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The Truth about Sweat

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We’ve all experienced the uncomfortable moment when beads of perspiration begin to form on our bodies. It is easily explained as the temperature rises to an uncomfortable level or you’re working your muscles with various forms of exercise. The repeated ‘sweats’ that most menopausal women face are no picnic either and they arrive without warning causing discomfort and embarrassment. Nerves from stressful situations can also cause the unwanted sensation, leading to damp palms and sticky under-arms at the worst possible moment.

Perspiration, or sweat, is simply your body’s way of cooling itself. But did you know that there is difference between the sweat on your palms and the sweat in your armpits? Also, you’ve probably noticed that your skin tastes salty after a workout. Read on and I’ll explain why.

Sweat glands are distributed over the entire body, except for the lips, nipples, and external genital organs. There are two types of sweat glands:

  • Eccrine are the smaller, most numerous glands and are found all over the body, particularly on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and forehead. They are active from birth and produce a sweat that is free of proteins and fatty acids.
  • Apocrineare mostly confined to the armpits and the anal-genital area. They typically end in hair follicles rather than pores and become active only at puberty.When the sweat gland is stimulated, the eccrine cells secrete a fluid that is mostly water and has high concentrations of sodium and chloride and a low concentration of potassium. When your body is at rest or the temperature is cool, cells reabsorb most of the sodium and chlorine from the fluid. When you’re exercising or the temperature is high, cells do not have enough time to reabsorb all of sodium and chloride, causing a great deal of sweat to accumulate on the surface of the skin.Sweat from apocrine glands is thicker and has a milkier or yellowish color caused by proteins and fatty acids. Sweat itself has no odor, but when bacteria on the skin and hair metabolize the proteins and fatty acids, they produce an unpleasant odor and produce yellowish underarm stains in clothing. That is the reason deodorants and antiperspirants are applied to the underarms instead of the whole body.When the water in the sweat evaporates, it leaves the salts (sodium, chloride, and potassium) behind on your skin, which is why your skin tastes salty. The loss of excessive amounts of salt and water from your body can quickly dehydrate you, which can lead to circulatory problems, kidney failure, and heat stroke. It is therefore important to drink plenty of fluids when you exercise or are outside in high temperatures.

    When you are nervous, anxious, or afraid, there is an increase in sympathetic nerve activity in your body which increases secretion from your adrenal gland. These substances act on your sweat glands, particularly those on the palms of your hand and your armpits, to make sweat which feels like a ‘cold’ sweat.

    Women experiencing excessive sweating, usually on the palms of the hand or the armpits, that is not caused by emotional or physical activity can be caused by any of the following:

  • Hormonal imbalances such as menopause
  • Overactive thyroid gland which increases body metabolism and heat production
  • Certain foods and medications such as coffee with its high amounts of caffeine
  • Over-activity of the sympathetic nervous systemThis condition can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but can be treated by medications and surgical procedures.
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