This week’s heatwave is set to break records – which means sticky conditions. But there are things you can do to stop sweating – or at least sweat a little less
Sticky heatwave alert – get the sun cream and ice lollies stocked up. This week temperatures are expected to hit a scorching 37 °C (98.6F) in South East England, which would overtake the current July record of 36.7 °C (98.1F) in 2015.
The Met Office has issued an amber heat warning – that’s the second-highest level – for the East and South East of England as well as the East Midlands.
Those in affected areas are being urged to stay out of the sun, especially between 12 and 3pm, to drink plenty of water and to check on older people who are living by themselves.
Pick up some B-Vitamins – you’re welcome
‘B vitamins help keep hormones regulated and keep stress levels under control,’ says nutritionist Rick Hay.
‘Often when we sweat, we become more nervous about the perspiration. We then get all hot and bothered and that feeds back into the anxiety and stress levels. This stress-induced escalating sweat-cycle is one of the main causes of hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating’.
B-vitamins play a key role in linking the endocrine and nervous systems, both of which play a major role in our fight-or-flight response. When we are under stress, our bodies release a river of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that tell our brains whether we should fight or run.
Cortisol, is one of the main targets of B-vitamins with regards to their nervous system-supporting effects. Several studies have found that vitamins B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate or folic acid) and B12 (cobalamin/cyanocobalamin) can help regulate our stress hormone levels.
When hormones such as cortisol come into play, our sympathetic nervous system kicks into action and, rather unsympathetically, puts us into fighting-mode. It is true that we no longer run from hungry lions like our ancestors once did but the demands of daily life are interpreted by our bodies as if we did. When our bodies think we are under threat, a bunch of things happen to prepare us for a deathmatch.
These include things like faster heart beating and breathing rates (to increase blood oxygenation), blood vessel dilation (to supply our muscles with nourishment and oxygen, ready for a speedy escape) and, yes, sweating (a lot of it) to cool down our bodies from the potential explosive burst of adrenaline and exercise.
Magnesium – the essential mineral to beat excess sweating
Sweat is nothing more, nothing less than very dilute urine. So yep, when we sweat we are essentially peeing through our pores. With all the fluid that floats out of us during heavy sweating, a lot of electrolytes are also lost.
Minerals are integral components of our nervous systems and so, if electrolytes like sodium, calcium and especially magnesium are not replenished, it just adds insult to injury because the nerves lose their ability to control the opening and shutting of pores effectively. And if you are already under the stress from all those crunching deadlines, the problem compounds even further.
Magnesium is a particularly important mineral because it is involved not only in nervous signal transmission but also in the ability of our nervous systems to adapt to life’s daily stresses.
This means that taking extra magnesium has a double-wammy effect on your nerves and sweat glands.
‘When we sweat, we lose a lot of magnesium,’ says Rick Hay.
‘This may result in more tension which can lead to more sweating which, in turn, leads to more tension and even more sweating and on goes the cycle.
‘So, extra magnesium and vitamin B supplementation, as well as foods rich in these [such as dark green vegetables and nuts and seeds for magnesium and egg yolks and brewer’s yeast for vitamin B], are good are good starting points to provide your body with extra nervous system support and help you regulate your excess sweating,’ says Hay.
Schizandra – the fix to hot flashes for those with menopause
The herb schizandra, a herb whose flower is called magnolia berry, can have a calming effect on the nervous system so it too helps in stress-sweating incidents.
It also has an anti-neuroinflammatory effect which protects our nerves against oxidative damage.
There are studies suggesting that schizandrins, the active compounds found in this plant, could have a protective effect against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Schizandra is actually another herb classified as an adaptogen, a term used to describe herbs and compounds that enhance our stress-adaptation mechanisms.
Schizandra is particularly good for women in menopause as it helps regulate night sweats and hot flashes.
And if you are into Traditional Chinese Medicine, you have probably spotted that schizandra is a Yin tonic and night sweats are a distinctive sign of Yin deficiency.
According to Rick Hay, ‘Schizandra has been used traditionally by the Chinese for millennia to help with excessive perspiration and night sweats.’
Take schizandra as a tincture or tea (from health food stores) once a day.
Don’t be a hot, sticky mess – stock up on fruits
Heavy, stodgy meals full of animal-based proteins will aggravate even more your sweating especially if you are particularly prone to it. ‘The theory is that high fat, high animal-protein leads might put pressure on the bodies digestion which can heat the body up further,’ says Rick Hay. The extra energy required to process them burns more body fuel leading to an increase in body temperature and, consequently, sweating. Keep things light and portions small and go for plant-based meals as much as you can.
