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By Dr. Mercola | mercola
While technology is one of my primary passions, I have concerns about many of the technological solutions offered by the medical industry.
A case in point is a new machine approved by the FDA last year called miraDry. It’s basically a microwave gun (utilizing 5800 MHz wavelength energy) that radiates the sweat glands in your armpits, thereby destroying them. This effectively shuts down sweat production in the treated area.
This would superficially appear to be a wonderful new tool to eliminate what would seem to be one of life’s major challenges, how to eliminate body odor from underarm sweating.
Sweating is normal, of course, and serves very important functions, including cooling your body and eliminating toxins. But a tiny minority of people (an estimated three percent) suffer from hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, which can lead to social awkwardness and embarrassment.
A common treatment is Botox injections – another potentially risky alternative – which is typically covered by health insurance. MiraDry treatments are not covered, and at a cost of about $3,000 for a two-session treatment, it’s definitely not an inexpensive option.
This new device indeed does appear effective, but at what cost in terms of health?
In two treatments, the device is said to destroy 22,000-30,000 underarm sweat glands (which equates to about two percent of your body’s total sweat glands), reducing sweat volume by an average of 82 percent.
The effect, is not necessarily permanent, however. According to David Pariser,1 a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, it’s still not known whether your body might compensate for the lost sweat glands under your arms by increasing sweat production through the glands over the rest of your body.
Is the MiraDry Device an Ideal Option to Reduce Sweating?
According to the FDA, the miraDry system2 is “a microwave device designed to heat tissue located at the dermal-hypodermal interface where the sweat glands reside using a surface contact applicator.” Of concern is the fact that the study conducted to test its efficacy and safety contained only 120 people.
According to The Wall Street Journal:3
“A company-funded study of 120 adults with hyperhidrosis published earlier this year in the journal Dermatologic Surgery, measured the effect of two treatment sessions, with a third allowed as needed if patients hadn’t seen improvement.
A month after the final treatment, 89 percent of those treated with miraDry had a treatment success, defined as sweat reduced to ‘never noticeable’ or ‘tolerable.’ By comparison, 54 percent of those who got a control treatment without the microwave energy saw a treatment success.”
While efficacy was shown, the approval of the system is primarily based on “substantial equivalence” with another device, called DTS G2,4 which is “indicated for use for coagulation of soft tissue,” basically an electrosurgical cutting and coagulation device.
According to some sources, such as a Cigna5, there’s very little evidence in the in the published, peer-reviewed scientific literature to support the use of microwave radiation for the treatment of hyperhidrosis.
Despite a myriad of unanswered questions, miraDry has received positive write-ups in The Wall Street Journal6 and the Huffington Post.7 But is it really wise to eliminate sweat glands? What are the side effects of a.) microwaving your armpits, and b.) eliminating sweat glands? No one really seems to know what the potential long-term side effects might be as of yet, but I’m willing to bet there are some.
According to The Wall Street Journal:8
“MiraDry, in addition to reducing sweat volume, kills apocrine glands, which cause odor, and damages hair follicles, resulting in sparser armpit hair… After the procedure, the underarms are swollen and tender for a week. Most people have minor swelling, but in some cases it can be a lump as big as a softball, says Dr. Shamban; the swelling is treated with steroids.
Another side effect can be temporary numbness and tingling in the arm. A patient in one study, however, had muscle weakness in the left arm; it was improving when the patient was last seen six months after the procedure. To reduce risk of nerve damage, Miramar recommends doctors use the lowest energy setting in the upper part of the underarm, where nerves are closest to the surface.”
Concern of numbness in the arm is echoed in the following online testimonial9:
“I had my first miraDry treatment two weeks ago. The device was set to level 2. I had 55 lidocaine shots in each underarm which were fairly uncomfortable but manageable. Underarm sweat has drastically been reduced although not 100%…
The procedure itself was virtually painless EXCEPT one instance which was extremely painful and alarming. I’m convinced it damaged the Ulnar nerve in my right arm. I have a constant numb tingling soreness on the underside of my forearm from my elbow to my wrist. This has not improved at all since two days after the treatment. My left arm is fine…
Very little information is available as this is such a new procedure. I’ve read the official FDA documentation on clinical trials, and the side effects on subjects was vague and follow ups were minimal. I’m getting increasingly concerned since there has been no real improvement and I’m fearful of permanent nerve damage.”
Why is Treatment for Extremely Rare Condition “Mass Marketed” by Conventional Media?
One potential problem I see here is misuse by folks who might not have a severe enough case of hyperhidrosis to justify such dramatic intervention. A lot of people just don’t like to deal with normal sweating. This concern is augmented by major media comments such as the opening line by The Wall Street Journal, reporting on the treatment:
“During one of the hottest summers in recorded history comes a new way to never let them see you sweat: Microwave your sweat glands.”
Sounds more like an advertisement than a public health related news report, doesn’t it? While the article goes on to specify that the treatment is for hyperhidrosis, it already planted the seed in the average person’s mind that this could be a viable alternative for avoiding the hassle of sweating as a normal response to hot weather. Hyperhidrosis actually appears to be (at least in part) a response to anxiety as opposed to an excessive response to temperature. The Huffington Post mentions this in relaying the personal story of Jessica Winter:
“In a piece featured on Oprah.com, Jessica Winter wrote she sweat so much during cocktail parties that she tried Chinese herbs and Botox, but found that the only effective solution was to pop a Xanax to calm herself down. She eventually spoke with a therapist after realizing that her own sweating was rooted in anxiety.”
Why Do You Sweat, and is it Really Necessary?
You have two different types of sweat glands: Eccrine sweat glands, which are distributed over your entire body, and apocrine sweat glands, located on your scalp, armpits, and genital area. While abhorred by many, sweating actually has numerous health- and beauty-related benefits. Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and serves important roles just like any other bodily organ. For example, sweating helps your body:
- Maintain proper temperature and keep you from overheating
- Expel toxins, which supports proper immune function and helps prevent diseases related to toxic overload, such as fibromyalgia and even cancer
- Kill viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Clean the pores, which will help eliminate blackheads and acne
Interestingly, profuse sweating can actually help decrease body odor. Foul body odor is related to the toxins being expelled – it’s not your “natural” scent. If you’re living a “clean” lifestyle, meaning a lifestyle in which you’re minimally exposed to dietary and environmental toxins and therefore have a low toxic burden, your sweat will be close to odorless.
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