February 5, 2009 by TMO
Perspiration (also called sweating or sometimes transpiration) is the production of a fluid, consisting primarily of water as well as various dissolved solids (chiefly chlorides), that is excreted by the sweat glands in the skin of mammals. Sweat also contains the chemicals or odorants 2-methylphenol (o-cresol) and 4-methylphenol (p-cresol), as well as a small amount of urea, and is only on mammals.
In humans, sweating is primarily a means of thermoregulation, although it has been proposed that components of male sweat can act as pheromonal cues. Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface has a cooling effect due to the latent heat of evaporation of water. Hence, in hot weather, or when the individualâ€™s muscles heat up due to exertion, more sweat is produced. Sweating is increased by nervousness and nausea and decreased by cold. Animals with few sweat glands, such as dogs, accomplish similar temperature regulation results by panting, which evaporates water from the moist lining of the oral cavity and pharynx. Primates and horses have armpits that sweat similarly to those of humans.
Sweating allows the body to regulate its temperature. Sweating is controlled from a center in the preoptic and anterior regions of thehypothalamus where thermosensitive neurons are located. The heat regulatory function of the hypothalamus is also affected by inputs from temperature receptors in the skin. High skin temperature reduces the hypothalamic set point for sweating and increases the gain of the hypothalamic feedback system in response to variations in core temperature. Overall, however, the sweating response to a rise in core temperature is much larger than the response to the same increase in average skin temperature. The process of sweating decreases core temperature, whereas the process of evaporation decreases surface temperature.
There are two situations in which our nerves will stimulate sweat glands making us sweat: during physical heat, and emotional stress. Emotionally induced sweating is generally restricted to palms, soles, and sometimes the forehead, while physical heat induced sweating occurs throughout the body.
Sweat is not pure water; it always contains a small amount (0.2 – 1%) of solute. When a person moves from a cold climate to a hot climate, adaptive changes occur in their sweating mechanisms. This process is referred to as acclimatisation: the maximum rate of sweating increases and its solute composition decreases. The volume of water lost in sweat daily is highly variable, ranging from 100 to 8,000 mL/day. The solute loss can be as much as 350 mmol/day (or 90 mmol/day acclimatised) of sodium under the most extreme conditions. In a cool climate & in the absence of exercise, sodium loss can be very low (less than 5 mmols/day). Sodium concentration in sweat is 30-65 mmol/l, depending on the degree of acclimatisation.
Sweat contains mainly water. It also contains minerals, as well as lactate and urea. Mineral composition will vary with the individual, the acclimatisation to heat, exercise and sweating, the particular stress source (exercise, sauna, etc.), the duration of sweating, and the composition of minerals in the body. An indication of the minerals content is: sodium 0.9 gram/liter, potassium 0.2 gram/liter, calcium 0.015 gram/liter, magnesium 0.0013 gram/liter.
Many other trace elements are excreted in sweat, again an indication of their concentration is (although measurements can vary a lot): zinc (0.4 mg/l), copper (0.3 – 0.8 mg/l), iron (1 mg/l), chromium (0.1 mg/l), nickel (0.05 mg/l), lead(0.05 mg/l). Probably many other less abundant trace minerals will leave the body through sweating with correspondingly lower concentrations.