Basic Health Habit No.7: Sweating, Steam Baths, and the Positive Effects of Negative Ions

Sweating is as essential to our health as eating and breathing. Sweating helps to regulate our critical body temperature, cleanses the skin and helps to rid our body of waste and toxic material. 

Death by accumulated poisons occurs in a matter of hours if sweat gland activity is blocked. Properly cared for skin is better able to resist infection, protect our body, and regulate body temperature.

Sweating is a basic health habit.

The skin is our largest organ and is often called the third kidney because of its important role in elimination. It is more complex than the kidneys or any other organ, except the brain.

Antiperspirants, artificial environments, pollution, inactivity, diet, stress, synthetic clothing, and poor skin hygiene to remove dirt, dead skin, oil, and sweat secretions, affect skin health, and the healthy function of sweating.

Water loss is always accompanied by electrolyte loss. Both are critical for proper hydration. For helpful information please visit: HEALTH COACH Hydration: Water, Electrolytes, and the Ionic Pump

Sweat contains mostly water derived from blood plasma along with electrolytes and urea and may also contain lactic acid and other wastes and toxic material. As well as regulating body temperature and excretion, sweating gives us protection from environmental hazards by diluting harmful chemicals and discouraging the growth of infectious microorganisms. 

Sweat is odourless. It is the contact with bacteria which causes odour and this is influenced by Basic Health Habits, including hygiene, and diet; medications; health complications, and gender.

Excessive sweating, called hyperhidrosis, is affected by poor Basic Health Habitssystemic illness, medications, infection, fever, stress, high emotional states, poor physical fitness, hot climate, hot internal environments, alcohol, diabetes, insulin, synthetic chemicals, refined sugar, hormonal imbalance, unhealthy menopause, lymphoma, thyroid disease, nervous system or hypothalamic disorders, Parkinson's disease, adrenal or pituitary tumours, tuberculosis, or drug withdrawal.

SEM (Scanning Electron Micrograph) 
of a human sweat pore, 
opening onto the surface of human skin

The Skin and Sweat Glands

Our skin is an anatomical barrier that protects us from pathogens and damage. It is an ecosystem of cells which are a part of our adaptive immune system and a balance of millions of bacterial floral microorganisms needed for health. It contains cells for pigmentation, blood, and lymph vessels, hair follicles, sebaceous oil glands, and tubular coiled sweat glands. It has a variety of nerve endings which react to heat and cold, touch, pressure, and injury. 

Skin is an important part of temperature regulation with a blood supply that allows precise control of energy loss by radiation, convection, and conduction. Our skin is a semipermeable barrier and controls the evaporation of fluid. Loss of this function contributes to massive fluid loss, such as in the case of severe burns. 

Our skin is also water resistant and acts as a barrier so that essential nutrients aren't washed out of the body.  It is an important storage area for lipids and water and for the synthesis of vitamin D. Aesthetically, others see our skin and assess our mood, physical state and attractiveness.

click to expand

Is the outer layer of skin and does not contain blood vessels but is nourished by capillaries in the upper layers of the dermis. Layers (strata) of cells are formed and move up the strata, changing shape and composition, a process that takes weeks to occur. The epidermis has 25 - 30 layers of dead skin.

Lies beneath the epidermis and consists of connective tissue that supports and cushions the body from stress and strain. It has a rich supply of blood and lymphatic vessels, nerve endings, hair follicles and sweat and oil glands. It is here that a pattern of ridges forms finger prints that make us genetically unique and this is where tattoo ink is held and stretch marks form. Collagen, elastin and protein fibers give strength, extensibility and elastic integrity to our skin. The hyperdermis is the subcutaneous tissue that attaches the skin to muscle and bone and contains 50% of the body's fat.

Sweat Glands
We have two types of sweat glands located in the dermal layer of the skin. Apocrine sweat glands  are more superficial (closer to the surface), respond to emotional stimulus and are located in the groin and around the nipples and secrete into hair follicles. Apocrine sweat gland activity starts at puberty and contains pheromones which are chemicals that respond to and communicate information to other individuals. These glands are controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System and by circulating hormones.

