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HEALTH CORNER: Your sweaty pits can tell more about you than you would think

Thanks to the past 15 years of work by Dr. Esther Sternberg of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, we may be able to capture a portrait of our health one day just by analyzing our sweat.

“Our goal is to simply optimize human performance for the task at hand,” Sternberg said. “Specifically, we are looking to analyze the biomarkers in sweat that reflect conditions such as fatigue, cognitive status and stress.”

Sternberg began her research in 2000 while working at the National Institute of Health in Washington. While there, she was approached by the director of research to create a noninvasive method to study human health and well-being, a task typically done by drawing blood. The only options, she said, were analysis through either saliva or sweat.

“The reason we decided to focus on sweat was that the biomarkers present in saliva were typically those of periodontal, or gum disease,” Sternberg said. “The biomarkers present in sweat allowed us to get a more comprehensive picture of what was occurring systemically.”

Sternberg, now a rheumatologist, was recruited in 2012 by world renowned alternative health guru Andrew Weil. Prior to joining the UA, she served 26 years at the NIH, where she held multiple high-ranking positions, including chief of the section on neuroendocrine immunology & behavior. She is currently the founding director at the Arizona Institute of Wellbeing and authored multiple best-selling books.

To work alongside her, Sternberg brought along a few of her colleagues from the NIH.

After moving to Tucson, however, Sternberg received a call from the Air Force saying that it wanted to implement her research into wearable devices that could be worn by military personnel. These devices would allow for real-time, precise tracking of an officer’s health while on duty.

In addition, Sternberg and her team, Dr. Perry Skeath and Dr. Min Jia, are hoping to collaborate with companies that make wearable tech, allowing them to commercialize devices that possess the ability to analyze the biomarkers in our sweat.

Their research could have a large impact on the lives of athletes all over the world. In fact, Sternberg believes that athletes will be able to monitor exact hydration levels, allowing them to optimize their performances while competing.

Furthermore, for the myriad of procrastinating students worldwide, Sternberg said she believes her research could be an incredible asset.

“If you are studying for an exam and have been at it for a while, it may be useful to know when you need to sleep because your systems are failing,” Sternberg said.

As far as how long until the public can expect to see her research on commercial shelves, Sternberg said she isn’t sure.

“Right now, it’s simply too early to tell,” Sternberg said. “However, there are a lot of companies stampeding to get something to market. This is the big wave of the future.”


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