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Health & Wellbeing / Ali Horsfall

The Body Experts: Why Do I Sweat?

Slippery armpits, a slow trickle of back sweat, that clammy, hot patch under the boobs; sweating is something we all do. And it’s not just in the summer or when you’re exercising that the bodily fluid flows. Melting under a coat in the depths of winter, or getting sticky, sweat-patch armpits just before an important meeting, happens too.

But as much as we want to ward off those dreaded droplets, let’s take a moment to celebrate sweat instead. It plays an important part in keeping our body healthy, after all. Today, we hear the facts on perspiration and get sussed on all things sweaty.

What’s it all about?

Sweat is a lifesaver. Think of the function as having a mini thermostat in your body – it stops us from overheating and blowing a fuse. When your core temperature rises above its “normal” 37 °C – either from exercising, the hot weather, or having too many blankets on your bed – messages are sent from your brain to the body’s sweat glands with instructions to GO, GO, GO. Perspiration then comes up through your pores, evaporates, and cools your body down.

As well as these temperature-reducing talents, sweat also flushes out toxins from the body, revving up your circulation at the same time. This is why sweating can go hand-in-hand with a raging hangover.

Emotional sweating is a thing too. When we’re nervous, stressed or embarrassed we’re likely to sweat more. Clammy hands on a first date or a sweaty upper lip in a job interview, is way more likely to be caused by nerves than the temperature of your body.

Go glands

There are a lot of sweat glands in the body – between two and four million – and there are two different types of sweat glands, both with a different job to do.

The eccrine glands are all over the skin but mainly found on the palms of your hands, soles of the feet, armpits and forehead. The sweat produced by these glands is made up of mostly water, salt and electrolytes and usually doesn’t smell.

Apocrine glands develop during puberty in areas where there are hair follicles such as armpits and the groin. These glands secrete a milky fluid that’s odourless until it mixes with bacteria on the skin, and then it turns whiffy (that’s the B.O smell we know so well). It’s these glands that are super-sensitive to adrenaline and stress so will kick in when your emotions do.

“The medical term for body odour is bromhidrosis and the things that can make it worse include being overweight, consuming rich or spicy food and drink – such as garlic, spices and alcohol, some types of medication – such as antidepressants, and certain medical conditions – a fruity smell can sometimes be a sign of diabetes, while a bleach-like smell may indicate liver or kidney disease,” explains the NHS.

Manage the sweat

You lose fluids when you sweat so drink plenty of liquids to prevent yourself from getting dehydrated – especially when exercising. To help minimise the sweat factor in hot weather, clothes in natural, lightweight fabrics work best. Meditation and relaxation techniques will help to control the stress triggering hormones that cause sweating and an antiperspirant deodorant can manage moist armpits –prescription antiperspirants containing high levels of aluminum chloride can be used for problem sweating.

The average person can sweat up to a litre of fluid a day (yes, really) without cause for concern, but the NHS says that, “hyperhidrosis, is a condition where a person sweats excessively and much more than the body needs to regulate temperature,” and this can affect the whole body or just certain areas. You should chat to your doctor if your sweat is really making you suffer.


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