We all perspire to some degree. Sweating is an essential bodily function and should only be considered a problem if absent or in excess.
The primary function of sweat is as a cooling mechanism. For instance, one minute of running produces lOKcal of heat. This heat has to be removed from the body and this is done by cooling down the skin’s surface. Sweat passes from sweat pores, settles on the skin, evaporates using heat to do so and thereby cools the skin’s surface. This in turn cools the body and maintains a steady internal temperature. Sweat that drips off the body is not cooling. The sweat glands are under the control of the nervous system and sweating is the main physiological adjustment to an increased heat load. The control comes from specific centres in the brain that recognize and increase heat in the bloodstream.
A second, less well thought of, reason for sweating is based on the fact that sweat is similar in composition to urine. Urea, a nitrogenous waste product from protein metabolism, does not come out in the sweat, but most other compounds can. The body may use sweating to eliminate toxins or to regulate electrolyte balance by removing salt and other elements.
Anything that heats the body, such as exercise, alcohol, caffeine, smoking and spicy foods, will increase sweating. Outside air temperature causes a body temperature rise and a reflex sweat. High humidity will prevent evaporation and prevent the cooling mechanism. The body sweats more in a vain attempt to encourage evaporation, but may fail to do so. Overheating may occur in a humid climate and dehydration is also a risk.
The sweat glands are under the control of the nervous system, which in turn responds to stress chemicals such as adrenaline. Nervousness or anxiety can trigger sweating. This is an evolutionary reaction in principle to prepare the body’s cooling mechanism if a fight or flight reaction is required.
An absence of sweating may be found in individuals who have a genetic pre-disposition to a warmer core body temperature and, therefore, cooling is not required. A lack of sweat is most commonly associated with dehydration and needs to be corrected.
Excessive sweating is also a genetic predisposition and may not be a sign of ill-health. Generally, however, sweating is a sign of a raised body temperature, usually due to infection or an overproduction of thyroxine or adrenaline. Any situation that creates fear or anxiety can promote sweating and, interestingly, there is an internal fear mechanism associated with heart conditions and sweating may be an early sign of heart disease.
Obesity (being overweight) puts an insulating layer around the body, which prevents heat from leaving and thus raises the core body temperature. Sweating is thereby triggered.
Some unfortunate individuals have a tendency to sweat in particular parts of the body. Our armpits and groins will appear moist with exercise but some will sweat profusely in these areas with little strain. The hands, feet and scalp are all areas that may sweat independently of body temperature or anxiety. There is no orthodox reason for this nervous overstimulation of the sweat glands in these areas but the Eastern philosophies consider the acupuncture meridians as being relevant. The palms of the hand contain points on the acupuncture meridians of the lungs, heart protector or sexual function and the heart. All these organs and systems must be examined and their corresponding psychological and spiritual associations considered.
If excessive sweating is creating an unpleasant smell .
Excessively sweaty palms may interfere markedly with an individual’s social life and if the above measures do not resolve the problem, surgical intervention to cut the nerves that control sweating can be considered. This is a technically difficult operation for fear of damaging other neurological controls. It is therefore not a particularly successful procedure and is best avoided.
Try to establish a cause and remove it. It may be necessary to lose weight, remove the heat-creating foods mentioned above from the diet or learn a relaxation/meditation technique to take nervous anxiety away.
Absorbent material such as cotton should be worn, especially in humid conditions, to mop up sweat and aid the evaporative process. It may seem illogical to wear something if you are hot, but in fact a cotton vest is cooling for this reason.
Remember that fever is a friend and that sweating in association with infection or disease should not necessarily be inhibited