Antiperspirants & Breast Cancer Debunking The Myths: Part 2
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I received multiple copies of the email I shared in my previous blog about "Breast Cancer Prevention" from well-meaning friends and family members.
Even though as a nurse I knew the information did not make sense and I also never used antiperspirants, I must admit it was the motivation for my experimentation with natural deodorant recipes (more about that later).
There are four specific topics presented by the email that I would like to explore over the next few blogs. This blog will focus on topic number 1.
Since antiperspirants keep a person from sweating, cancer-causing toxins build up in the armpit lymph nodes located in the armpits.
- The fact that most breast cancer tumors occur in the upper outer quadrant of the breast area, where the lymph nodes are located, is further proof of the link between antiperspirants and breast cancer.
- Men are less likely to develop breast cancer due to antiperspirants because the antiperspirant is caught in their hair and does not get applied to the skin.
- Women who apply antiperspirant right after shaving increase the risk further because shaving causes almost imperceptible nicks in the skin which give the chemicals entrance into the body from the armpit area.
PROBLEM MYTH #1: Since antiperspirants keep a person from sweating, cancer-causing toxins build up in the lymph nodes located in the armpits.
There is no connection between the sweat glands and the lymph nodes. The origin of this myth comes from a misunderstanding of human anatomy. A misunderstanding of sweat glands and lymph nodes. So here is a brief anatomy lesson.
Sweat glands and lymph vessels are found in the layer of the skin called the dermis, which sits just below the outermost layer of skin called the epidermis. There are four million sweat glands in the average human body, with most of these in our palms and the soles of the feet.
There are two main types of sweat glands, eccrine glands, and apocrine glands, both of which secrete their substances directly out to the surface of the body, not into the bloodstream.
About Apocrine Sweat Glands
- They are located mainly in the armpits and genital area
- The sweat produced is thick, clear, and a bit sticky
- The sweat contains proteins, fats, and other substances
- The sweat is odorless, but bacteria on the surface of the skin feast on the proteins, fats, etc. which causes an unpleasant odor
The sweat is secreted into the canals of hair follicles which is why this type of gland congregates wherever hair follicles grow
- The glands are present at birth, but they do not begin to function until the hormonal surge of puberty
- The actual purpose of these glands is not fully understood. We do know that the fluid they secrete contains pheromone-like compounds which attract the opposite sex--this phenomenon occurs in all mammals, not just humans
- Their secretions are not a major source for releasing toxins
- A small aside: Breast milk is actually secreted by modified apocrine glands called mammary glands
About Eccrine Sweat Glands
- They are located all over the skin's surface but have a higher density in the palms, soles of the feet and scalp
- Their sweat is clear, thin, watery, sweet and salty, and usually odorless
- The sweat contains large amounts of sodium and other electrolytes
- The sweat is secreted directly onto the skin's surface
- They are fully functional at birth
- The main purpose is to help control body temperature. As body temperature increases, sweat increases, which cools the surface of the skin. Their continual secretions also help preserve the skin's acid mantle, which protects the skin from the colonization of harmful bacteria and viruses.
- Sweating is not a significant mechanism for ridding the body of unwanted compounds or toxins
The Lymphatic System
In contrast to our sweat glands, the lymph glands do not open out directly onto the surface of the skin and so do not excrete substances from the body directly.
The lymph nodes are not connected to sweat glands in any way.
The lymphatic system, a network of tissues and organs that is similar to our blood circulatory system, is an important part of the immune system.
It is made up of lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and lymph that work together to rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials.
The tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic vessels branch out through all parts of our body like our veins and arteries, but instead of blood, they carry a fluid called lymph.
Lymph is composed of water, protein molecules, salts, glucose, urea, and most importantly a large number of white blood cells called lymphocytes that fight infection and destroy damaged or abnormal cells. (Picture from the National Cancer Institute)
As blood circulates through the body, nutrient-rich fluid leaks out from the tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, into the tissue spaces between cells.
This fluid carries food to the cells and bathes the body tissues. The fluid collects waste products, bacteria, and damaged cells and then drains into the lymph vessels.
If the lymphatic system does not drain the excess fluid from the tissues, the lymph fluid will build up in the body's tissues, causing them to swell.
The lymph is then carried by the vessels to the lymph nodes. There are 600 to 700 lymph nodes that filter lymph fluid as it flows through them, trapping bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances, which are then destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes.
When there is a serious infection, the lymph nodes summon their armies of white blood cells to fight, which can cause the lymph nodes to swell. While we often hear people refer to swollen glands, they are not glands at all—just swollen lymph nodes.
The body also has about 20 to 30 bean-shaped axillary lymph nodes that are located in the armpit area.
These lymph nodes are responsible for draining lymph from the breasts and surrounding areas, including the neck, the upper arms, and the armpits.
Lymphedema is a chronic condition that affects women after breast cancer surgery in which axillary lymph nodes have been removed.
The removal of the lymph nodes disrupts the normal drainage pattern in the lymph system and most often causes swelling in the arm on the affected side.
The Problem Discussed
It is true that antiperspirants stop sweating, but the main purpose of perspiration is to cool your body, not to get rid of toxins.
I hope the brief anatomy lesson has helped demonstrate that there is no connection between sweating and lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are not connected to sweat glands in any way. Therefore sweat glands blocked by antiperspirants cannot deposit toxins into the lymph nodes.
Most antiperspirants contain some form of aluminum which is often linked as the cancer culprit ingredient. Aluminum salts dissolve on your skin and “melt” into your pores. These salts plug up your pores and stop sweating.
Antiperspirants block sweat glands, not the lymph nodes. So, while an antiperspirant may stop you from sweating, it has no effect on the lymphatic system.
Some proponents of aluminum-free products claim that aluminum prevents you from sweating out toxins that could potentially cause cancer. Although, researchers have found traces of aluminum in breast tissues and fluids, they cannot tell if the aluminum comes from antiperspirant use or from other sources.
Some of the women with higher levels of aluminum in their breast tissue, never even used antiperspirants. Scientists also have found traces of aluminum in blood, bone, muscle, brain, and other tissues and some research has suggested that aluminum, at least in large amounts, may be harmful to numerous body systems. More conclusive research into aluminum’s effect on cancer and other diseases is needed.
Lymph nodes help clear out bacteria, viruses, and other possible threats to our body, the lymph nodes do not release waste or toxins through sweating.
The idea that we must be allowed to sweat under our arms in order to release lots of toxins from our bodies is also not true.
Toxins are not removed from the body through sweating or through the axillary (armpit) lymph nodes. The kidneys and liver help remove these toxins from the body.
Far more toxins are removed by your kidneys and liver than through sweating. Sweat is made up of 99% water, with a bit of salt, urea, proteins, and carbohydrates. Toxic chemicals that enter the body are removed from the blood by the kidneys and the liver. Substances removed by the kidneys are released into the urine, while those taken by the liver are released into bile which mixes with feces and is eliminated.
The average adult has 2.6 million sweat glands that are designed to regulate body temperature, not get rid of toxic waste products.
Read Antiperspirants & Breast Cancer: Fact & Fiction Part 3