Natural First Aid
Be prepared for summertime’s bumps, bites and burns with these remedies.
by Patrick Dougherty
Enter summer, exit protective clothing. As we shed our sweaters and venture out into the sun, we expose our skin and eyes to summer’s deceptively harsh elements—and our bodies to injury as we engage in sports, swimming and other outdoor activities. Thankfully, you can prepare for summer’s inevitable sunburns, scrapes, insect bites and muscle pulls by building an all-natural first aid kit.
Your summer kit should include sunscreen, but remember that it’s not a cure-all—even the best sunscreen only blocks some of the sun’s damaging rays. Nutritional supplements can support skin from the inside out to complement sunblock. “To prevent sunburn, it is important to have optimal levels of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, as well as essential fatty acids and antioxidants,” says Sharon Stills, ND of Naturopathic Solutions in Plainview, New York.
One example of a protective antioxidant is the French pine bark extract Pycnogenol. The sun’s harmful rays unleash damaging molecules called free radicals; they also promote inflammation that results in sunburn. Pycnogenol quenches free radicals and modulates the body’s inflammatory response.
In studies Pycnogenol has demonstrated a capacity for increasing the skin’s sunburn resistance and reducing skin redness after exposure to ultraviolet light. In one investigation, Pycnogenol showed an ability to protect mice against a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (Toxicology and Industrial Health 5-6/09). Pycnogenol has also been found to accelerate skin healing and reduce scar formation, making it helpful for injuries sustained during rough-and-tumble summer activities.
If you do get a sunburn, Laurie Steelsmith ND, LAc of Steelsmith Natural Health Center in Honolulu suggests using black tea to ease discomfort. “Make a few good strong cups of tea. Soak a towel in the tea and apply to the burned skin, or take a bath in tea to help alleviate sting,” advises Steelsmith, author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers). “After you no longer have ‘heat’ emanating from your skin, apply aloe vera to help to heal and prevent scarring.” You should also keep aloe vera on hand near the barbecue, where it can take the sting out of burns.
A hat and shades are mandatory summertime protection. But few sunglasses are able to block all of the sun’s damaging rays. Lutein, an antioxidant nutrient found in foods such as dark leafy vegetables, can help by acting as “internal sunglasses.”
Lutein (along with its chemical partner zeaxanthin) has been found to settle in the eye’s retina and act as a filter that absorbs damaging blue light frequencies from the sun. Lutein also neutralizes free radicals generated by the sun’s deep-penetrating UVA rays.
These actions are especially important as the years go by because sun-induced free radical damage in the retina is linked to age-related macular degeneration, a condition that accounts for most cases of blindness in Americans age 65 and older. Supplementation has been found to increase lutein concentrations within the retina (Current Eye Research 4/10).
In a similar manner, lutein helps protect skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Researchers have found that supplemental lutein migrates to the skin, where it diminishes the effects of UV radiation, helps to counteract the sun’s “photoaging” effects, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and increases the skin’s hydration and elasticity. MSM, an organic form of sulfur best known for its pain-relieving effects, also helps keep skin smooth and supple.
Easing the Ouch
For cuts and scrapes, stock your summer first-aid kit with tea tree oil, taken from a plant (Melaleuca alternifolia) native to the east coast of Australia. This broad-spectrum antiseptic can be applied externally to combat bacterial, viral and fungal infections. Keep a small bottle handy in your sports bag or beach tote and you’ll be well prepared for quick treatment of minor injuries as well as the athlete’s foot fungus that can lurk in public pools and locker rooms.
Calendula ointment, taken from the pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), works to gently cleanse wounds; it also helps to prevent infection and minimize scarring. CoQ10 (now available in the
form ubiquinol) is best known as an energy supplement but has been found to speed wound healing as well (Archives of Pharmacal Research 6/09).
Feeling bugged? If you are a magnet for mosquitoes, you might be lacking in B vitamins. These pests are believed to go after people who are B-deficient, so be sure take your Bs daily to keep bugs at bay. If you do get bit, either calamine lotion or witch hazel solution can ease the itching, while supplemental quercetin can help fight an allergic reaction.
For summer sports injuries such as sprains and strains, reach for bromelain. A compound derived from pineapple, bromelain is an effective anti-inflammatory enzyme that decreases pain and swelling. “As a supplement, take 750 milligrams three times a day on an empty stomach,” Stills recommends. “Or, you can juice the inner core of a pineapple.” A Epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil, along with measured doses of homeopathic arnica, will help melt away muscle strains and tension. In addition, magnesium and white willow bark have well-documented muscle soothing properties.
Don’t let the perils of the great outdoors limit your fun in the sun this summer. Get back to basics with natural first aid options, and you’ll easily manage common summertime health issues.