There are sweat glands all over the body about 100 in just one centimetre of skin surface – but they are most dense on the palms and the soles of the feet. Their main function is to maintain a constant body temperature – a process called thermoregulation. The nerve centre in the brain which controls this is the thermoregulatory centre. When the body gets overheated – through exercise, a hot climate, being in a sauna or biochemical processes such as digestion -this centre produces certain chemicals which stimulate the sweat glands to get working. The sweat actually cools down the body.
The body also uses the sweat glands to get rid of water-soluble toxins. In patients with uncontrolled diabetes, for instance, the skin smells fruity as a result of chemicals called ketones being excreted through perspiration. With mild kidney failure, the skin smells of urea.
When you have a bacterial or viral infection, the body temperature rises, due to toxins produced by the activities of the germs. The thermoregulatory centre is affected by the toxins and misinterprets what it needs to do. It turns off the air-conditioning system and doesn’t send messages to the sweat glands to start working. The body then overheats, so you get a fever. Often conventional medical advice is to take paracetamol to bring down the fever, which it does by stimulating massive perspiration and rapid cooling of the body. Although it brings down the fever, this process prolongs the original illness. Germs like to breed and live within a fixed temperature range. When there is fever, they can’t survive. By bringing down the fever with paracetamol you create an environment in which they are suddenly back in their preferred temperature. You then need a very strong immune system, or antibiotics, to fight the ongoing invasion.
So why does the thermoregulatory system go haywire? There are a variety of reasons, including stress, anxiety, injuries to the neck, substance abuse, excess alcohol consumption, long-term illness, hyperthyroid function, intolerance to heat a tendency to panic attacks or phobias. In some cases the thermoregulatory system fails to function, so no sweat is produced (hyperhydrosis ); in others, it goes crazy, causing excessive sweating (hyperhydrosis).
My general advice is to help to restore the function through improved blood flow to the brain, to use the conscious mind to influence the subconscious, and to follow these simple lifestyle tips:
- Sip iced herbal tea: try Relaxation Tea or camomile tea Or simply add five drops of valerian herbal tincture to a glass of cold water.
- Avoid food that ‘heats’ the body sugar, chillies ginger, garlic, coffee, alcohol, red meat (beef, pork, lamb), excess salt fizzy or sugary drinks, canned products (because of the preservatives), black pepper, monosodium glutamate, fried foods, hot drink. Also, do not take hot baths.
- Avoid taking too many supplements, principally ginseng, vitamin B complex or ginkgo biloba, because they overexcite the body and can increase the metabolic rate.
- Massage the neck and shoulders with Lifestyle Massage Oil , or make your own blend by adding 20 drops each of lavender, geranium and lemon essential oils to 100ml sweet almond oil. Massage for ten minutes at bed time, for one month. The increased blood flow to the brain restores the functions of the thermoregulatory centre.
- Practise yoga and meditation to calm the body.
- I also recommend trying a course of acupuncture and/or homoeopathy.
The Cooling Breath
This simple retention breathing exercise is a wonderful way of controlling excessive sweating by cooling the body. Practise it initially in bed for ten minutes each morning and evening.
- Cover yourself with a quilt because your body temperature will drop. Inhale for three seconds, then gently hold your breath for three seconds (without letting your shoulders rise or getting tense), then exhale slowly for six seconds. Breathe in and out through your nose – as long as it isn’t blocked; if it is, then breathe through your mouth. Your body may quiver at first as you get used to doing this, but don’t worry.
- When you feel calm, focus on your breath. Feel the cool air passing through the nostrils into the lungs, then the warm air coming out as you exhale. Imagine the heat escaping through the body. At this point, imagine the body surface cooling down and the body temperature dropping.
- Once you master this, use it in anxious situations. Just a few minutes will make a big difference. (Even children can learn to do this, through it may take a little time.)