Summer is a busy time for a lot of folks. There are vacations to be taken, BBQs to attend, and time to be spent outdoors. But traveling as well as sunburn, bug bites, and other “gifts” from Mother Nature can take a toll. I hope the following summer health questions and answers will help you and your family have a happy and healthy summer.
Summer Health Question #1: Are there any natural mosquito repellents that really work?
For decades, DEET, a chemical developed in 1946, was the only insect repellent endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, its odor, which is repelling to humans as well as mosquitoes, plus safety concerns have made alternatives all the more attractive.
Fortunately, the CDC also recognizes three other insect repellents. One is a chemical called picaridin, which has been used in Australia and Europe since the 1980s but was only cleared by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2000. Picaridin appears to be as effective as DEET but it smells better and is less irritating to the skin. Another is IR3535, an ingredient in Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard.
Finally, there’s oil of lemon eucalyptus, which the CDC claims offers protection similar to products with low concentrations of DEET. (Repel’s Lemon Eucalyptus is a good brand.) This isn’t the only natural repellent that works. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine a number of years ago compared several products and found that of all botanical insect repellents, a soybean-based product called Bite Blocker worked best. Buzz Away, which contains citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and other herbs, also has proven benefits. I recommend that you try any of these natural products first and resort to the chemicals only if the botanical versions don’t work.
Insect repellents aside, there are other things you can do to avoid being a mosquito magnet. Taking 100 mg per day of thiamine (vitamin B1) supplements helps some, although not all, people repel mosquitoes, while wearing perfume, drinking beer, and eating Limburger cheese attracts them.
Summer Health Question #2: What’s the best way to treat insect bites?
Sandy, one of my Health & Healing subscribers wrote in: “I don’t remember where I heard that a penny could take the itching and swelling out of a bee or hornet sting, but I recently had a chance to see this cure in action. A friend was complaining that she had been stung several days prior, and the itching was driving her crazy. Her mother happened to have a penny on hand so she placed it over the affected area. A short while later, my friend swore the itch was gone. With summer upon us, it’s worth a shot.”
I haven’t been stung by a bee for years, but I really enjoy these kinds of folk cures. Other options for taking the sting out include Caladryl lotion or cream (available in drugstores), unseasoned meat tenderizer or baking soda mixed with a little water, toothpaste, honey, and ice. If you’ve tried these healthy summer remedies, or have suggestions of your own for treating insect bites, I’d love to hear about them. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer Health Question #3: Are there natural remedies for poison oak?
A brush with poison ivy, oak, or sumac can really put a damper on a healthy summer. Thankfully, there are safe, natural ways to relieve this pesky, itchy rash. First, if you’re lucky enough to realize that you’ve just made contact with one of these plants, wash thoroughly before a reaction occurs. But if you can’t preempt the rash, a few remedies may help relieve it.
First, splash some witch hazel or rubbing alcohol on the affected area. This won’t get rid of the rash, but it will help cool and soothe the itch. Then apply some tea tree oil or a paste of baking soda and water, both of which can help reduce redness and swelling. And last but not least, if you can get to an ocean, jump in. I’ve read multiple reports of ocean water offering an “outright cure” for poison ivy. Once you’re in the water, scoop up some sand, and gently scrub the affected areas, allowing any blisters to pop. Continue to let the salt water wash over your skin for a few minutes, and air-dry on the beach. According to a few folks in the know, this can dry up a case of poison ivy in a day or two.
Summer Health Question #4: I understand that sunscreen blocks vitamin D production. What can fair-skinned people do to avoid burning?
To ensure your good summer health, remember that optimal vitamin D production requires only 15 minutes or so of unprotected sun exposure during midday, although people with darker skin likely need more. After that, I recommend wearing a hat and other protective clothing.
I also suggest that you eat more carotenoid-rich foods. Carotenoids accumulate in the skin and act as “internal sunscreens.” Beta-carotene (from orange or yellow produce and in supplements) has been used for years to reduce sunburn in photosensitive patients, and more recent studies reveal that lycopene (abundant in tomato products such as Low-Sodium V8 Juice) and astaxanthin (found in salmon and krill oil) also counteract UV-induced free radicals in the skin and the eyes. You should watch the types of fat you eat as well. Omega-6 fatty acids, the kind found in most vegetable oils, are easily oxidized in the skin, while omega-3s in fish oil reduce UV-induced inflammation.
On occasions where prolonged exposure is unavoidable, sunscreen is appropriate. Go with those made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Unlike sunscreens containing chemicals that are absorbed into the body (and may disrupt hormone activity), these natural minerals stay on the skin’s surface and simply reflect and scatter light.
Summer Health Question #5: Is there a way to avoid jetlag while traveling across time zones?
There is, and it’s simple. At bedtime in your new destination’s time zone, take 3 mg of melatonin 30 to 60 minutes before you want to sleep. It’s safe, non-habit forming, and available in most health food stores or online.
Summer Health Recap
I’ll close with this quote from author James Dent: “A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” I couldn’t agree more. Have a wonderful and healthy summer. And remember, if you have summer health tips of your own, send them to me at email@example.com.