From eliminating toxic elements to fighting pathogens, here's a lesson in looking at the bright side.
It’s really a shame that we live in a time and place in which we malign the natural act of sweating. The body is an incredible machine that (most of the time) knows what it is doing – we sweat for a reason, and in fact, we sweat for a number of reasons! But western culture has decided that sweating is icky. Whether we disdain perspiration because of old elitist ideas about leisure versus work, or whether it’s the product of antiperspirant marketing campaigns designed to sweat- and stink-shame the sweaty masses, or for whatever reason … few of us rarely wave our perspiration flag with vigor.
But there is a lot of good that comes from the dewy glowing mix of water and concentrated sodium, chloride, and potassium that oozes from the skin. Consider the following:
It cools the body
Think of this as sweat’s raison d'être. The body gets hot, the skin becomes damp, the moisture evaporates. In this process, energy is absorbed into the air – as in, heat from your body is transferred away – it’s your very own cooling system. Unfortunately this only works when there is room in the air for more water – the air needs to be relatively dry. In a high humidity environment, the air has enough water in it already, thank you very much, and doesn’t want to cart away any of our sweat. But given the right conditions, sweating keeps you cool.
It offers toxic elements an escape route
I might use the word detox here if that word weren’t always tossed around with such sensationalist fervor – so instead I’ll describe it in the words of researchers from the University of Alberta who were looking at bioaccumulated toxic elements and their methods of excretion from the body:
Many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat. Presumably stored in tissues, some toxic elements readily identified in the perspiration of some participants were not found in their serum. Sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body.
Specifically, it can flush BPA
In a study examining the chemical contaminant Bisphenol A (BPA), the tricky and ubiquitous compound that is associated with all kinds of adverse health effects, researchers looked at BPA levels in study participants' blood, urine, and sweat. Since there are no established methods for removing the compound from the body, the study set out to determine if sweating could be used as a way to reduce BPA levels. They found that in 80 percent of the participants, BPA was identified in sweat, even in some of those with no BPA detected in their blood or urine samples. They concluded that indeed, induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of BPA.
It can clear the skin
According to Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, a dermatologist in New York City, pores open when we sweat and that releases the things that linger within. “Sweat purges the body of toxins that can clog pores and plague the skin with pimples and blemishes,” she says.
It helps to heal wounds
The millions of eccrine sweat glands in human skin serve another surprising function, they aid in the healing of skin wounds like scrapes and burns. Research from the University of Michigan found that these glands store an important reservoir of adult stem cells that are used to aid wound healing. “We have discovered that humans heal their skin in a very unique way, different from other mammals,” says the study’s lead author, Laure Rittié. “The regenerative potential of sweat glands has been one of our body’s best-kept secrets.”
It coats us in an antibacterial protective layer
What? A study by an international team of researchers and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a natural antibiotic is produced when we sweat. These natural antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are active against small and large bugs alike, even pathogens such as tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and the dastardly Staphylococcus aureus. So while we think sweating is a dirty thing, it’s actually quite the opposite. And with that in mind, bring on the heat!
(On the flip side, of course, remember that sweating depletes the body of hydration; when you're reveling in your newfound glowing glory, don't forget to replenish with water.)