Nature has put natural regulatory mechanisms in place everywhere. The human body is no exception, and it has an abundance of such mechanisms for it to take care of itself. Sometimes, however, something goes wonky, and it leads to such problems as excessive sweating and foul-smelling sweat.
Sweating has its purposes.
Sweating is a normal, natural occurrence. It is one way the body copes with such situations as extremely high temperatures, anxiety, etc. It is part of the body’s autonomic(or simply say automatic/involuntary) functions, controlled by the brain via sympathetic nerves that control the sweat glands.
Increased sweating may occur due to excessive heat. When there is a rise in temperature, the body’s thermometer in the brain picks it up by measuring temperature of blood passing by. The brain then sends signals to effect changes. These changes include vasodilation, relaxation of erector muscles of hair, and sweating. All these are an attempt to dispel the excess heat. In fact, sweating is the most important factor in thermoregulation.
In situations causing anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system kicks into action. Therefore, responses like increased heart rate, metabolism, temperature, and sweating too, among others, are activated in order to cope with the distress.
However, in some situations, sweating can become excessive, beyond the scale of that caused by thermoregulation or anxiety. This excessive sweating is persistent, and isn’t just tied to high temperatures or distress. We’ll consider this shortly.
Ayurveda and Sweating.
In Ayurveda, sweat is referred to as sweda. Sweda is a mala(waste product) of the meda dhatu(i.e. fat tissue).
Collection, transportation and excretion of sweda is under the control of Pitta, Agni, Samana vayu, Vyana Vaye, through Svedavaha srotas and Ambuvala srotas.
Clearly, it(i.e. sweat) is linked to the Pitta dosha. Consequently, sweating is like excreting Pitta! A chain, or a cycle, therefore results. This cycle goes thus: sweat is excreted, pitta is depleted, there is less energy as a result. Not only that, agni, a component of the pitta dosha, is also depleted, leading to decreased digestion and metabolism. A depleted agni causes incomplete metabolism, and this leads to build up of ama, a waste product.
So, simply put, whereas sweating is helps regulate heat, if it is excessive, it can lead to poor metabolism, loss of appetite, and compromised digestive fire.
Excessive sweating – Hyperhidrosis.
Excessive sweating is also known as hyperhidrosis. It is a condition characterized by production of excess sweat locally at particular parts of the body. It could also be generally, all over the body.
About 1-4.5% of the population are affected by hyperhidrosis, although it is more common in adolescents and young adults. The symptoms lessen with age. Excessive sweating does not leave out children either. Also, it might have some root in family connections. That is to say, it can be genetically transmitted within a family.
From the definition, it can be seen obviously that, depending on the parts of the body affected, excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis could be either:
- Localized Hyperhidrosis: This type affects only some particular parts of the body. The condition is usually symmetrical, i.e. it affects both sides of the body equally, like both hands or both feet. It could be:
- Palmar hyperhidrosis: affects the palms.
- Plantar hyperhidrosis: involves the feet.
- Axillary hyperhidrosis: excessive sweating under the armpits.
- Craniofacial hyperhidrosis: this involves the head and face regions.
- Generalized Hyperhidrosis: Generalized hyperhidrosis is not specific to a body part. It is usually widespread over various parts of the body.
Types of Hyperhidrosis(Excessive Sweating) according to causes.
Aside the classification by body parts affected, excessive sweating can also be grouped by the cause, into Primary and Secondary hyperhidrosis.
Here, there is no underlying medical condition to the excessive sweating.
Secondary Hyperhidrosis due to underlying medical/health conditions.
Secondary hyperhydrosis is a complication arising from something else. Some conditions that might result in hyperhydrosis, secondarily, include:
- Hyperthyroidism: This condition causes there to be an excess of thyroid hormones in the blood stream. This speeds up metabolism in the body, bringing with it palpitations, tremors of extremities, diarrhoea, heat intolerance and, of course, sweating.
- Obesity: An obese person is more likely to sweat profusely in conditions of heat.
- Medications like Prozac and other antidepressants can also result in excessive sweating as a side effect.
- Menopause: Hot flashes occur in 80% of menopausal women. Hot flashes are characterized by sudden, intense, transient sensation of heat. This begin around face and chest. As a result of this sudden heat, activation of the heat loss mechanisms, including sweating, are activated.
- Hypoglycemia can also result in this condition.
Foul Smelling Sweat – Bromhidrosis.
When you think of sweat, you probably think of the smell of sweat that accompanies it also. Bromhidrosis simply means foul smelling sweat. It can be alternatively referred to as osmidrosis. However, it is more colloquially termed Body Odour(BO).
To get better perspective on foul smelling sweat, let us consider glands.
Suderiferous Glands – The Seat Glands.
