There’s nothing like starting the day with a good steam shower, infrared sauna, hot yoga, intense workout or rapid walk to leave you feeling invigorated and energized. Cleaning out your system can clear your head and reset your mind and body for the new day ahead!  

We often feel that sweat is our best means of detoxing. However, this is actually not the case. While vigorous exercise is undoubtedly good for all body systems, we primarily release toxins through urine and feces; sweating releases water, electrolytes, sodium, chloride and small amounts of metabolic waste products.  

The holistic practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers a unique perspective on sweating. Let’s take a look…

Sweat is produced by over three million sweat glands in our bodies and consists primarily of water, electrolytes, sodium and chloride with small amounts of metabolic waste products. The primary function of sweat is to cool the body thru evaporation from the skin’s surface, helping us maintain a stable internal temperature and preventing overheating during exercise or heat exposure. If not induced by strenuous exercise or working in the hot sun, sweat can be a sign of illness, viral or bacterial infections, heart disease, hormonal changes, being overweight, stress and or anxiety. Most of us know our bodies will produce a fever to burn and flush out diseases like viruses. 

In TCM, sweat is called Jin Ye (gold, fluid) and considered a precious fluid, along with blood and semen; one does not want to deplete or give away their Jin Ye. The practice divides sweat into Yin and Yang. The Yang aspect, our precious fluid (Jin Ye) warms and regulates body temp and promotes metabolic activity with actions by our digestive juices and semen, while the yin aspect of sweat and blood cools, nourishes and lubricates. Sweat that leaves the body containing electrolytes is considered Yin in nature as it nourishes and moistens the tissues.

Sweat circulates in the body thru skin and muscles and in TCM’s five elements theory, is controlled by the metal element (lung organ energy). This element’s job it is to open and close the pores to maintain a healthy immune system by creating a barrier to protect from pathogens entering our bodies. 

Many believe that the more we sweat the healthier we become. However, excessive sweating can lead to dehydration. In TCM, it is not considered healthy to overdo it and once a week or so is recommended. The belief is that profuse sweating leads to a loss of defensive Qi (life energy) creating a weaker immune system, not a stronger one.

If you have an acute sickness, however, releasing the exterior pathogen by opening pores via sweating drives the evil influence out of the body, according to TCM, and this is a good thing.  

It is important to note that excessive sweating with little exertion may indicate an imbalance or dysfunction with the heart system. If walking up a short flight of stairs produces shortness of breath, excessive sweat (indicative of pathogenic heat), and possible heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, the heart may be struggling to balance fluid loss and internal heat. This can lead to thirst, dry mouth, fatigue, fluid depletion and dehydration.

Summer days in the desert

As temperatures rise, let’s be sure to keep dehydrated by nourishing our bodies with cooling, moist foods and drinks (like coconut water), sugar free electrolytes, a variety of melons (especially watermelon), fruits and vegetables (pears,  asparagus,  cucumbers, radishes, summer squash, zucchini and celery), and cool herbs (cilantro, peppermint and dandelion greens) – all which can help prevent heat stroke.  

And, when it comes to sweating, keep in mind that moderation and taking the middle of the road approach is a good way to maintain internal balance so as not to deplete your body of its precious fluids.

Diane Sheppard is a licensed acupuncturist and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine with AcQpoint Wellness Center and can be reached at (760) 345.2200 or visit

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