Merocrine, also known as Eccrine sweat glands, are more numerous, smaller and more widespread than apocrine sweat glands. We have 2.6-3 million eccrine sweat glands and they do not extend as far into the dermis as the apocrine glands and they discharge directly onto the surface of the skin through pores. We have the highest number on the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet to cause friction and to give us grip. Body heat stimulates the part of the brain called the hypothalamus which controls body temperature and is located above the brain stem. The hypothalamus connects the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland and neural and hormonal responses stimulate eccrine sweat gland activity.

Steam Baths and the Positive Effects of Negative Ions

Unlike the Finnish dry sauna which is 140-212 degrees fahrenheit, the Islamic Hammam is 110-116 degrees fahrenheit with 100%, steam-generated humidity. In the steam bath, heat sensitive nerve endings produce acetylcholine, a chemical which alerts the 3 million sweat glands to respond to the heat. In 15 minutes in a steam bath the body sweats a litre of water and can perform the same amount of heavy metal (copper, lead, zinc, mercury) excretion that would take the kidneys 24 working hours. Excessive salts are excreted as well, helping hypertension. Urea, a metabolic by-product which can cause headaches and nausea, arthritis and inflammation, is excreted along with sweat. 

The steam bath helps to relax muscle tension and ease restricted, painful joints. Insensible perspiration originating internally, works its way through cells and blood to the surface. Capillaries dilate in the heat of the steam bath, permitting increased blood flow to the skin, and the heart rate increases with the additional demand for blood. The liver, kidneys, stomach, muscles, brain, and most other organs are flushed of impurities with increased fluid flow and an increase in metabolic rate. 

The steam bath can be used to supplement the function of dialysis. The rapid flexing of the heart and blood vessels is a form of healthy exercise and increased capillary volume keeps blood pressure normal and even reduces it in those suffering from high blood pressure. Damaged cells repair faster due to increased metabolic rate and recovery from illness comes easier and quicker. A well-tuned body is more resistant to colds, flus, disease and infection. Oxygen needs and supply increase by 20% and the lungs, another eliminator of body wastes join the quickened pace of the body. The steam bath is beneficial for respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis.

An internal temperature rise affects endocrine glands, particularly the pituitary whose hormones regulate metabolism, and the activity of other glands such as the thyroid, adrenal, ovaries and testes. Heat accelerates pituitary activity and affects hormone interplay.

Raising the body temperature 1 degree above the normal temperature of 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C) creates a hostile environment for bacteria and viruses. In the steam bath the surface temperature of skin rises as much as 10 degrees C and the internal body temperature increases 3 degrees C. This is the artificial fever state that Hippocrates wrote about as being beneficial for disease-free good health.

Because the mammary gland is a modified sweat gland, it is believed that the sauna and steam bath helps in the production of milk.

Hyperthermic conditioning of the body to heat stress through sauna and steam bath use has also been shown to promote neurogenesis, along with increased physical endurance, and muscle mass.

Combined with special olive oil and herbal soaps and herbal mud treatments, the brushing, massaging and stretching that is a part of the Hammam ritual as well as the sweating in the steam bath are all especially beneficial for skin; removing dead skin that can clog pores and oil gland passages, improving circulation and rejuvenating the skin. Sweating in the steam bath can help to keep you cool in hot climates but don't forget to rehydrate and to replenish lost electrolytes!

From ancient times the Steam bath has always been an important social aspect of the community. The Greek Laconicum was always adjacent to the gymnasium and sports arena and also provided a forum for contemplative discourse amongst intellectuals and politicians and were as ubiquitous as movie theatres and gas stations are today. The Roman baths also named Thermae and Balneums often housed places to rest, as well as libraries and restaurants. 

By Islamic law, every city had to have their proper proportion of Hammams as well as a bakery, mosque, madersa or school, and water fountains. The Hammam offered the rare occasion for women to socialize. 

The Canadian First Nations' sweat lodge is an important part of their spiritual rituals, personal development and creation stories.

The steam bath helps to create a healthy relationship with our own bodies, and with other people. 

