Sweat can indicate a lot of things: you’ve just run a marathon, you’re overheated in a sauna, you’re nervous at a job interview. But if you’re not sweating bullets, you probably aren’t paying *tons* of attention to your normal, everyday sweat. What you probably don’t realize is that sweat can tell you a lot of things about your health, from underlying issues to metrics about your overall wellness.
Sweat isn’t just water, of course; it contains minute quantities of a lot of things, including urea and trace amounts of various metals, and everything from how we sweat to what we sweat can give us indications about our overall health. Wearables are starting to be able to track sweat and its components, and analyze what that says about your health; in the future, elite athletes and hospital patients alike might be fitted with wearable patches that analyze the composition of their sweat and help doctors and trainers draw conclusions from it. But for now, though, the tech is a little bit more low-fi; checking out your sweat, how it smells, and using that info to stay in-tune with your body. Here are a few things that your sweat can tell you about your health.
People who experience high levels of salty sweat may not have enough sodium in their diet, according to Women’s Health. Sodium is a necessary electrolyte, or a nutrient that assists in energy and recovery, and not having enough of it means our hydration levels may be thrown out of whack.
Sweaty glow is definitely a thing. If you notice that you’ve started to sweat more, and have seen other signs that you might be pregnant, including missed periods or swollen breasts, it might be time to get a pregnancy test; sweating is particularly common during the first trimester of pregnancy, or the first three months. It’s part of the body’s adaptation to new temperature demands as it fuels the growth of the pregnancy.
If you sweat a lot, it’s technically a condition called hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis has no underlying cause, but secondary hyperhidrosis occurs because your body is reacting to medications, illnesses or disorders through sweat.
Hyperhidrosis can be caused by over-active thyroids, anxiety, certain drugs, and your body’s immune system; as you react to fevers or infections, you can sweat excessively to attempt to moderate our body temperature. If you notice excessive sweating, especially all of a sudden, don’t assume it’s just a quirk of your body; it could be crucial info to take to your doctor.
People with diabetes can often experience sweating, particularly in response to low glucose (blood sugar) levels. Because glucose drops at night, diabetics may also have night sweats during their sleep. It’s important to remember, though, that sweating at night doesn’t necessarily indicate diabetes, or even dropping blood sugar levels, as every body is different.
In the future, it’ll likely be common for elite athletes to use sweat sensors to determine how their bodies are performing while they’re exercising. Why? Because sweat can tell us a lot about our endurance and performance during athletic feats. Sensors have been invented that detect lactate, a chemical exuded in sweat during strenuous exercise that has a close relationship with muscle fatigue. The sensors can also check potassium, sodium and glucose levels in sweat, to measure dehydration and energy reserves. That sweat that drenches you during spin class has a lot of information about your exercise regime and how hard you’re working.
As you probably know, your body sweats in order to cool itself down, and in so doing loses moisture. If you’re sweating too much, though, there’s a good chance you’ll end up dehydrated. People designing sweat sensors think that measuring levels of sodium or potassium in your sweat can help pinpoint if you’re close to dehydration. For the moment, though, making sure you’re drinking lots of water if you’re sweating a lot is a key way to stave off dehydration.
In the future, as sweat sensors become more common, we’ll be able to look at the messages our sweat is sending with the touch of a button. Right now, though, we can still understand our bodies better by knowing our sweat inside out. While your sweat on its own can’t indicate a particular health issue, if you notice something off with your sweat, that could be good info to bring to your doc.