What Causes Excessive Sweating And Hyperhidrosis?

I have excessive sweating everywhere: underarms, groin area. I have tried every deodorant known to man. And even if I do eventually find a deodorant that works, I will still have the groin sweating problem. Is it my diet? Will certain vitamins or herbs help? What can I do?

Excessive sweating is called hyperhidrosis and is not considered a disease but rather a manifestation of individual variation in the amount of sweat that a person makes. Nonetheless, it can be a very disturbing symptom, requiring special pads under the arms, always wearing dark clothing that will not show the stains too much, and often the complete avoidance of social situations where the sweating would be extra embarrassing.

Sweating does play an important role in regulating our body temperature, and the rare individual who doesn’t sweat at all is at great risk of developing hyperthermia in hot weather.

The sweat is produced in tiny glands located over the entire body surface, but the glands are particularly concentrated on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, the armpits, groin area and forehead. These glands are called eccrine glands, producing sweat is their only function, and they are under the control of the sympathetic nervous system, directed by a center in the brain which monitors body temperature and tells the glands when they should produce sweat. The sympathetic nervous system is a part, along with the parasympathetic system, of the autonomic nervous system. This system is not under our conscious control, and functions automatically to control various body functions such as blood pressure, heart beat, peristalsis in the intestines, etc.

Although not under our conscious control, the autonomic nervous system does respond to emotions, and nervousness is well known as a cause of excessive sweating. The system is also influenced by various hormones, and the hot flashes with sweating that are typical of menopause are an example of that. People with hyperthyroidism, in which the hormones produced by the thyroid gland are secreted in excess, often have hyperhidrosis. Most people with hyperhidrosis though, are simply at the far end of the spectrum of variation in how much we sweat, and have no underlying hormonal or neurological condition.

So what can someone afflicted with hyperhidrosis do to keep it under control? As noted by one of today’s writers, deodorants are not helpful since they are designed to prevent or mask odors which might develop in sweaty areas, but do nothing to reduce the production of the sweat itself. Drugs that counteract the sympathetic nervous stimulation of the eccrine glands do exist, and as a class are called anticholinergics. These were commonly used in the past to reduce the production of acid in the stomach in people with ulcers or heartburn, but the doses required to reduce sweating are quite large, and are likely to produce unpleasant side effects like dry mouth, blurred vision and constipation. Taking them in large doses in a hot environment might lead to dangerous hyperthermia.

My natural medicines database does not list any herbs, vitamins or natural products that reduce sweating. I am also not aware of any dietary changes that would help except for the avoidance of peppery or highly spiced foods, which can stimulate sweating.

Two types of surgical procedures have been done to help really recalcitrant cases. One is to do a sympathectomy, to remove the sympathetic nerves that go to the sweaty areas. I think this is very drastic, and would not advise it. The second is to remove the skin and underlying tissue in very sweaty areas. This is also done to treat hidradenitis suppurativa, or recurrent infections in the glands (not the sweat glands) under the arms and in the groin. The traditional procedure often required skin grafting to cover the armpit. I understand that a procedure similar to liposuction has now been developed to remove the sweat glands, and this would certainly be a much less drastic and invasive treatment.

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