Goats and Soda: NPR

Great tennis player Rafael Nadal of Spain may think again about shaking off his sweat. It turns out that sweating leads to a surprising health benefit.

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Great tennis player Rafael Nadal of Spain may think again about shaking off his sweat. It turns out that sweating leads to a surprising health benefit.

Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Back in college, I had an embarrassing moment forever etched in my memory. A girlfriend borrowed my backpack for a weekend getaway. And when she came back, she handed me the backpack and said something I’ll never forget:

“Michaeleen, you have to sweat a lot because your backpack stinks. The palm rests smell like onions. Ew.”

I stood there in silence, feeling utterly embarrassed. I’m not sure how I answered. But I remember thinking, “I don’t eat a lot of onions. Does my sweat smell that bad?”

Now 25 years later, I’ve discovered that my stinky sweat is actually a signal of something good for my skin – something that prevents skin problems, like eczema and psoriasis. protect me from dangerous infections like MRSAIt is found in hospitals around the world and is the leading cause of skin infections in the US

What creates your body’s unique bouquet?

To figure out what I’m talking about, we need to step back and look at what really creates body odor. It’s not sweat in itself.

“No, I don’t think your sweat itself smells,” says microbiologist Gavin Thomas at York University. “It certainly doesn’t have these really stinky molecules.”

Thomas studies how – and why – humans have a distinctive range of scents. He says that sweat, as soon as it exits your pores, is essentially odorless.

“So most sweat is salt water,” he says. It’s the sweat that is pretty much released on the body and helps you cool down when you’re hot.

“But that’s not what we’re interested in,” he explains. “We’re interested in this other type of sweat, which is secreted in the armpits and around the genitals.”

Here other The type of sweat is not only salt water, but also contains large amounts of compounds, including oils, fats, and proteins.

No one knows exactly why humans have this second type of sweat. One purpose, however, may be related to the smell it emits, says Thomas.

In essence, this second type of sweat has no odor. But something that lives on our skin – tiny creatures – takes that sweat and makes it stink.

Yes, I’m talking about bacteria on your skin.

Warning: This illustration “damaged” our image editor! It describes the bacteria around the sweat gland openings on the surface of the human skin. Pores carry sweat from the sweat glands to the surface of the skin. Some bacteria like to eat the molecules in our sweat. They then spew out new molecular compounds, some of which can be quite stinky.

Juan Gaertner / Science Source

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Juan Gaertner / Science Source

“Human skin has almost 200 different species of bacteria living on it,” the biologist said. Teruaki Nakatsuji at the University of California, San Diego. “And each person has different strains of these bacteria. So the microbiome on the skin is very diverse.”

These bacteria are starving. And some of them actually like to eat the molecules in our sweat. They crush part of the molecule and then spew out new molecular compounds, some of which are quite aromatic. For example, they may smell like fennel or goat, American Society for Microbiology confirm.

And some of these molecules absolutely stink.

Back in 2020, Thomas and his colleagues Find an organism on the skin, called Staphylococcus hominis, produces a particularly pungent odor: “We’ve had people describe it as an onion or cheese onion smell,” he says. “These types of compounds have a pretty strong odor.”

But wait! This creature – and your stinking sweat – is really beneficial and even necessary.

So back in college, when my backpack smelled a bit bad, I wasn’t sweating a lot, it was a little bacteria called Staphylococcus hominins.

This may make you want to take a shower. But wait! Before getting antibacterial soap, you need to know a few things about this bacteria. What I didn’t realize until recently: These bacteria – and their relatives – actually do something really good for you and your skin. In fact, you need these bacteria.

“Not available S. homininyou’re in trouble,” said the dermatologist Richard Gallo at the University of California, San Diego.

Over the past five years, Gallo, Teruaki Nakatsuji and their colleagues have published A series of studies show how S. hominin actually protects our skin from inflammatory problems, such as eczema, and dangerous infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

The team has even developed a cream, which is made from bacteria and test in preliminary trials, as a treatment for eczema.

S. hominin Gallo says it essentially creates an antibiotic that specifically targets the bacteria that cause MRSA. And it kills this bacterium by punching holes in its cell membrane.

However, Gallo says, the organism isn’t the only part of your skin that produces antibacterial substances. Twenty years ago, he and his colleagues Find that your own body also makes antibacterial molecules and put them inside your sweat.

“So sweat is almost like an antibiotic,” says Gallo. “And when the water evaporates, those antibiotics actually increase in concentration. So it leaves a little coating on your skin. So that’s one of the ways our skin tries to fight it off. bad bacteria.”

So the next time you feel hot, sticky, and maybe a little smelly, before you shower, take a moment to thank your sweat – and the bacteria that eat it – for helping to keep your skin healthy. you are healthy and safe.

Because even after you’ve finished showering, the protective organisms will still be there to help you, says Gallo — even if you use antibacterial soap.

“When you wash your skin, you remove the material on its surface,” he says. But these bacteria live deep inside the skin’s pores, where detergents and antibiotics can’t reach. “So within 10 minutes of washing, the bacteria grow back and take up residence on the surface of your skin.

“So in a way, your skin is smarter than you are,” he added. It knows what it needs better than you do.

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