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What is sweat good for?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

If you listen to commercials, you should never let anyone see you sweat. However, that sweat is very important. "During heavy exercise, your muscles generate enough heat to boil several cups of coffee," Dr. Oz, Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, says. Without sweating, "heat would literally cook your internal organs and kill you."

Just below your skin are 3 million sweat glands, each a coiled tube four feet long loaded with liquid. As your body heats up the tubes contract and squeeze a droplet of sweat out onto your skin. As the sweat evaporates, it draws heat away from your body, cooling you.

And, as a special bonus feature, sweat can influence and attract people around you. "The apocrine glands-they're the ones in your armpits and in your genital areas-they actually release chemicals that signal to each other like animals: pheromones. You will instinctively like somebody or not based on their smell," Dr. Oz says.

Can sweat be bad?

"First of all, sweat by itself doesn't smell," Dr. Oz says. "What does smell is when the sweat gets bacteria in it. Some people's sweat have chemicals that are particularly attractive to bacteria. Sweat itself comes out normal in its shape and its smell but the bacteria love it, so they just grow and grow and grow and multiply."

A particularly strong smell signals one of two things: diet and bacteria. This smelly sweat may contain some sugar, but sometimes sweat actually inhibits bacteria growth and sometimes it encourages it. Those with particularly smelly sweat may have bacteria already colonized on their body, Dr. Oz says. "Anti-bacterial soaps are sometimes helpful to get those out. In terms of how much you sweat, that varies a lot, and sweat's not a bad thing because it means you're getting rid of some excess energy. That stated, for a lot of Americans it's related to hormonal problems, so thyroid gland issues are of concern."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.