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A Natural Approach to Overcoming Excessive Sweating (Hyperhidrosis)
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Sep 04, 2004
Back in high school, I remember a student who did her science fair project on her sweaty hands. My memory is not good enough to remember the specifics of what she talked about that day, but I do remember her walking around the classroom, giving all of us a chance to see and feel the sweat that literally dripped off her hands. She said that it was a genetic problem, and that her hands sweated almost all of the time.
Today, I know much more about sweaty palms and excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, as I have had people consult with me to address this health challenge. You might be thinking that everyone gets sweaty palms once in a while, so what’s the big deal? People who suffer with hyperhidrosis can spend hours each day changing clothes, washing up, wiping their hands, and avoiding situations where they might have to shake a person’s hand. Worried about what others might think, it can cause them to lose friends or even pick a line of work that doesn’t require meeting people and shaking hands. The anxiety can be so bad that it can lead to depression and anxiety disorders, dramatically decreasing quality of life.
You can sweat from any of the two to four million sweat glands that are located in your skin. The most highly concentrated areas of sweat glands are found in the palms of your hands, the soles of your feet, your armpits, your groin, and your face.
Sweating is a physiological mechanism that helps you cool off. When your body temperature rises, sweat comes out of your pores, which allows heat to escape from your body, evaporating into the air. Without the ability to sweat, you would suffer from serious health challenges from not being able to regulate your body temperature.
Excessive sweating in the absence of a high body temperature can certainly be caused by stress or emotional anxiety. It can also be caused by imbalances in your hormonal and nervous systems. But in general, the conventional medical view on hyperhidrosis is that there is no known cause or cure.
Some doctors will recommend using an anti-perspirant like drysol, which is an alcohol solution containing aluminum. Given the strong link between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease, I cannot recommend this approach.
Some doctors actually perform surgery to cut the nerves that supply your sweat glands. The reasoning is that if your sweat glands do not receive a signal to sweat from your brain, then your problem is solved. The problem with this approach is that the nerves that control your sweat glands also control a variety of other mechanisms in your body, the most important of which is your ability to control the size of your blood vessels. Your hands and armpits might stop sweating after this procedure, but the negative side effects are too numerous and serious to quantify.
I have found that there is a completely natural approach to dramatically improving hyperhidrosis, and sometimes, to completely cure it. Aside from emotional anxiety and stress, the biggest cause of hyperhidrosis is over activity of your nervous system. Specifically, the issue is over activity of a specific component of your nervous system, called your sympathetic nervous system.
Your sympathetic nervous system is in place to give you the capacity to deal with high-stress situations. In medical school, students are taught that the sympathetic nervous system controls “fight and flight”. When it is highly active, it sends most of your blood to your heart, lungs, and large muscles so that you can have the strength and endurance to fight or run away. It increases the size of your pupils so that you can take more light in through your eyes, an essential advantage if you are trying to run away from a grizzly bear. It also senses the increase in body temperature that comes with fight and flight situations, and sends a signal to your sweat glands to produce sweat to cool you down.
With hyperhidrosis, your sympathetic nervous system can be over active even when you are physically at rest. A significant and overlooked cause for this over activity is eating foods that your body cannot tolerate. For example, if your body cannot tolerate dairy products, whenever you eat some, your immune system must work hard to protect your tissues from the harmful effects of whichever components of dairy don’t agree with your body. If your immune system is constantly at work to deal with such food intolerances, your sympathetic nervous system detects this as stress, and activates the mechanisms that are in place to help you during stressful situations, including the production of sweat.
One young lady who consulted with me about her hyperhidrosis was delighted with the immediate improvement she experienced once she completely cut out all forms of dairy and a few other foods from her diet. Her success in conquering severe, chronic hyperhidrosis with dietary modification is not uncommon. Each person has unique dietary needs and food intolerances, so you will need to do some work to design a diet that works best for you.
Of course, food intolerances are not the only cause of a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system and excessive sweating. Other neurological conditions, certain endocrine disorders, chronic infections, and even chronic anxiety can cause hyperhidrosis. In some cases, a water fast can be extremely helpful for sufferers of hyperhidrosis who are not improving as quickly as they would like with dietary changes alone. This is partly due to the decrease in overall sympathetic nervous system tone that accompanies a water fast. Almost anyone who has experienced a water fast will tell you that they feel more relaxed and calm following their fast, a reflection of healthier nervous system tone.
In any case, if you are suffering with hyperhidrosis, I encourage you to learn more about the impact that your food and lifestyle choices have on your condition. Understanding this connection may save you from many years of unnecessary suffering and the negative side effects of conventional treatment.
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