July 9, 2017

By Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurveda), ND

Dr. Sodhi’s tips for staying healthy during summer

Summer is here, finally and is a perfect time to have fun together with the family! Children are off from schools. There are holidays. People are traveling and having a great time. However, summer comes with its positives and negative side effects. Yes, you can have a lot of fun, but you must learn how to take care of yourself in summer. Here are some tips for you on how to stay healthy during summer.

It is hot during summer time. Living in the northwest, the temperatures are not boiling, but there is still some heat! In certain areas, the temperatures climb high. During the summer season, we must watch out for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. These are fairly common complications of heat. Especially, the younger children, pets, and the elderly are at a higher risk for becoming over-heated. When it is very hot, simply stay inside! Go out in the mornings and evenings when the weather is pleasant. When you are outside, stay in the shade. Wear sun glasses. If you would like to walk in the sun, take an umbrella. Wear full sleeve clothes to avoid exposure to the UVA and UVB rays which cause skin cancer.

The UVA rays penetrate into the skin, and too much sun exposure can cause premature skin aging, wrinkling, and suppression of the immune system. The UVB rays cause skin burns and play a significant role in the growth of skin cancers. These same rays also make our vitamin D, and that is why the sun is so good for us. We have been doctrined into thinking that we must stay away from the sun.

Sunshine is actually very beneficial for our health. However, what we do wrong is that we do not expose ourselves to the sun year around, and when the summer arrives, we go out and burn ourselves. That is not the best way to help our body heal. As you know, the sunshine is so important for us. We make our natural Vitamin D with exposure to sun. The UVA and UVB rays, which are present in the sunlight, stimulate the manufacturing of Vitamin D. When the sunrays hit the skin, there is a special chemical processing that occurs, and it makes Vitamin D. A low level of Vitamin D is the cause of many diseases. You can cut down all-cause mortality by more than 50% just by having a normal Vitamin D level. Therefore, sun exposure is quite healthy.

Unfortunately, in the Washington state, we do not have a lot of sun exposure, so people often have low Vitamin D levels. I recommend you take a Vitamin D supplement. However, if you want a natural Vitamin D production, you must have at least 20 minutes of healthy sun exposure. UVA and UVB are most prevalent from 10 AM to 2 PM. At this time, get healthy exposure only, and rest of the time avoid direct exposure. Let’s next talk about sunscreens.

Sunscreens are one of the very controversial subjects! Australia is one of the highest sunscreen-user countries in the world. They have the highest rate of skin cancer. This indicates that the skin cancer may not be protected by sunscreen use. It is an interesting fact that many of the sunscreens in the market are not FDA approved. Many of the chemicals that you put on the skin have not been proven by the FDA to be effective. Many of them contain harmful chemicals, which you do not want to put on your skin.

What kind of sunscreen should you be using? There are two basic types of sunscreens: 1.) A mineral-based sunscreen; 2.) A chemical-based sunscreen. The mineral-based sunscreens are made from zinc oxide and titanium oxide. As a naturopath, I recommend the mineral-based, sunscreen made from zinc-oxide, which has been used for more than 200 years and has minimal side effects. I am not a fan of chemical-based sunscreens made from toxic chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. The chemical-based sunscreens made in Europe are different from the sunscreens made in the United States. FDA has not allowed the strong European standard sunscreens to be marketed in the US, because it is not proven that they are safe and effective.

What are some substitutes to some of the sunscreens for those of you looking for some natural alternatives? To protect your skin from the sun damage, the best way is to add lots of fruits and vegetables to your diet. The fruits and vegetables have natural phytochemicals, which have a powerful effect on protecting your skin. There have been studies done on this subject. When people added lots of fruits and vegetables to their diet, the sunburns were as less as 50% to 60%. This is free medicine, and it is very helpful.

