Pop star Ariana Grande once said:
“When life deals us cards/ Make everything taste like it is salt/ Then you come through like the sweetener you are/ To bring the bitter taste to a halt.”
When it comes to your own sweat, don’t listen to what Ari says: A distinct salty flavor is what you want.
This is because sweating is your body’s natural way of not only cooling down, but also detoxing — no juices or cleanses necessary.
But while salt is a pretty universal part of sweat, not everyone sweats the same. Let’s get into the science behind sweat, what the research says about its benefits, and what conditions might affect how much you sweat.
Sweat is mostly water that your body produces to cool down. This kind of sweat is produced by the eccrine glands, located largely around your armpits, foreheads, the soles of your feet, and the palms of your hands.
Eccrine gland components
Within watery eccrine sweat fluid are numerous other components, including:
- Sodium (Na+). This is released to help maintain the sodium balance in your body. It’s what makes your sweat taste salty.
- Proteins. Nearly
95 different proteinsare found in sweat, which help boost your immune system defenses and strengthen your skin.
- Urea (CH4N2O). This waste product is made by your liver when it processes protein. Urea is released in sweat to
keep it from building upto toxic levels.
- Ammonia (NH3). This waste product is released in sweat when your kidneys can’t filter out all the nitrogen in urea from your liver.
Apocrine gland components
Your body also produces stress sweat from the apocrine glands. These are found in the largest concentrations in your armpits, chest, and groin area. They’re also the glands responsible for your body odor (BO).
Food and exercise also affect your sweat
What you eat and the intensity of your workouts can also affect how much you sweat and how much salt is in your sweat.
- The more salt you eat, the saltier your sweat tastes. Your body needs to get rid of all that salt somehow. Sweat is your body’s foremost process of salt removal so that it can maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure.
- The more intensely you exercise, the more salt you lose in your sweat. You lose over three times as much salt in sweat during high-intensity workouts, such as when playing American football or endurance sports, as you do during low-intensity workouts.
Sweat isn’t always comfortable, especially if you’re sweating buckets before an important meeting or during a hot, stuffy commute.
But sweating has numerous benefits, including:
- clearing your skin pores of dirt, bacteria, and other substances that may be
clogging your pores
- cleansing bacteria buildup on your skin by binding microbes to compounds in sweat called glycoproteins and washing them off your skin, also known by the cool term “microbial adhesion”
- lowering your risk of developing kidney stones if you hydrate frequently as you sweat, allowing proteins and minerals to be released through both sweat and urine
- removing toxic heavy metals from your body in high concentrations, especially
if you regularly exercise and sweat
- removing toxic chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) and
bisphenol A (BPA), that are commonly found in plastics and other common products, which can have negative long-term physical and cognitive effects
But sweating can also have some downsides.
Here are some of the more bothersome symptoms of sweating that may result from dietary and lifestyle choices or an underlying condition:
- Acidic sweat: may result from acidosis, a buildup of too much acid in your body from your diet, your body’s inability to break down acids, or even from exercising too frequently
- Stinky sweat: can result from stress sweat produced by the apocrine glands or when you consume certain foods and beverages, such as red meat and alcohol
- Stinging, salty sweat: means you may be consuming too much salt, which is then being released in your sweat and making it sting your eyes or any open cuts
- Fish-smelling sweat or urine: is often a sign of trimethylaminuria — this happens when your body can’t break down the compound trimethylamine, so it’s released directly into your sweat, resulting in a fishy odor
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis): is a condition that means you sweat a lot
Cystic fibrosis results from a mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene.
The CFTR gene causes thick, sticky mucus buildup that can get to dangerous levels in major organs like the lungs, liver, and intestines.
The CFTR gene also influences how water and sodium are transported throughout cells in your body, often resulting in higher amounts of sodium chloride (NaCl) being released in your sweat.
Sweating too much (hyperhidrosis) is often just a harmless genetic condition. This form is called primary focal hyperhidrosis.
But another type, known as secondary generalized hyperhidrosis, starts when you get older and can result from:
- heart disease
- adrenal gland disorders
- spinal cord injuries
- lung disease
- Parkinson’s disease
It can also be a side effects of medications, such as:
- desipramine (Norpramin)
- nortriptyline (Pamelor)
- zinc dietary supplements
Sweating is a natural, necessary process. Not sweating is not a good thing, and it could mean that your sweat glands aren’t working.
As you age, it’s normal for your ability to sweat to diminish. Conditions that damage your autonomic nerves, such as diabetes, also make problems with your sweat glands more likely.
If you don’t sweat at all, even when you exercise regularly, you may have a condition called hypohidrosis. This condition can be caused by:
Any condition that causes nerve damage can disrupt the functioning of your sweat glands. This includes:
- Ross syndrome
- alcohol misuse disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
- multiple system atrophy
- Sjögren syndrome
- small cell lung cancer
- Fabry disease
- Horner syndrome
- skin damage from injury, infection, or radiation
- exfoliative dermatitis
- heat rash
- side effect of medications called anticholinergics
- hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, or being born with few or no sweat glands
Like sweat, tears are part water, part salt, part thousands of other components that contribute to its salty taste, including:
- fatty oils
over 1,500 proteins
- sodium, which gives tears their characteristic salty taste
Don’t sweat the salty taste of your sweat: It’s supposed to taste that way because your body’s removing extra chemicals and compounds while also keeping your pores clear, your skin clean, and your body cool.
Tell Ari to put the sweetener away and enjoy the bitter taste of functional metabolic processes.