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Best foot forward and no sweat!

SWEATY feet are a problem for many, causing embarrassment and often leading to other health problems. Traditional Chinese medicine, though, has an answer, as Zhang Qian reports.

Being invited into a friend's house is a sign of closeness the world round. But an invitation can be a problem for some when they have to take off their shoes in the corridor and take their stockinged feet inside.

Sweaty smelly feet are not rare in China, especially in the south where there are long spells of high temperatures and humidity. Apart from inherited factors, damp and hot environments, or nervousness, depression and stress can all lead to overactive sweat glands.

TCM explains it as a reflection of pathogenic heat and dampness inside the human body. Eating foods that expel pathogenic heat and dampness, like pearl barley, and soaking feet in special herbal solutions at night, can bring relief.

The palms and soles are where sweat glands are the most concentrated in the human body. There are 620 sweat glands in every square centimeters on the soles but only between 140 and 340 in other parts of the body. It is natural that feet sweat after running, walking or other physical exercise.

But for those who are overweight, have hyperthyroidism, diabetes or simply have a constitution of sweating more than usual, the problem can cause concern.

"People with sweaty feet often have overactive yang (hot) energy and malfunctioning spleens," says Dr Li Yongmei, chief physician of Longhua Hospital attached to Shanghai University of TCM.

As the spleen is responsible for sending fluids to the urinary system for expelling, its failure can lead to accumulated pathogenic dampness inside body. Just as water always flows downwards, pathogenic dampness tends to do the same and can result in sweaty feet and eczema.

Just sweating more from the feet is not a big deal, according to Dr Li, yet sweaty feet can easily lead to eczema if there are also unhealthy habits such as not washing regularly or changing socks often enough.

"The hot and damp environment created by airtight shoes also makes an environment where eumycete or fungal mould grows and reproduces. And that's where the headaches start," says Dr Li. Inflammation or ulcers often occur because patients scratch the itchy outbreaks of eczema.

Sometimes smelly feet can be caused by psychological problems, says Dr Li.

To treat sweaty feet, TCM uses the principle of dispelling pathogenic heat and dampness inside with herbs or food. Traditional Chinese patent drugs like Er Miao Wan (two herbs pills) made of huang bo (phellodendron) and cang shu (Chinese atractylodes) and Si Miao Wan (four herb pills) with two other herbs - niu xi (achyranthes) and pearl barley are often prescribed to dispel pathogenic heat and dampness as well as improving the circulation.

Foods that help promote urinary health thus helping dispel pathogenic dampness are also recommended. These include pumpkin, carp, shepherd's purse, day lily buds, white guard, crucian carp, horsebean, lily's root, green beans, pearl barley and corn.

To cope with sweaty feet, ventilated shoes and pure cotton socks are a must.

Dr Li advises people to change their socks every day and insolate them after washing. And for those with eczema, Dr Li suggests putting the socks in boiling water before hanging them up to dry.

Cotton five-toe socks are popular and can help absorb the sweat between toes to keep the feet dry. Putting a small bag of tea leaves or bamboo charcoal in shoes can help dry out the shoes and dispel odors. People with sweaty feet should have at least two changes of footwear. Well ventilated sandals are recommended for the summer.

Soaking the feet in a special herbal solution is a more direct and effective way to relieve sweaty feet. TCM prefers a mixture of alum, dandelion, ageratum, tuckahoe and kuh-seng that help restrict sweating, kill fungi and relieve itchiness.

A recipe to soak feet

Ingredients: alum (15g), dandelion (30g), ageratum (12g), tuckahoe (30g) and kuh-seng (15g)


1. Heat the ingredients in a saucepan with water for 5 minutes until the soup turns dark.

2. Add the mixture to some hot water in a basin and then put your feet in it.

3. Keep adding hot water to keep your feet warm.

4. Soak for at least 20 minutes before bed every day.

Function: The alum helps sweaty and dry feet and the other ingredients can help kill fungi and relieve itching.


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