Nothing drains the fun out of summer faster than not feeling your best. We may want to spend more time outdoors, but summer’s hot, sunny days present unique challenges. Here are some surprising facts about three common summertime health issues as well as natural ways to either prevent or manage them.
1. Dehydration: If you ever feel tired after spending time outside on a hot summer day, it could be because you are dehydrated. Whether we’re outside playing, gardening or sunbathing, we need extra fluids to replace what our bodies lose through perspiration. Exercise amplifies that need.
Surprising fact: By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated!
Those who are at the greatest risk for dehydration include the very young and very old, people who are taking diuretics (drugs used to regulate blood pressure and for the treatment of congestive heart failure), those who exercise a lot, those who spend a lot of time in the sun and people who don’t drink enough water. Also, be careful if you quench your thirst with coffee or soft drinks because they are dehydrating.
Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include thirst, dry mouth and tongue, fatigue and reduced skin turgor (when you pinch the skin it takes longer to go back to normal). Symptoms of severe dehydration include severe thirst, dry mouth and tongue, weight loss, increased heart rate, significantly reduced skin turgor and sunken eyes.
Heat exhaustion is another common summer illness caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures, direct sun and high humidity. Symptoms can include thirst, fatigue and cramps. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heatstroke.
Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency. It is the result of long, extreme exposure to the sun, in which a person does not sweat enough to lower body temperature.
Your summertime RX: Monitor your fluid intake. The Institute of Medicine recommends 3 liters (about 12 cups) per day for men, 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) per day for women, and 1.7 liters (about 7 cups) per day for children ages 4 through 8. Pregnant women are advised to drink 2.3 liters (nearly 10 cups) of fluids a day and women who breast-feed should aim for 3.1 liters (about 13 cups) of fluids a day.
2. Bloating and constipation: These can really put a damper on your enjoyment of summer activities. Culprits include summer picnics as well as snack/party/processed foods that are low in fiber and nutritional value but high in empty calories.
To prevent the discomforts associated with summer snacking, go for more fruits and vegetables. These foods are naturally low in calories, and provide a range of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Surprising fact: Some foods can protect your skin from sun damage. For example, tomatoes, red grapefruit and watermelon contain lycopene, a carotenoid that helps reduce UV damage to your skin from the inside out.
You may also want to supplement your diet with fiber. Look for products that contain Sunfiber, a prebiotic fiber made from hydrolyzed guar gum. This is a truly regulating fiber that has been shown to help with both constipation and diarrhea, and to relieve abdominal pain. Unlike many fiber products, Sunfiber leads to less gas and bloating, and can actually help improve gut health by improving the microflora balance. Sunfiber also mixes well with fluids. Start with a small amount (one tablespoon daily) and gradually increase to allow your bowels to adjust.
Drink lots of water. It works well with fiber to keep your bowels regular.
3. Sunburns: They look bad, they hurt and they may even cause energy-draining fevers. They can also age your skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
There are two types of sunlight that damage skin. UVB is primarily responsible for sunburn. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, and are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of aging (photoaging). They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and increasingly are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.
Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB, so here’s what you need to know.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) represents a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. For example, if it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer or about five hours.
Most people think that a SPF of 30 provides double the protection of a SPF 15 but that is not the case. A sunscreen with SPF of 15 blocks about 94% of UVB rays, a SPF of 30 blocks about 97% and SPF 45 blocks 98%.
Surprising fact: The average adult requires about 30 ml (1 oz) of sunscreen to get adequate coverage and sun protection. Most people do not apply enough. Many sunscreens come in 120 ml bottles, so this means you would need to apply 1/4 bottle. Also, sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before going outdoors.
For a natural sunscreen, look for products that contain zinc. Unlike chemical protection, this mineral is not absorbed into the skin. Instead, it provides a physical barrier to the sun. Zinc is gentle, non-irritating and safe for young children.
For mild sunburn use cold packs, aloe vera gel and drink lots of water. More serious burns and blistering need to be seen by a doctor.
Summer will be gone much too quickly. Being smart about how you enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures will help ensure that you’ll make some great memories that will last a lifetime.