By Dr. Mercola
Sweating is a natural, essential body process designed to help your body stay cool. But some may wonder whether it’s beneficial to encourage your body to sweat more for reasons beyond temperature control.
The New York Times recently published an article that concluded “sweating, per se, provides no health benefits” aside from preventing overheating,1 but I, and many other experts, believe there’s far more to the story than this.
Why Sweating Is Important
You have two different types of sweat glands: eccrine sweat glands, which are distributed over your entire body, and apocrine sweat glands, located on your scalp, armpits, and genital area.
While abhorred by many, sweating actually has numerous health- and beauty-related benefits. Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and serves important roles just like any other bodily organ. For example, sweating helps your body:
- Maintain proper temperature and keep you from overheating
- Expel toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload
- Kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Clean the pores, which will help eliminate blackheads and acne
Interestingly, you’re born with anywhere between 2 million and 4 million sweat glands, and the number of such glands you have will determine, in part, how much you sweat. While women generally have more sweat glands than men, men’s glands tend to be more active and produce more sweat.2
As your body temperature rises, your body will automatically perspire to release salty liquid from your sweat glands to help cool you down.
This is controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which you cannot consciously control. However, certain emotions, such as anxiety, anger, embarrassment, or fear, can prompt you to sweat more.
Since exercise raises your body temperature, sweating associated with exercise is a sign that you’re exerting yourself and gaining the many benefits that exercise has to offer. However, sweating in and of itself may also be beneficial.
Sweating May Fight Skin Infections Via Antimicrobial Properties and Reduce Kidney Stones
Dermcidin is an antimicrobial peptide with a broad spectrum of activity that is expressed in eccrine sweat glands and secreted into sweat. In the average healthy person, research shows that sweating leads to a reduction of viable bacteria on your skin surface, which may lower your risk of skin infections.
In fact, one study suggested that people with atopic dermatitis, who have recurrent bacterial or viral skin infections, may be lacking dermcidin in their sweat, which may impair the innate defense system in human skin.3
Research has also shown that people who exercise, and therefore sweat more, have a lower risk of kidney stones. One reason for this may be because they sweat out more salt, rather than having it go into the kidneys where it may contribute to stone formation. People who sweat more also tend to drink more water, which is another way to lower your risk of kidney stones.
Sweating May Help Your Body Detoxify
Your skin is a major organ of elimination, but many people do not sweat on a regular basis. This is why repeated use of a sweat-inducing sauna slowly restores skin elimination, which can help reduce your toxic load quite significantly.
The use of sweating as a form of detoxification is downplayed by modern medicine, yet it has been valued as a form of cleansing since ancient times. According to one systematic review published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health:4
“Sweating has long been perceived to promote health, not only accompanying exercise but also with heat. Worldwide traditions and customs include Roman baths, Aboriginal sweat lodges, Scandinavian saunas (dry heat; relative humidity from 40% to 60%), and Turkish baths (with steam).”
The review found that toxins including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are excreted in sweat and noted:
“Sweating is not only observed to enhance excretion of the toxic elements of interest in this paper, but also may increase excretion of diverse toxicants, as observed in New York rescue workers, or in particular persistent flame retardants and bisphenol-A. …Optimizing the potential of sweating as a therapeutic excretory mechanism merits further research.”
The researchers noted the following 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 levels5
Sweating May Help Rid Your Body of Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Phthalates
One of the most ubiquitous chemical contaminants of the 21st century is BPA. BPA is an endocrine disrupter, which means it mimics or interferes with your body’s hormones and “disrupts” your endocrine system. The glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they release are instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.
Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life, in utero exposure to BPA, which can lead to chromosomal errors in your developing fetus, causing spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage. But evidence is also very strong showing these chemicals are influencing adults and children, too, and leading to decreased sperm quality, early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles and ovarian dysfunction, cancer, and heart disease, among numerous other health problems.
Research has shown that BPA is often detected in human sweat, sometimes even when it is not found in blood or urine testing. The study concluded that not only should sweat analysis be considered as a tool for monitoring bioaccumulation of BPA, but also that induced sweating may be a potential method of elimination for this widespread toxin.6
Further, inducing sweating has also been found to help eliminate another pervasive environmental chemical, phthalates, from your body – including the particularly toxic DEHP. At this point, there’s really no telling just how many toxic elements may be excreted via your sweat, but the research is pointing to many.7 In yet another study to look at the role of sweating as a form of toxics elimination, it was found that many toxic elements were preferentially excreted through sweat. Those researchers also concluded:8
“Presumably stored in tissues, some toxic elements readily identified in the perspiration of some participants were not found in their serum. Induced sweating appears to be a potential method for elimination of many toxic elements from the human body. Biomonitoring for toxic elements through blood and/or urine testing may underestimate the total body burden of such toxicants. Sweat analysis should be considered as an additional method for monitoring bioaccumulation of toxic elements in humans.”
Interestingly, profuse sweating can actually help decrease body odor. Foul body odor is related to the toxins being expelled – it’s not your “natural” scent. If you’re living a “clean” lifestyle, meaning a lifestyle in which you’re minimally exposed to dietary and environmental toxins and therefore have a low toxic burden, your sweat will be close to odorless.
How to Safely Sweat More
Virtually any type of intense exercise will prompt you to sweat, although doing so in warm weather (or in a heated room, such as in Bikram yoga) will create even more sweating. 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. It heats your tissues several inches deep, which can enhance your natural metabolic processes. It also enhances circulation and helps oxygenate your tissues.
The difference between an infrared sauna and the traditional Finnish-style saunas is that the latter heats you up from the outside in, like an oven. The infrared sauna heats you from the inside out, raising your body’s core temperature and resulting in a deeper, more cleansing sweat. It’s said that using an infrared sauna will cause you to produce a sweat that is composed of 20 percent toxins, compared to only 3 percent toxins by using a traditional sauna.9
Keep in mind that sweating, especially heavy sweating, will cause your body to lose valuable fluids and electrolytes. Be sure to stay well hydrated if you’ve been sweating heavily and replace your electrolytes naturally by drinking coconut water or water mixed with Himalayan salt.
Sources and References
- 1 NYTimes.com December 27, 2013
- 2 Medline Plus Sweating
- 3 The Journal of Immunology June 15, 2005
- 4 J Environ Public Health. 2012; 2012: 184745.
- 5 J Occup Med. 1973 Jul;15(7):590-1.
- 6 J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:185731.
- 7 GreenMedInfo.com July 23, 2013
- 8 Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011 Aug;61(2):344-57.
- 9 Examiner November 29, 2012