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A Lot More to Sweat Than Meets the Eye

February 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 93

To most of us, sweat is somewhat of a nuisance. Particularly when we are in social settings and we notice that our underarm sweat glands have been a little more active than we like them to be. In fact, some of us have very active sweat glands and perspire excessively - a condition medically referred to as hyperhidrosis. Actually, sweating or perspiring is an essential process, a key mechanism necessary for proper maintenance of body temperature. When our body starts to overheat (sources include ambient temperature, emotion, metabolic and movement energy), brain sensors will send signals that stimulate sweat glands to produce a relatively salty fluid. Body heat is liberated as the warm sweat works its way through tiny ducts eventually reaching the surface pores. This is a very efficient process with some areas of our body having a gland density in the order of 700 per square centimeter - or about 1800 per square inch. That's a lot of little pumps working to release excess heat. Men tend to have a higher density of sweat glands. This is likely the result of thousands of years of evolution, the male species needing to cool off more efficiently due the energy requiring duties of hunting and gathering.

A closer look at sweat also reveals information that many of us are unaware of. Most of us know that sweat is a little salty, probably the result of lapping up a drop running down the side of face. This salty taste is due to a content of elements such as sodium, calcium, and potassium - pretty simple chemistry so far. Having said this, the chemistry of sweat has become a little more complicated in recent years. Other more sophisticated and complex components have been identified including proteins, peptides (small proteins) and enzymes. Some of the more interesting ingredients that have been discovered include peptides with antimicrobial activity. These are collectively known as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). There is now increasing evidence that AMPs such as dermcidin and lactoferrin play a crucial role in human immunity. Some studies have demonstrated that individuals with atopic dermatitis are more prone to skin infections. And, you are right to think that these individuals have a lower concentration of AMPs in their sweat gland secretions.

But our interest in sweat doesn't stop here. Sweat glands have helped us significantly in better understanding a devastating disease. On its travels up to the surface of the skin, sweat is partially desalinated by the ducts leading to the pores. It is actually an exchange process that occurs across the ducts' cellular lining - water is pulled into the duct while salt is reabsorbed back into the body. In individuals with cystic fibrosis (CF), the sweat gland ducts are unable to reabsorb the salty components found in sweat. The result is sweat that is significantly saltier than the norm. This fact has served us well over the years given that we have used this knowledge to diagnose cystic fibrosis. As far back as 400 years ago (keeping in mind the medical sciences were still very primitive) a Spanish doctor (Alonso y de los Ruyz FONTEC) made the observation that the 'fingers on the forehead of the bewitched children have a salty taste'. In 1857, the German historian Ernst Ludwig Rochholz wrote "The child will soon die whose forehead kiss is salty". Unfortunately very little could be done for the condition during those times as the medical sciences were quite primitive.

For more on sweat, particularly if are an individual that sweats excessively, feel free to visit

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