When you eat ample colorful fruits and green vegetables, you are nourishing yourself with nutrients that offer natural sun-damage protection to your body. You will have remarkable sun-protective factors from the fruits and vegetables. I recommend you to eat 2 to 3 servings of fruits. The mother-nature has provided us with summer fruits such as cherries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, papayas, mangoes, pineapples, and kiwis, which are all amazing superfoods for us. Eat approximately two cups of fruits daily. I also encourage everyone to eat 5 to 6 servings of vegetables daily, where one serving equals one cup of vegetables. When you cook the vegetable, one serving becomes one-half cup. Fruits and vegetables make a healthy, simple snack.

In the summer time, you must also be very careful about fluid intake. You become thirsty and dehydrate quickly. If you are dehydrated, you are more prone to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Therefore, drink plenty of fluids. I usually recommend drinking around 8 glasses of water. During summer, you must drink about 12 glasses of water. This does not mean that you go on drinking sodas and sweet juices! Those are very unhealthy for you. When you are thirsty, drink clean water. You can flavor your water with lime or lemon and add salt to your water. This is beneficial to your health, because in the summer, you sweat, and when you sweat excessively, adding salt to your water is helpful. I personally like the Himalayan salt or the Wright Salt. This also helps to balance your whole body. Keep yourself hydrated.

Are there foods you should be avoiding during summer? You must avoid caffeinated drinks. The reason is that when you drink caffeinated drinks, you urinate a lot. The end result is that you are dehydrating yourself. You are not hydrating. Your skin needs to be hydrated. Drink lots of water, but do not drink caffeinated drinks. It is the same with alcohol, whether it is beer or wine. It is very common for people to grab a beer on hot days. You drink one glass of beer and you urinate multiple times. In this way, you upset the balance of natural hydration. Hence, drink lots of water; even flavored water is good. Slight carbonation is fine, but do not drink alcohol or wine. Avoid soda drinks. Soda pops are high in sugar and cause dehydration. Also, avoid fried and very spicy foods.

Many people like to exercise quite a lot in the summer. I see many people exposing themselves to heat when they are running. These people are asking for trouble, because they are going to have heat exhaustion and heat stroke. When you are playing sports, walking, or jogging, be sure to do it in mornings or late evenings when the sun is not too hot. Do not exercise too hard. Do not run a marathon on a hot, sunny day. Instead, exercise lightly. Perform yoga. Go for a walk. Participate in a light weight training session. I do not recommend doing very heavy exercise on a hot summer day.

So what else can you do to protect your skin during the summer months? Use common sense approaches to protect your skin. You can wear a hat and long sleeves, which helps protect from sunburns that damage your skin and make you prone to cancers. The sun is actually not our enemy. We have made the sun our enemy, as we are not exposing ourselves to sun the way we should regularly. When we do expose, we expose too much, and that is problematic. You can apply coconut oil to your skin, which provides 10 spf to 12 spf protection naturally, without slathering toxic chemicals on your body.

If you do get a sunburn, what can you do to help the skin heal? When you do get a sunburn, the best remedy is to apply aloe vera gel. You can buy a fresh aloe vera plant, cut the leaves, take the gel out of it, and apply on the skin. Aloe vera gel is also available over the counter. Make sure you purchase the 100% pure and natural aloe vera gel, without chemicals. You can also mix the aloe vera with turmeric and apply on your skin. It will turn your skin a little yellow, but it is very protective. It has phenomenal, healing properties. You can also apply coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, or even safflower oil. For instance, safflower oil is rich in oleic acid, which is ideal for moisturizing your skin.

Stay healthy. Enjoy the sunshine, but do not expose yourself too much! A 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure is good for you. If you would like to spend more time in the sun, put on the gears: Use a hat, wear protective goggles, put on long sleeves, and drink lots of water. Keep yourself hydrated. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. At the end of a sunny day, fill your tub with cool water and add one to two cups of Epsom salt or baking soda to it, and just chill out in it. Your body will feel very refreshed. You can also use different aromatherapies in summer. You can use rose, lavender, and sandalwood oils, which are very calming. I make my own blends of essential oils and wear them on my body, because they have very cooling properties. If you follow these simple laws of mother-nature, you will be able to enjoy the summertime sunshine and you will be disease free and happy.