The Positive Effects of Negative Ions

The presence of negative ions plays a key role in body function and consequently how we feel. Molecules have negative and positive electrical charges. Ionization occurs when energy acts on a molecule which then discharges an electron (negative charge), the molecule with the lost electron then becomes a positive ion. The circulating electron then attaches to another molecule making it a negative ion. Plants create negative ions during photosynthesis and they are also created by fire, crashing water (waterfalls, surf), and in the release of steam in a steam bath or when water is thrown onto a heat source in a sauna.

Too many positive ions in the air that we breathe cause anxiety, fatigue and tension, such as in artificially heated and cooled indoor environments, by weather disturbances, air pollution or when driving too long in the confines of a car. Positive ion poisoning has been linked to heart attacks, aggravated asthma, migraine headaches, insomnia, rheumatism, arthritis, hay fever and to most allergies.

Negative ion therapy is used to treat burn victims to help prevent infection and to increase healing; cure respiratory diseases, rid the body of general infection, and to discourage the spread of cancer.

A Story with a Happy Ending
sweating saved my life

When I was in my mid to late thirties, it was a terribly stressful time of turmoil and as a result, hormonal upheaval. I tried everything to get myself back in balance. Lifestyle change and reduction of stress. I educated myself about hormonal health. I spent time in nature. Medication and synthetic hormones aggravated the condition. Dietary changes and many different types and intensities of exercise and natural hormone replacement were more effective. Personal growth and perspective. Staring fear in the face and taking responsibility for myself were smart developments.

But the thing that really pushed me around the corner to recovery from such a great imbalance in my health was Hot Bikram Yoga. It was the benefits of sweating that literally saved my life and put my body functions back in working order. It would also be my primary choice of remedy for peri-menopausal difficulties or any illness. So impressed was my Physician with my miraculous recovery that she went on to recommend Hot Yoga to all her female patients suffering from hormonal imbalances.


Antiperspirants work by clogging, closing, or blocking the pores with powerful astringents such as aluminum salts so that they can't release sweat. (Note that aluminum can accumulate in the brain.) Deodorants work by neutralizing the smell of the sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria.

Heat rash is caused by exposure to extreme heat and humidity and sweat being trapped beneath the skin where small blisters form on the neck, upper chest, groin, elbow crease and under breasts. Excessive sweating, poor health, age (elderly-impaired sweat glands, children 0-4-undeveloped sweat glands), dehydration, alcohol use, certain medications and skin health can be factors that contribute to heat rash There is an increased risk of heat exhaustion due to the blockage of sweat. Heat rash is best treated with a cool, dry environment and avoiding smothering with creams or lotions.   

Essential nutrients are nutrients that the body cannot synthesize by itself but is dependent on our diet to supply.

Vitamin A-beta-carotene, B complex, C, D, E and Selenium, Zinc and Silica for the growth and repair of tissue are essential for skin health and help prevent skin cancer. Cysteine and Methionine are sulphur-containing essential amino acids, and antioxidants, facilitating the removal of heavy metals from the body. Lipoic acid, a heavy metal chelator, and Conenzyme Q10 are needed for normal cell function and are antioxidants. A natural whole food diet will supply these nutrients in abundance. For More Information: Health Coach Nutrition Part 1-3

New advances in Nano medicine, using the skin for medical applications, use nano diamonds for UV radiation protection, and tape stripping, abrasion, chemical enhancement, and electroporation involving high voltage electrical impulses to achieve increased permeability of the skin for transdermal drug delivery.

Sunblock is opaque and stronger than sunscreen and is able to block the majority of UVA/ UVB rays and radiation from sunlight. The active ingredients are primarily titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Sunscreen is transparent and breaks down at a faster rate than sunblock once it is exposed to sunlight and requires reapplication and a higher SPF. It protects from most UVA/ UVB rays but some radiation can penetrate through sunscreen.

McClintock Effect  Apocrine sweat gland secretions of women can alter the menstrual timing of other women.

LINK: click to read infograph

And now let's visit Morocco...


