It’s summer. It’s hot. And you’re sweating. At some point your inner voice may pose a very serious question: “Isn’t sweating the pits?!”
You may be thinking that was rhetorical, but there actually is an answer to the question, and it’s twofold. In one sense, yes, sweating is the pits, though not nearly as “pittish” as it could be, and in another sense, the pits are only part of the equation.
If you’re wondering whether I’ve completely lost my marbles, let me explain what I’m getting at.
The first sense of our question asks whether or not sweating is “the pits,” meaning isn’t sweating a hassle or a pain to deal with. While this can be so, especially if you overheat easily, the truth is we’d be screwed if we didn’t sweat.
When our body temperature rises, our brain tells our sweat glands to get to work so we don’t overheat. Specifically, the eccrine sweat glands, located pretty much all over the body, secrete liquid from our skin’s pores. This alone isn’t enough to cool us down, though. It’s essential for this salty liquid to then evaporate from our skin, which is when the cooling effect occurs. So next time you’re sweating, try not to wipe off the liquid. Let it complete its mission.
Various situations make us sweat. We sweat when we heat up from exerting ourselves during exercise. We sweat when we get nervous before a presentation (though no one really knows what purpose this serves). We even sweat when we’re around someone we find attractive, as a way to make him or her find us attractive as well. We can thank another type of sweat gland, our apocrines, located in the armpits and groin area, for that last scenario.
If we didn’t sweat, our body would overheat, causing heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Plus sweating is a way for our body to get rid of toxins—giving our immune system a boost when it needs it.
Here’s an interesting fact. While pigs do have some sweat glands, those glands are not much use in helping the animals cool down. Instead, pigs cool off by seeking out some mud and rolling around in it. Now tell me, would you rather rely on this method every time you needed to cool down or on the built-in, automatic system our body has in place? Yeah, me too.
Now for the other sense of our question, whereby sweating occurs literally in our pits, as in our armpits. Since the armpits are the most obvious and noticeable location of sweating, I was surprised to discover that this area is actually not where the majority of our eccrine sweat glands are located.
As I learned from digging into Dr. James Forleo’s Health Is Simple, Disease Is Complicated, our eccrine glands are most abundant in the soles of our feet and the palms of our hands. There are more than 3,000 sweat glands per inch on the surface of our palms. Three thousand per inch! That blew my mind.
So, while there are eccrine sweat glands in your armpits, and they can make your pits sweaty under the right conditions, when it comes to perspiring, this area of your body isn’t nearly as prolific as others.
Of course, it’s the smell that goes along with sweat that is probably the main reason people think of sweating as “the pits” (and makes them go around discreetly smelling their “pits”). Yet it isn’t the sweat that causes the odors; it’s proteins and lipids released by that second type of sweat gland, the apocrine glands.
Once the apocrines’ secretions are released, bacteria living on the surface of our armpits have a feeding frenzy on the lipids, allowing the microorganisms to flourish. The bacteria then destroy the outer layer of the secreted proteins, which releases odor. The bacteria can interact with our body in countless other ways to release even more smells.
Deodorant can help counter these odors (as can a healthy, nutrient-dense diet). When choosing one, don’t just grab the multipack of whatever is on sale. Your body doesn’t need the yuck—such as aluminum—that is lurking in those tubes. Instead, consider a more healthful brand, such as Native or Schmidt’s.
Yeah, sweating can be uncomfortable, and a hassle, but the next time you’re tempted to feel annoyed by it, wait long enough to notice the liquid on your skin evaporate, and bask in your ability to cool yourself automatically. Maybe even say thanks to your body. 🙂