Monday, September 15, 2003

What Is In Sweat?

Now that springtime has finally arrived, so has the Sun. More Sun means higher temperatures and more time to spend outside playing. Oftentimes, Sun, heat and sports equal sweat. I am sure most of you have experienced this but do any of you know why this occurs? Do any of you know what sweat exactly is? If not, read this.

Sweat or perspiration is the fluid produced by sweat glands. Sweat glands are found mainly in the skin of the armpit. But, other areas on the body produce sweat. This would include your forehead, hands and feet.

But, what is it made of? Sweat is a mixture of water, ions, urea, uric acid, amino acid, ammonia, glucose, lactic acid and ascorbic acid. What are all these things? Water is just that---water. Ions include sodium, which is represented by the chemical symbol Na+ and chloride, which is represented as Cl-. These are often thought of as together as salt. They help to make our sweat so sticky and "salty."

These important ions are taken away from the body when they are "sweated out." When an athlete exercises for several hours in the hot sun, they lose lots of sodium and chloride and other types of electrolytes. Electrolytes are any compound that separates into ions when dissolved into water and is able to conduct electricity. They are very important to helping us stay hydrated or with enough water to function. A water loss of as little as three percent hurts our ability to run, walk and think. When we sweat a lot, we lose lot of electrolytes. This is why products such as Gatorade were created. They provide athletes, who sweat a lot during workouts and games, with much needed water and electrolytes.

Okay, so we know what electrolytes are. What about all those other things in sweat? Urea, amino acid and ammonia are products that are made from the break down of protein. Protein is found in foods such as meat, fish, eggs and milk. Proteins serve many roles in the body: they help us grow, help with chemical reactions in the body, help control body processes through hormones, help protect the body against foreign invaders through antibodies, help in maintaining hydration, help maintain they body's acid-base balance, transport substances such as oxygen around the body and also provide us with energy to walk, talk and breathe. Proteins are important!

Glucose or "sugar" provides the body with energy too. Lactic acid is produced when we use up our glucose stores in the muscle. It causes the burning feeling in our muscles when we exercise a lot. Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is found in oranges. It helps with many key body functions.

All these important things are in that sticky fluid that runs down our face when we exercise outside when it is hot.

But, why do we sweat? Sweat helps to regulate the body's temperature. It provides a way to cool the body down. It also gets rid of some of the body's waste products such as lactic acid that the body does not need.

Obviously, sweating is important for the body. It is also important to remember when we are outside sweating away to drink plenty of water and, if needed, sports drinks like Gatorade to replace our lost electrolytes.