Summer weather is hot. Heat warms the body. The body needs to cool down somehow. So, we sweat! In fact, sweating is a very strictly regulated process that the body performs whenever its temperature deviates from its normal set point. When the body gets too warm, whether this is due to some internal change like a fever or due to the 30°C GTA weather, many physiological processes can’t function at their best. Enzymes work best at a certain temperature, so does brain function. Because of the potential effects of heat on these functions, the body works very efficiently to keep cool. By producing sweat from sweat glands and secreting it through the pores, the surface of the skin gets covered with a layer of moisture that absorbs the heat from the body as it evaporates into the surrounding air. Thus, the body cools down as it warms and evaporates the sweat it has produced! In addition to cooling the body, sweat offers a detox benefit. When we look at our organs of elimination, our liver, kidneys and bowels, among others, we often overlook our skin, our largest organ of elimination! Sweat is one of the ways our body eliminates built up toxins.
We do have to help our body along though. While sweat is very effective at cooling the body, prolonged exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms to watch for are severe sweating (more than is normal for you), dizziness, nausea, confusion, fatigue, weakness, headaches, muscle cramps, paleness, and loss of consciousness. If these symptoms occur, it is important to cool down by moving to a cool place, staying hydrated, applying cold packs, and seeking medical attention if needed. Prevention is key here: keep cool and hydrated, wear clothing appropriate to the weather, and take breaks from the heat when you can.
Because sweating is so important, the absence of sweat can be a real problem. Impaired sweating can result from a range of underlying problems, from clogged pores to improper ‘thermostat’ function in the brain. If you experience impaired sweating, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the cause of the impairment and determine the right course of action to treat it. Hyperhidrosis is a condition that results in excess sweating. This may occur all over the body or be localized to the palms, feet, armpits, etc. Again, this condition can result for many reasons but can often be linked to nervous system disorders. Consult with your naturopathic doctor on the various natural ways you can address hyperhidrosis.
The different functions of sweat, outlined here, should highlight the importance of supporting, and not blocking the production and secretion of sweat. So, what’s the problem with using antiperspirants? Antiperspirants are products that inhibit the secretion of sweat. They do this through the use of various chemicals that act by tightening and blocking pores to prevent the secretion of sweat from the sweat glands. In addition to inhibiting sweat, some of the chemicals commonly used in antiperspirants can have long-term negative effects on health. A better option is to consider a naturally sourced “deodorant” that, instead of inhibiting sweat, acts to neutralize odours and to naturally control bacteria that could produce body odour.