Stodgy, carbohydrate-laden meals on the other hand also increase body temperature because the excess glucose needs to be combusted and this leads to the release of energy and heat, the latter as a by-product of the process.
If you are an Indian or Korean fire-food lover but want to keep those sweat-taps closed, then you may have to restrict those take away/home-cooked tandooris and Korean bulgogis to a “once in a blue moon”-type events.
Spices are ‘thermogenic’ foods that cause an increase in body temperature by raising our metabolic rates. And yep, you guessed it, we sweat rivers to keep our bodies cool as a consequence.
On the plus side though, thermogenesis can totally turbo-charge your weight-loss goals as more fuel (carbs and fats mainly) will have to be burned in order to yield the energy you need.
So the choice here really is yours, what is your priority: keeping those sweat-taps closed or boosting your fat-burning furnace?
For snacks, aim for water-dense, cooling foods like watermelon, grapes, melon, celery, cucumber and radishes. Their high water and electrolyte content will help replenish most of which may have been lost with the heavy sweating.
Jelly is also a good alternative as it is essentially a protein matrix-trap for water molecules. The hydrated matrix means that the water is immobilised but not frozen and therefore cannot ‘escape’ the body as fast as liquid water would, contributing to a more prolonged hydrating effect.
And to keep the animal protein here to a minimum, go for something like agar-agar, a natural thickening agent that hardens just like gelatine but is extracted from algae.
Caffeine should also be consumed in moderation if you have a tendency to sweat as much as the proverbial pig.
Caffeine is a stimulant and acts on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). In moderation, caffeine has no significant effects on sweating unless you are constitutionally prone to it. But if you are one of those angry 17-a-day-cups-of-coffee-type coffeeholics, then it can increase sweating.
Caffeine promotes the release of adrenaline, another stress hormone that also affects our fight-or-flight response mentioned above.
Rick hay says, ‘Caffeine can raise blood pressure and can also activate sweat glands through adrenaline’.
Ditto with alcohol. You don’t have to completely eliminate it but you should definitely implement strict controls over its consumption.
‘Excess alcohol intake can cause vasodilation, a widening of the blood vessels, and this can lead to increased sweating,’ Rick explains.
Don’t underestimate the powers of sage
Sage has been used traditionally to help with excessive sweating and night sweats for many years.
The benefits of sage for excessive sweating have even been officially recognised by the European equivalent of the FDA in the US, the German Commission E.
Sage is also a natural source of flavonoids and polyphenols making it a great antioxidant and antibacterial. Not only that but ursolic acid, a component of sage essential oil, has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Try taking 15-20 drops of Vogel’s Menosan £9.75 (which is a concentrated tincture of sage) once daily
Still sweating? Try Botox or surgery
In severe cases of hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating, you may need to revert to more serious actions.
Botox injections work in a similar manner to the Botox injections used for wrinkles. Botox is a nerve toxin extracted from a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum that causes muscle paralysis by preventing the release of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter responsible for muscle contraction.
It can be injected into nerves supplying sweat glands thereby stopping the tiny muscles that squeeze the glands and help release sweat. Some people may need more than one injection but they can leave you sweat-free for up to a year.
Alternatively a treatment where a low electrical current is passed through the the body for about 20-30 minutes can also help.
Called Iontophoresis, the precise reason why this method works is not known but doctors believe that it blocks sweat from reaching the surface of the skin.
The treatment has to be repeated a few times a week at first but after some time, it may even prevent a person from sweating and some may need it only a couple of times a month.
A little caution note: iontophoresis is pretty safe in general but, as it involves an electrical current flowing through the body, it’s not recommended for people with pacemakers or metal implants, cardiac conditions, epilepsy or pregnant women.
Your doctor can also prescribe drugs called anticholinergics if your hyperhidrosis is a little more extreme.
These drugs work similarly to Botox and are usually only used if neither Botox nor iontophoresis have worked.
Because they affect the contraction of some muscles, people on anticholinergics may experience side effects such as blurred vision, urinary problems and palpitations.
Where other methods haven’t worked, a surgical procedure in which surgeons may scrape, suction or cut out the offending sweat glands could solve the problem.
A second type of surgery called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) involves severing the nerves supplying sweat glands in the armpit so that the glands can no longer be activated by the nervous system. But negative effects of this procedure include scars and other sweat glands may overcompensate for the loss-of-function of some glands by producing more sweat in other areas.
So you may ablate sweating in your armpit but sweat more in other areas like the face, hands or chest. This is an irreversible procedure.