Your sweat signals more than the intensity of your workout. Everything from your mood to your diet—and even the way women react to your presence—is literally leaking from your body, according to a slew of recent research. Surprised perspiration can say so much? Here are four secrets your sweat may reveal:
Your depression could be more worrisome than you think: In a Swedish study of depressed people, researchers found that an astonishing 97 percent of patients who later committed suicide showed signs of hyporeactivity—or a reduced ability to react to stimuli—in their sweat. Hyporeactive people have no interest in what happens around them, which could be the result of long-lasting severe stress, inflammation in the brain, or various genetic factors, says study author Lars-Håkan Thorell, Ph.D.
You’re scared: In a Dutch study, researchers exposed men to something fearful or disgusting. When women smelled the men, they unknowingly mimicked the guys’ emotion with their own facial expressions. And while this doesn’t mean people can detect your feelings just from the smell of your sweat, it does suggest that certain emotions may be almost contagious, explains study author Gün Semin, Ph.D.
You’re stressed: When you sweat from stress, other people view you as less confident, trustworthy, and competent—but not when you perspire from exercise, reports a recent study from Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Exercise sweat and stress sweat are excreted from completely different glands, meaning they have a different composition and react with bacteria on the skin differently to produce two distinct odors, explains study author Pamela Dalton, Ph.D. Study participants didn’t think stress sweat smelled stronger or more unpleasant than exercise sweat, but it still had an effect on their judgment of the person, she adds.
You’ve been eating too much meat: Women find that men who eat red meat smell much worse than those who skip it. Researchers at Charles University in Prague put guys on a red meat-heavy diet for 2 weeks, took odor samples, switched them to a meat-free diet for another 2 weeks, then took odor samples again. Women rated the smell from the vegetarian diets as more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense than their meat-heavy counterparts.