Friday, July 15, 2011

Sweating About Sweat

By Lee Waites

Let’s say you pick up a newspaper and begin to read (we realize that, these days, picturing people reading a newspaper requires a leap of imagination, but work with us on this). You happen to read several articles about war, the faltering economy, stupid things said by your favorite political candidate, horrible child murders, etc. During all this you begin to think about your own situation, your own bank account slipping down to nothing, bills that you can’t pay, or horrible child murders. And your palms begin to sweat. You read on--anxiety rising and collar tightening. The next thing you know, you’re wiping your brow. Then you can’t take it anymore. You scream, tear off your shirt, climb onto a nearby table, and begin to scream bible verses.

The last part may indicate a mental illness, and you should seek help. But the part just before that, where you were sweating, is a natural, normal, and healthy reaction to stress.

We all know that perspiration helps cool us off and can also be a response to stress. With global climate change, and with the need to explain how mankind is affecting it to, let’s say, your brother-in-law, sweating is bound to occur more and more frequently. That’s a good enough reason to get curious about it, so here’s a little lesson.

Apocrine sweat glands are responsible for the sweat produced as a reaction to stress. They are not producing sweat to cool you down, but to deliver messages from your body in the form of scent. These sweat glands produce a thicker sweat that helps spread pheromones, the sexy scents our bodies put off. Apocrine glands are not as numerous as your other sweat glands, but they are found in key areas of the body associated with . . . y’know . . . sex. Don’t get confused though. That man stink you smell as your brother-in-law puts you in a headlock after dinner while accusing you of spreading socialist propaganda is actually the smell of bacteria nibbling on his sebaceous secretions, the oily mix of dead fat cells secreted to keep skin and hair lubricated. That isn’t sexy pheromones . . . not that he isn’t a little excited to be beating up on you. His man stink is mostly just stink.

The normal, everyday, cooling sweat glands are called eccrine sweat glands, the ones that produce the clear, salty, watery sweat that evaporates quickly to cool the body. Humans have the most sweat glands of any animal. We evolved that way because our upright posture, along with a nomadic lifestyle prevalent throughout most of human history, produced lots of body heat. Although now, in the developed world at least, most of us only move from one air conditioned box to another air conditioned box.

There are a number of sources on the Internet that claim sweating, by removing fluid from your body, frees up toxins in fatty tissues, and then the loosened up toxins can be more easily removed by the liver and kidneys. However, we could find no credible, empirical evidence that this is true. According to Dr. Justin Osborne, a UAB Emergency room physician, the most important thing to remember about sweating is it keeps you cool. “Sweating does a number of things . . . Think of your body as a house. The hypothalamus is the thermostat. It sends signals to sweat when your body is under stress. This stress can actually increase endogenous toxins such as lactic acid. It also moves blood which is normally available to the kidneys outward toward the extremities. This can decrease the (filtration) of the kidneys.”

Dr. Osborne believes the most important thing for people to remember when you are sweating a lot, whatever the reason, is to drink plenty of fluids and to replace spent electrolytes.

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