Maryam Montague

Peacock Pavilions   
Marrakesh, Morocco

Maryam: Thanks so much for asking me to be a part of your series. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has been critical to my wellbeing! Now onto your questions... 

1. Health Coach would like to know if your lifestyle there in Morocco is different than your lifestyle in North America was? Would you tell us a bit about what those differences are? In your opinion, is the Moroccan lifestyle healthier? Now, I know that your life is very busy and demanding because you are a very happening woman, but is the stress different in any way?

I think Moroccans have a very different approach to living than North Americans do. Time has a different quality and there is less feeling of urgency (and demands for efficiency). In general, I find that people tend to work less (although sometimes over 6 days rather than 5 days), spending more time shopping for food (daily trips to the Souk for fresh ingredients) and cooking and spend more time relaxing. I also think that there is less of a focus on making money. So from that point of view, I would say that it is a healthier lifestyle than in North America. However, the notion of exercise is not at all prevalent in Morocco. Additionally, people tend to eat too much bread (white flour) and sugar, overcook their vegetables and use too much oil in preparing meals.

Peacock Pavilions Dining Tent

2. Health Coach knows that you are seriously devoted to a healthy lifestyle. Please describe the details of your healthy lifestyle.

I am committed to a healthy lifestyle  to feel better, get more out of life and to have energy to do all the many tasks that I try to accomplish. Exercise is very essential to my routine. I have a kick boxing coach who comes to workout with me at my home 2-3 times a week for a total of 4.5 hours. He is the former champion of Morocco and really puts me through my paces, with a focus on a whole body workout of cardio, strengthening and flexibility. We have  an outdoor gym at Peacock Pavilions and I love working out in nature - feel that it is much better for the spirit. Additionally, we have a running path around our property that is exactly 1/2 mile.

Peacock Pavilions

I am also concerned about the food I eat. I am a non-insulin dependent diabetic and so diet is key. In general I watch my sugar intake, eat little or no processed foods and eat little white flour. We buy our produce fresh, local and often and eat an abundance of vegetables and fruits. We use herbs from our own garden and we use our own olive oil from our own olive grove. I also strive to maintain an ideal weight - I am 5 feet 6 and about 118 lbs.

3. Do you have an Hammam there at Peacock Pavilions? Do you use the Hammam?

We don't have a hammam at Peacock Pavilions but it is one of our goals. I personally use a hammam very regularly and consider it an important part of my routine. I go to a private hammam 1-2 times a month to sweat out toxins, cleanse my body and have my skin exfoliated by a scrubber. I normally have essential oils in the hammam, particularily eucalyptus to cleanse my sinuses. After the hammam, I use argan oil to nourish my skin.

4. Is the Hammam still an integral part of life in Morocco?

Very integral. Traditionally Moroccans go to the hammam once a week and there are hammams everywhere. Most hammams have 3 rooms, moving from coolest to hottest. Hammams also serve an important social function, particularly for women. It's also a place to use natural beauty products especially savon beldi (black soap) made from olives.

Peacock Pavilions

5. Health Coach can just imagine the heat there in Morocco and hopes that you are hydrating your body and getting the proper balance of electrolytes. Are there particular ways in which Moroccans take care of the special need for hydration in their hot, dry climate?

Moroccans tend to drink an enormous amount of mint tea, made with fresh mint, sugar and tea pellets. It's the key to their keeping hydrated and of course it is also lovely to look at, smell and taste!

Thank you, Maryam, for sharing your experiences at Peacock Pavilions with the visitors, here at HEALTH COACH. We have a live link to your blog, My Marrakesh, and we will continue to visit you and hopefully see you one day soon.

Thank you!
Warm wishes,

 Peacock Pavilions

Peacock Pavilions
My Marrakesh
Photo credits:,  The Alkaline Sisters,  Decor8,
Katie O'Shaughnessy, Maryam Montague 

Sweat Mikkel Aaland  
Sauna Studies The Sauna Society of Finland 1977  
Steam Bath Reinhard Bergel

Please visit: 

Yoga Retreat 
at Peacock Pavilions



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