Science, Summer, and the Significance of Sweating

By: Kaitlyn Powers

Courtesy of Mike Keeling.

As inconvenient and uncomfortable as it might be, sweating, also known as perspiring, has important biological underpinnings that help the body regulate its temperature. Each human has about 2 to 4 million sweat glands, which begin to fully activate during puberty. These glands receive signals from the autonomic nervous system, which manages actions that are inherently involuntary (like the heart beating or blood vessels widening). Once these signals are transferred with the help of a specific neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, the clear, salty liquid known as sweat is sent through ducts to the skin.

While sweat is commonly associated with bad smells and unflattering clothing stains, in reality sweat is odorless and mostly colorless. Sweat, when mixed with bacteria on the skin’s surface, produces the smell people refer to, and most times the “yellow underarm stains are caused by your apocrine glands, which contain proteins and fatty acids and thus make underarm secretions thick and milky” (Live Science). Despite the less desirable effects of sweating, the process is crucial to helping a person’s body stay cool and avoid the danger of overheating. Anhidrosis, a condition in which individuals do not sweat, can cause harmful health consequences including heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

When a person does sweat (whether it be from the heat, physical activity, etc.), however, the body loses fluid. Thus, it’s important to remember, especially in the summer, to refill your body with fluid to compensate for the loss from sweating. Without enough fluid to function correctly, the body can become dehydrated. With the average person needing up to 3 quarts of water on a normal day, preventing dehydration by drinking water is good to keep in mind as temperatures continue to rise this summer.



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