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They Claim That Our Sweat Can Kill Germs. So, How Come So Many People Get Boils in Their Armpits?

boilsAccording to Dr. Birgit Schittek and her colleagues in an article published by her researchers at Eberhard-Karls University in Tübingen, Germany, your armpit is probably a real killer. Perhaps your girl friend or boy friend has already clued you to this fact, but you now have a great answer for her or him. "You bet it is! My armpit can really kill germs and I can prove it to you." You can then put on your computer and go to www.nature.com/ni where the prestigious journal Nature Immunology has published an online version of Dr. Schittek's article prior to it's appearance in the print edition. You won't be able to see the article itself unless you happen to be a subscriber but you will find a brief reference to the main findings on that page if you don't wait too long.

It seems that this research group accidentally stumbled on a heretofore unknown gene while they were going through DNA libraries from two totally unrelated conditions, melanoma and nevus cell lines. The gene appeared on chromosome 12, and their investigation revealed that it sets up the preparation of a peptide in the body, which is found only in the skin. Further evaluation pinpointed the action of this substance strictly to the sweat glands. When the team studied sweat from four volunteers (I have no idea whether these individuals also possessed real killer armpits) they were able to show that a processed form of the original peptide was in the sweat. These were truly clever scientists because they immediately recognized the fact that this peptide was similar in size to proteins known as defensins, which are secreted by skin cells. Since they were well aware that defensins are able to attack microbes, they decided to test whether the sweat peptide could do the same thing. They hit the nail on the head when they were able to prove that this new agent is active against both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, as well as some yeast species. They called the peptide dermcidin. It turned out to be a rather extensively adept agent since it can kill E.coli, E.faecalis, S.aureus, and Candida albicans; all of which are important troublemakers. Working in the high salt level and acidic environment of sweat, dermcidin did its killer job at low concentrations, and became even more effective as the concentration increased. This was no fluke because other similar peptides were unable to show such antibiotic capabilities. Next in line is to determine whether dermcidin will also kill viruses.

This finding may carry some true promise for the future since the structure of dermcidin is nothing like previously discovered antibiotic proteins. It is also interesting to note that dermcidin is produced continually by the sweat glands, unlike the defensins, which only appear if there is inflammation.

Somehow, all this leaves me a bit confused. It seems to me that someone who develops an infection in the armpit, or anywhere else, and who tends to sweat a lot, has always been advised to wash the area thoroughly in order to keep the sweat production to a minimum. We all know of the sweaty individual who has all kinds of infections on the skin or in the crevices. This is especially true of adolescents with their propensity for zits. Now it seems that we may have been too quick to give advice on the subject. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if it turns out that we should be telling the kids not to wash themselves too often? Funny, old time dermatologists used to tell their patients to shower only about once a week to keep their skins properly moistened. Maybe they had the right idea after all.

You smell like a pig sty. Her comment was vicious.

Why can't you deodorize like everyone here?

I'm sure the food at this place is delicious,

But my stomach is bumping and turning I fear.



Be careful I answered with a great deal of anger,

Your comment is offensive, a romantic chiller,

And you're flirting dear lady with all kinds of danger,

Cause my armpits have a weapon, a terrible killer.


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Cartoons and Poems following each article are created and copyrighted by Dr. Ackerman and cannot be copied or reproduced without his permission. Copyright © 2005 by Marvin Ackerman, M.D.