4 Things You Need to Know About Your Weird Sweating

April 13, 2016

Quick anatomy lesson: you have two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.

Eccrine glands are found most all over your body while apocrine glands are mostly located under the arms and in the anogenital region (yup, just what you were thinking: the crotch).

  • Apocrine glands respond to hormone changes and start to work during puberty.
  • Eccrine glands secrete mostly water and salt in effort to cool you off, while apocrine glands are paired with hair follicles. They are more continuous secreters of a fattier type sweat into the gland tubule of each hair follicle, vs. only responding to elevated temperature. Their sweat is greasier and because of it’s fatty acid content (which bacteria on your skin metabolize) it accounts for smellier sweat.

Both types of sweat are essentially odorless, but apocrine sweat once it’s worked on by your skin’s bacteria, will then get smelly.

1. What makes you sweat at odd times or not at all?

Many hormonal fluctuations and issues can create some odd sweats – or lack of it. Here’s what’s up with weird sweating:

Excess Sweating

There are two types of too much sweat: primary and secondary.

  1. Primary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating in the hands, underarms, face, and feet without any apparent reason.
  2. The secondary type is excess sweating all over the body and typically due to a medical condition (such as Fabry’s disease or certain inherited metabolic disorders) or overmedication of certain prescription meds.

What we’re talking about here is considered primary and is often due to hormonal shifts. For example, hyperthryoidism (elevated thyroid hormones) can certainly crank up your temp and leave you sweaty. This can happen transiently with Hashimoto’s (keep scrolling down to find out more in a bit) or more consistently with hormone secreting nodules or Grave’s disease (also autoimmune, like Hashi) for example.

But more commonly it can be in response to adrenaline, your short term, high octane stress hormone.

This can happen in an obvious situation of stress, like nearly getting smacked by a NYC cab, having an argument, hearing distressing news, exercise, or anything else that jolts you into stress. This can also show up as what feels like sweating for no reason or even at rest when you are running low cortisol and a seemingly benign stress like low blood sugar can cause a burst of adrenaline to keep you going. We see this with adrenal fatigue or hypoglycemic problems (low blood sugar).

Other Causes Of The Spontaneous Sweats

The one you’ve probably already heard of: estrogen.

Think menopausal hot flashes and night sweats. It isn’t so much that low estrogen causes the temperature control problems but rather the fluctuating estrogen levels as your ovaries sputter to make hormones during the months to years of peri-menopause. They sorta try and try and then finally kick out some estrogen so you’re in an overall low estrogen time but with intermittent spikes.

This up and down sends a very mixed signal to your hypothalamus – the part of your brain that controls temperature by directing your sweat glands and muscles to make changes in sweating and pore opening.

However, there’s another relatively common cause of hot flashes and seemingly random sweating if you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and that’s: a temporary, hyper-thyroid situation or Hashimoto’s flare.

What happens is this: you get a flare in your immune system due to some trigger and the attack on your thyroid gets turned up a bit. When it does, tissue gets destroyed and those damaged thyroid cells will dump their contents, thyroid hormones, into your system. This often lasts a day or two but can for sure make you feel sweaty, hot and wound up.

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2. What If You Don’t Sweat?

Lack of sweating, or sweating with very little exertion, is often low electrolytes as part of adrenal fatigue.  This can be easily remedied by taking some – and more than what’s in coconut water. You need a decent dose. I like Designs for Health Electrolyte Synergy or NUUN Active hydration tabs, 1-2 servings per day.

If you have Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune issue, lack of sweating can be due to something more serious like Sjogren’s disease (which is an autoimmune disease that can damage the sweat glands) or autoimmune damage to the autonomic nervous system such as Parkinson’s or diabetes.

Next to low electrolytes though, perhaps the most common cause of not sweating is being hypothyroid.

When your thyroid hormones are low, you won’t respond to temperature changes as quickly. You’ll also feel “heat intolerant”, like you just can’t stand a hot room or hotter temps outside.

3. About The Smell

Again, it’s not the sweat itself so much but the bacteria on your skin metabolizing the fatty acids in accrine sweat.

Smellier sweat can be in response to changes in your female hormone balance. When I was pregnant, we joked that I was “sweating like a trucker”.  All pitted out and with a new funk totally unfamiliar to me as I typically sweat easy (adrenal fatigue) but never smelly.

And if you have PCOS it’s easy to have a couple of sweaty problems on your hands as Hashimoto’s is very common in PCOS, as are adrenal issues and many of us have elevated testosterone which increases oil production but not necessarily sweat. But added oil to the bacteria and sweat combo you’ve got going and you get smellier.

One other cause of added sweat with PCOS is if you have an elevation in the testosterone derivative androsteinedione (very, very common in PCOS but rarely tested for). This active androgen can not only make you a bit oilier but will also drive cortisol so you may be sweatier…and smellier.

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4. What To Do

When you don’t understand the cause, this can be a seriously stressful and embarrassing situation leaving one running to the doc for answers.

Medications like beta blockers or anti-cholinergic medications are available to block the stress response, as are botox injections to the sweat glands themselves. In severe cases, there’s also surgery to block the constant stimulation of autonomic nerves that turn on the sweat glands. And of course there’s more heavy duty anti-perspirants with more serious ingredients like aluminum.

However when we understand what’s causing the sweating and deal with the stresses or even utilize herbs that support the stress response and autonomic nervous system, we can gain some ground with less invasive treatments.

If you’re feeling intermittently sweaty or have noticed a sudden change in sweating pattern, get your hormones checked: cortisol, estrogen, thyroid, testosterone, etc. Ideally a combination of blood and saliva in this case.

Hormonal changes will often change your body odor or sweat smell, but so will the bacteria present on your skin. Start with a good rotation of soil based probiotics such as Prescipt Assist. Sage is a long used herbs to decrease sweating and it can be combined with our go to herbs for stress and calming the nervous system: adrenal adaptogens like rhodiola and ashwaganda and chill out herbs like valerian, chamomile, hops, etc. B vitamins are a great addition here too, specifically my favorite stress B: pantothenic acid.

And if you’re a sweaty mess consider these deodorant/anti-perspirant options:

  • Keep the heavy duty, more toxic deodorants (i.e. with aluminum) for when you really need them i.e. a big date, giving a talk, etc.
  • Use alcohol based deodorants to help control bacteria and thus smell. I love the Weleda spray deodorants and you can easily reapply throughout the day.
  • If you want some natural under arm action try LaVanilla natural deodorant.
  • Or another fav of mine: plain ol’ baking soda. Baking soda helps with the smellys but also does a great job mopping up some of the liquid keeping you dryer.  Put some in a small container for your purse or bag and apply as needed. Simply put a teaspoon sized amount in your hands and if your skin is dry,  add a bit of water, mix into a little paste and pat onto your pits. If you’re sweaty already, simply rub it in and mix it with your sweat to make the paste.

Sounds a little gross huh? It’s OK, this trick works great and by not adding water you don’t create an “oil and water won’t mix situation”, just use your oily sweat to your advantage.

While most sweating problems are part of hormonal imbalances, it’s important to see a doctor right away if you:

  • Get goosebumps when it is hot
  • Have a rapid heart rate
  • Feel dizzy
  • Are experiencing muscle weakness
  • Have nausea and/or vomiting

Stay dry!

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If you’ve ever felt like a Hangry B*tch and are ready to balance your hormones and restore your joy in just 5 simple steps then Hangry is for you!


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