Sweating is an essential function of the body that helps to excrete metabolic wastes, cool the body down, and moisten our skin. The way in which we sweat is affected by a lot of factors including diet, medications, mood, hormone levels, and the presence of certain medical conditions.
Sweat is an important part of diagnostics in Chinese Medicine; we look at it as a form of treatment for some conditions. Some of you may remember a grandparent telling you to take a hot shower or drink something warm to break a fever – this aligns with the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) view of releasing pathogens out through the pores, or as it’s more commonly said, sweating it out!
Traditional Chinese Medicine View
When we see someone who complains of improper sweating, we pay attention to the location of the sweat, the time of day in which it occurs, the nature of the sweat (if it feels cold or hot), how the sweat smells, as well as the amount of sweat occurring – this helps us make a much more thorough diagnosis.
According to TCM theory, the external body is regulated by Wei qi (also known as protective qi). Think of the opening and closing of pores as a barrier between interior and exterior, a function of the immune system. Wei qi (Qi) is controlled by the Lung, and sweat is a fluid of the Heart, so the healthy functioning of both of these systems is vital for proper sweating. When we sweat, Yang qi evaporates body fluids through the pores and out of the body in order to harmonize the internal and external body and regulate temperature. When occurring in disease, sweat helps to vent out illness, but excessive sweating can deplete body fluids too much if not regulated properly (thus why it’s so important to hydrate when sick!).
Why do we sweat?
There are many reasons why one may sweat improperly, including imbalances in Wei and Lung qi causing faulty venting, imbalances in Heart blood causing improper usage of body fluids, interior heat consuming body fluids, and stagnation causing disruption in sweat flow. In TCM, we treat these conditions using acupuncture and herbs in order to regulate sweating, but we do not ever stop sweating completely since it is such an important part of the homeostasis of our bodies.
Why does body odor smell?
Sweat itself is actually odorless, but a smell can appear when there is a shift in our interior state. Many people think that the resolution for this is to wear strong antiperspirants and deodorants; although this can stop the smell, it also causes dysregulation of sweating by blocking the releasing mechanism of the pores (not to mention that some of these products have very strong chemicals in them that can affect those with allergies or other health conditions).
What can you do about body odor?
If you’d like to regulate odorous, excessive sweat from the inside out, there are a number of dietary and lifestyle changes that can be helpful. If the sweat is associated with heat and has a very strong smell:
- limit the amount of hot and spicy foods in your diet
- decrease the amount of alcohol and coffee you drink
- be sure to avoid smoking.
Some foods that have a cooling effect that can be helpful for generating body fluids are:
- lotus root
- water chestnut
- Chinese cabbage
If it seems that the sweat is accompanied by chills and fatigue, there may be a qi imbalance or deficiency; ingredients like:
- Astragalus root
These are all wonderful for supporting the qi and rebalancing.
Regular exercise is also vital to the regulation of sweating and helps improve the Wei Qi function, so be sure to break a sweat while exercising 2-3 times per week. If sweating is causing rashes, wear loose-fitting clothing, and explore products used to see if there are any irritating chemicals in them that’s mixing with the sweat to cause bad reactions.
Ways to regulate odor externally:
Mentioned previously, many common deodorants have chemicals in them that can cause an array of problems. In order to avoid that, we often recommend using alternative forms of deodorant. We’ve gathered a list of some of our favorite natural or alternative options:
If you like a good mini DIY project, here’s a recipe for homemade deodorant:
- 2 tbsp Arrowroot powder
- 3 tbsp Baking soda
- 3 tbsp Coconut oil
- 1 Essential oil of your choice
- 2 tbsp Shea butter
- Combine shea butter and coconut oil in a quart-size glass mason jar with a lid and place this in a pot or saucepan of boiling water until melted.
- Remove from heat and add baking soda and arrowroot (If you don’t have arrowroot, add 2 extra tbsp of baking soda)
- Mix well!
- Add ⅛ to ¼ tsp of essential oil and pour it into a glass container for storage. It does not need to be stored in the fridge.
If you’d like further guidance on ways to control sweating, you can schedule an appointment with anyone here at the Yinova center who can create an individualized plan for you.