Sweating is an essential element of keeping your body temperature regulated but it offers benefits even beyond that. Sweating acts as an important route of detoxification, including helping to excrete toxic metals like arsenic, lead and mercury. It’s been used since ancient times as part of worldwide traditions, from Roman baths and Scandinavian saunas to Aboriginal sweat lodges.
The following are promising roles of sweat in detoxification:
- Sweat may be an important route for excretion of cadmium when an individual is exposed to high levels.
- Sweat-inducing sauna use might provide a therapeutic method to increase elimination of toxic trace metals.
- Sweating should be the initial and preferred treatment of patients with elevated mercury urine levels.
Certain emotions, such as anxiety, anger, embarrassment or fear, can prompt you to sweat more. This — your emotions — is a prime trigger of sweat from your apocrine glands. These glands, by the way, also produce bacteria to break down the sweat, and this process causes body odor.
This is why body odor comes primarily from under your arms, not so much from the sweat that forms on your chest or arms, for instance. In addition, sweat produced from exercise or overheating is made up primarily of water and salt. Sweat produced when you’re stressed also contains water and salt, along with fatty substances and proteins, which interact with bacteria leading to a distinct odor.
Interestingly, people can detect the difference between stress sweat and exercise sweat — and may even change their perception of you because of it. In one study published in the journal PLOS One, men who sniffed women’s stress sweat rated them as less confident, trustworthy and competent.
What’s normal for you may be abnormal for someone else, so it’s hard to pinpoint a “normal” amount of sweating. That being said, many people make efforts to sweat less when in reality they should be taking advantage of opportunities to sweat more.
The use of antiperspirants, which use antimicrobial agents to kill bacteria and other ingredients such as aluminum to block your sweat glands, is one such example that should be avoided (washing with soap and water should be enough to keep the area odor-free). On the other hand, breaking a sweat while you exercise is one reason why physical activity is good for you.
While virtually any type of intense exercise will lead to sweating, exercising in warm temperatures (or in a heated room, such as in Bikram yoga) will create even more sweating. If you’re fit, your body will sweat earlier and easier. Many people frown on this but it’s actually a benefit, because the sooner you start sweating the sooner your body cools down, and this allows you to continue exercising harder and longer.
You can also induce sweating via a sauna, either traditional or infrared. Infrared saunas are a great option and can significantly expedite the detoxification process. Hyperthemic conditioning, or “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use,” appears to also lead to earlier and easier sweating, similar to being fit.
If you’re concerned that your level of sweating isn’t “normal” — either too much or too little — make an appointment with a holistic health care provider to rule out any potential underlying medical conditions.