Hot and Sweaty
Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
The summer is upon us, and yes, it’s pretty warm out there. If you’ve spent any time outdoors—or you don’t have access to air conditioning—chances are you’ve been sweating. But have you ever thought about sweat and the process of perspiration?
Why do we sweat? Heat-induced sweating occurs when the body attempts to cool itself off—like generating its own sprinkler system. Sweating can release up to 580 kJ of heat from the body (that’s a lot), which is a good thing when the temperatures are high. But in the process of releasing heat, sweat also releases several key compounds: water, electrolytes, and minor toxins. Let’s discuss each of these.
Water and Electrolytes
Since the majority of sweat volume is water, it’s incredibly important to keep adequately hydrated in the heat. During intense heat or hard physical workouts, your body requires 20 to 40 fluid ounces of water to replace what’s been lost through sweating.
What about electrolytes? These are charged particles that are necessary to keep your body’s cells functioning properly, similar to how motor oil is required for your car’s engine to run smoothly. Electrolytes are responsible for muscle contraction, nerve signal transmission, body fluid regulation, and pH maintenance. Common electrolytes in your sweat include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Electrolytes are a bit trickier to replenish than water. Depending on the heat and the rate of your physical exercise, you may need to replenish up to 500 mg of sodium, for example (less of other electrolytes). How can you do recoup what you’ve lost?
Although what might come to mind is a colourful sports drink, these often contain unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and artificial flavouring (not to mention artificial colour). If you want something pre-made, look for more “natural” options—drinks with few additives—at your local natural/health foods store.
But you don’t need to buy something specialized; you can also make an electrolyte drink using common kitchen ingredients Squeeze one lemon (or ½ lemon and ½ lime) into a litre of water, and add four shakes of sea salt. If you wish, you can also add ½ squeezed orange (or 1/3 cup orange juice) to your drink to flavour it. Another simple homemade electrolyte drink uses 1/2 tsp baking soda combined with a spoon of honey, in one litre of water.
Sweating not only cools you off, it also offers another health benefit: detoxification. At the spa you might spend time in a sauna to sweat out some toxins, and this is a cheaper version of the same idea. Although detoxification is not the main purpose of sweating, it’s definitely an added health benefit even though it is on a minor scale. Sweating can release nickel and lead as well as small amounts of other compounds.
A Final Thought
Sometimes you might wonder whether sweating is a good idea, considering the water and electrolyte loss. However, normal sweating in response to heat is an essential bodily process. Not only does it increase your metabolic rate and cool your body heat, but it also can leach out minor amounts of toxins, and, if accompanied by proper hydration and electrolyte balance, can result in increased energy and an overeall feeling of well-being. Start sweating safely today!
Katie D'Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently practices in Ontario.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.
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