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Perspiration - More than Just Water
Although perspiration is primarily water, it does contain minerals or salts such as sodium, potassium and calcium. Trace elements such as iron and copper can also be present. Despite the popular belief that sweat helps rid the body of toxins, it does not represent a major route by which the body removes unwanted products. Our kidneys and liver are responsible for processing toxins, drugs and by-products resulting from metabolism. A small Q&A article sheds further light on the issue of toxin content in sweat.
Some scientists have questioned whether we need to supplement our bodies with rehydration drinks due to losses of minerals in sweat. Some reports suggest that loss of minerals such as copper, zinc and iron through sweat can be substantial. For example, it has been reported that during a marathon, iron loss can be up to 2.5 mg per liter of sweat (a marathoner can lose 4L of sweat in one race). Adults typically need 8 (male) to 18 mg (female) of iron per day.
However it is generally agreed that there is not a significant amount of minerals lost in sweat and there is no need for rehydration drinks to add these minerals.
Having said this, the chemistry of sweat can be quite revealing if we have a closer look. For example, 'sweat patch' tests have being developed which can detect the use of illicit drugs such as opiates and cocaine. Exposure to alcohol in drinking mothers can also be determined via samples of sweat. The science of detecting sweat biomarkers or metabolites that are specific markers for disease is also quickly evolving. Just image being able to diagnose an ailment from a drop of perspiration!
Another article from the NY Times entitled "Sweatology" provides several interesting insights on the subject of perspiration - from how sweat glands evolved to the role that obesity and menopause may have on perspiration.
For more on the science of sweat, go to the More on Perspiration tab.