Sweat glands are glands that produce sweat. Obviously, of course, but just so we are on the same page. These glands could be:
- Apocrine; or
- Apoeccrine-a combination of both.
Eccrine and apoeccrine glands produce the normal sweat, a salt and water solution.
Apocrine gland secretions are however, the ones responsible for the discharge that eventually results in the odour. Apocrine glands are the least common, and they can usually be found in the underarms, breasts, and groin regions.
These glands are only activated after puberty, and they give off a clear, thick fluid that contains pheromones(that are actually associated with sexual attraction in humans).
The sweat that is produced is normally odour-free. However, within an hour, the sweat breaks down bacteria(mostly corynebacterium) that it comes into contact with in the armpit or groin or breast region. It is this broken down bacteria that give off the offensive odour.
What can increase the likelihood of foul-smelling sweat?
The main reason behind sweat smelling foul is the broken down bacteria. In addition, attaining puberty is also a factor, since the apocrine glands are activated at puberty. Also, the presence of excess bacteria to be broken down means more odour. So, the more bacteria available for breaking down, the more odour that is produced.
Contemporary medical cures for Excessive Sweating and Foul-Smelling Sweat.
A number of approaches are available, including:
- Surgical Remedies: These include:
- Sympathectomy: This involves interruption of the nerves that supply the sweat glands. When these glands don’t receive nervous information, then they can’t produce sweat. This was used as a remedy for palmar hyperhidrosis. It is not recommended, however, and has largely been stopped because of the side effects like feeling hot and dry in the hand, compensatory hyperhidrosis that is generalized, worse, and also permanent.
- Removing a wedge of skin that contains the hyperactive sweat glands, or just scraping off the sweat glands and replacing the skin.
- Botox Injection: Botulinum toxin can be injected to block the action of nerves activating the sweat glands. The dosage has to be small and controlled.
- Use of Aluminum Chloride: Aluminum chloride is normally present in antiperspirants, but in stronger dosages, it can be used for excessive sweating. The consequence of this is that it causes redness, soreness and rashes, and should not be used too frequently.
The above approaches are taken for localized hyperhidrosis. For generalized hyperhidrosis:
- Anticholinergic drugs can be used to block the signal between nerves and sweat glands. Unfortunately, side effects to watch out for include: dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, belly cramps, difficulty urinating.
Effecive Ayurvedic Remedies for Excessive Sweating and Foul Smelling Sweat.
Ayurveda takes many approaches to tackle this problem, not only focusing on the symptoms of excessive sweating, but the underlying cause itself. Although a tree can be cut at the stem, or rid of its leaves and fruits, it is sure to sprout again. If the tree is uprooted, however, then it is gone, completely. Ayurveda has mastered the art of tree-uprooting.
The following methods are useful for curing excessive sweating(hyperhidrosis) and foul-smelling sweat(bromhidrosis):
- Use of Antiperspirant Herbs: These herbs include chandana, mustaka, ushira, padmakashta. These herbs are not only effective but, additionally, also have a good fragrance. They can be taken powdered, liquid, as tablets or as paste to be applied.
- Chandanadi Talia: This is an Ayurvedic oil. It should be applied to skin one hour before bath. This helps to open up the sweat pores and remove any blockages.
- Sandalwood and Coconut Oil: Rubbing a mixture of these two on the body helps to relax the body and reduce hyperhidrosis.
- Pacifying the Pitta Dosha: Since excessive sweating is a Pitta problem, pacifying the Pitta Dosha goes a long way to restoring health. A teaspoon of amalaki chooma(amla powder) with ghee once or twice a day helps to achieve a balance in Pitta.
- Pankacharma Therapy: This is a purification therapy. It will help to restore the vitiated pitta dosha and also clear off ama that might have accumulated. It also helps with the mala, the waste product from the mada dhatu.
- Home Remedies: There are many home remedies, and a few are:
- Soak ten raisins in a bowl of water overnight, and drink it first thing in the morning.
- 10-13 drops of jasmine oil in bath water reduces sweating.
Lifestyle and Dietary changes to manage and/or prevent Excessive Sweating and Foul-Smelling Sweat.
- Avoid situations that trigger excessive sweating like hot places, rushing about.
- Wear absorbent clothing.
- Use adhesive absorbent underarm pads to absorb excess sweat.
- Do not wear tight fitting clothes, rather wear loose clothes that permit enough aeration of the body.
- Have several shoes so that some have enough time to dry while use some, in case you have plantar hyperhidrosis. This helps prevent the shoes from smelling foul.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks.
- Shed off excess weight an fat.
- keep naturally occurring bacteria minimal.
- Wash underarm at least twice daily.
- Shave regularly to prevent sweat and bacteria from sticking to the hair strands.
- Manage your stress levels, including anger.