpits, groin, and breast area. They’re the ones most often associated with body odor and produce more concentrated secretions after puberty. Since they’re near hair follicles, they typically smell the worst. 

Excessive Sweating

Despite the health benefits associated with sweating, nearly 15 million people are affected by a condition known as Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating. People with this condition sweat excessively when the body does not need to be cooled. 

There are two identified types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary.

Primary Hyperhidrosis  

With this type, one or more areas of the body experiences excessive sweating and the condition generally starts during childhood or adolescence. While it can occur anywhere, it often affects the underarms, hands, feet and forehead. Interestingly, sweating often begins after waking up, and nighttime sweating is not generally associated with primary hyperhidrosis unless the room is too hot.

Secondary Hyperhidrosis

With this classification, the excessive sweating often occurs in all areas of the body, not just a couple, and you may experience symptoms while you sleep. Secondary hyperhidrosis is a result of an underlying health condition, such as diabetes, gout, infections, mercury poisoning, hypothyroidism, or graves disease.

Absence of Sweat

On the other hand, some people also experience a condition known as Hypohidrosis, which is the absence of sweat and typically occurs as a result of poorly functioning sweat glands. Sweat is your body’s way of releasing excess heat, so you can imagine the dangers of not being able to sweat: you can easily become dehydrated and have a higher-than-normal risk for heatstroke if you suffer from hypohidrosis.

If you think you are sweating too much or not enough, you should talk to your doctor right away to rule out any serious health issues.

Why Sweat Causes Odors

So why do you smell when you sweat? You may notice the smell mostly comes from our armpits, one of the areas where apocrine glands are found. 

Apocrine sweat, or sweat in general is 99% water, and by itself does not have an odor, but when the bacteria that lives on our skin mixes with apocrine secretions, it produces that unpleasant body odor we all know so well.

What can we do to prevent body odor? 

Keep your armpits clean

Wash them regularly using a natural antibacterial soap, which reduces the number of bacteria, resulting in less body odor.  You can also try wiping them down with a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. It’s completely natural, and kills bacteria effectively.

Tame your Hair! 

When armpits have hair, it slows down the evaporation of sweat, giving the bacteria more time to break it down into smelly substances. Shaving the armpits regularly has been found to help body odor control in that area. 

Watch What You Eat

The foods you eat affect your level of body odor because they’re broken down into compounds that circulate in the bloodstream, slowly making their way to your pores where they come out through your sweat, breath, or urine. Although processed foods like refined sugar, commercial dairy, and fried foods can often contribute to body odors, in some cases so can otherwise healthy foods that aren’t properly digested. Healthy, natural foods that can contribute to stinkiness include the usual culprits like garlic, onions, beans, curry and strong spices.

Stress Stinks — Literally 

Stress often makes us sweat, but the reason it can make us smell bad goes even further; in addition to making us sweat, it also causes our sweat glands to produce a type of sweat that is higher in protein and fat molecules, and lower in water than other types of sweat. Bacteria thrive on this type of sweat, which means more bacteria, which means worse smell!

Deodorant or Antiperspirant

Deodorants make your skin more acidic, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. An antiperspirant blocks the sweating action of the glands, resulting in less sweating, but they typically uses aluminum in their products. Some studies, however, have indicated that antiperspirants may be linked to increased breast cancer or prostate cancer risks.

There’s actually been a lot of controversy surrounding the chemical-based ingredients used in deodorants and antiperspirants and their effects on our health The most common chemical ingredients found in everyday deodorant and antiperspirants are parabens, triclosan, phthalates, propylene glycol and aluminum. Research has linked these ingredients to several medical conditions including increased risk of cancer, chronic inflammation, and hormone disruptions.

While several researchers say there’s not enough scientific evidence to support this claim, there does seem to be too much of a correlation between these ingredients and endocrine and hormone disruption, chronic inflammation, increases in autoimmune diseases and the potential increased risk of cancer to just ignore it.

Consider the following:

  • Parabens have been shown to mimic estrogen in the body’s cells, interfering with the way your body produces hormones.
  • Triclosan is actually a pesticide used to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. Many consumer brands add the substance to deodorants to kill bacteria. However, combined with water, triclosan can create the carcinogenic gas chloroform and triclosan has been shown to alter hormone regulation.
  • Phthalates are plasticizers found in children’s toys, fragrances, deodorants and lotions. They’ve been linked asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development, male fertility issues and many more problems.
  • Propylene is used in foods and several consumer products — including antifreeze. The EPA requires gloves when handling it and disposal via burying.   
  • Aluminum has been linked to breast cancer and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A few studies in recent years have theorized that aluminum-based antiperspirants may increase the risk for breast cancer.

According to the authors of these studies, most breast cancers develop in the upper outer part of the breast — the area closest to the armpit, which is where antiperspirants are applied. The studies suggest that chemicals in antiperspirants, including aluminum, are absorbed into the skin. These studies claim that those chemicals may then interact with DNA and could lead to cancerous changes in cells, or interfere with the action of the female hormone estrogen, which is known to influence the growth of breast cancer cells.

These are dangerous ingredients. While there are conflicting reports pertaining to their safety, why would we risk it, especially in something like antiperspirant, which we use on our bodies every day?  

So consider discontinuing use of commercial deodorant and/or antiperspirant and switch to an all-natural, chemical free brand, like Tom’s, Kopari, Native, or Schmidt’s. Or you can make your own all-natural, chemical free deodorant.

All-Natural DIY Deodorant

Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 40–60 drops of your favorite essential oil, (try orange and lavender!)
  • Empty deodorant containers

Directions:

  1. Put coconut oil in a bowl. Mix in baking soda, and then add essential oils. Mix well.
  2. Store in a deodorant container or a glass jar. Keep in a cool place 
  3. Use as needed

Wrap Up 

We spent today talking about the science of sweating! We learned that you are always sweating as a way to regulate body temperature and to assist your immune system in fending off certain viruses and bacteria. Sweating is also a great way to expel toxins and heavy metals from your body.

Sweat is formed by two main types of glands in your body — the eccrine and apocrine glands and we have between 2 and 4 million sweat glands in our body.  Our apocrine sweat glands are the glands that are associated with body odor — not because our sweat smells bad, but because it mixes with the bacteria that lives on our skin. This bacteria thrives on the sweat and leads to that unappealing body odor smell.  

We talked about a number of potentially dangerous chemicals contained in deodorants and antiperspirants, as well as several ways to reduce body odor naturally, including washing the areas frequently, removing hair, using apple cider vinegar to kill bacteria, and using a natural, chemical-free deodorant. We also learned how to make my own all-natural deodorant by mixing up some coconut oil, baking soda and essential oils.

So get out there, and get your sweat on! 

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