TUESDAY, Jan. 21, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- With the help of a poison, Pepé Le Pew may finally land a date with a cat after all.
Several studies have shown that Botox, the toxin that has made a comeback in medical circles, can counteract problematic sweating. Now German scientists have taken that research to perhaps its logical next step: They've found it can help combat or improve body odor.
The substance improved body odor even in people who don't sweat excessively. Users were "significantly less smelly," says Dr. Marc Heckmann, a dermatologist at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich and lead author of the study, which appears in the January issue of the Archives of Dermatology.
Botox, also known as botulinum toxin type A, is a potent neurotoxin associated with botulism, or severe food poisoning. Aside from treating muscle contractions associated with specific neurologic diseases, the main buzz has focused on its cosmetic use for wrinkle removal.
Recent studies found that Botox can substantially reduce or prevent sweating in people who suffer from hyperhidrosis, a disorder of profuse sweating affecting the armpits, groin, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. In these patients, the toxin is injected into problem areas such as the palms and armpits.
When injected, the Botox abolishes sweating within three to seven days and patients have gone sweat-free for up to six months. It acts by paralyzing the eccrine sweat glands located almost everywhere on the body's surface. (The palms alone have about 3,000 eccrine glands.) Botox inhibits acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that supplies nerves to the eccrine glands. The eccrines are small glands and are found deeper within the skin.
Apocrine glands are larger, fewer and attached to hair follicles in the armpits and groin region. The apocrines become active after puberty and are responsible for body odor. In addition to pumping out normal sweat, the apocrines produce proteins and fatty acids, making the sweat thicker in the armpits and groin. This causes those nasty clothing stains. When bacteria on our skin attack the proteins and fatty acids of the apocrine sweat, it results in body odor.
Since Botox primarily paralyzes the eccrine glands that produce only a clear and odorless sweat, the German team decided to examine if Botox can affect the body odor-causing apocrine glands as well.
The researchers found Botox also combats body odor in healthy volunteers who are normal sweaters. "Body odor was previously reported in a small series of patients that were being treated with Botox for armpit sweating, but this issue was not investigated in normal individuals," Heckmann says. "We wanted to determine whether Botox can affect body odor regardless of the amount of sweating a person does."
It's already known that moisture, skin bacteria and sweat secretions assist in producing body odor. The purpose of this study was to find out if there is a physiological role of paralyzing the muscles to the sweat glands that may play a pivotal role in causing odor.
In this study, 16 healthy volunteers were injected with Botox in one armpit and a salt solution in the other armpit. After one week, a T-shirt sniff test was used to determine body odor. "The Botox-treated armpit was drier, had much less odor, and was rated as significantly less smelly," Heckmann reports.
People who sweat profusely have no associated body odor, since the sweat is mostly produced by the eccrine glands. Scientists theorize that there may be a difference in the presence of the apocrine sweat gland between normal individuals and those with hyperhidrosis. Botox may eliminate the odor by paralyzing those glands.
"Many people suffer from body odor to different degrees," Heckmann says. "Common ways to relieve it are through deodorants, which act by plugging up the sweat glands and masking the odor. They are only a symptomatic relief." For those people, he continues, "Botox may offer them six months or more of symptom relief."
The relief could dry out the wallet, though: It costs about $1,500 for treating both armpits.
Note that the study didn't compare Botox to deodorants, so the results on the whiff test could have been different.
Read more about the treatment of hyperhidrosis from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Dermatology has a page explaining how Botox is changing skin treatment.