Natural supplements that can stave off hot-weather hassles

For four or five months each year, we dream of summer – beach days, sultry nights and outdoor picnics. But sometimes, the season can bring a few nightmares: think sunburns, mosquito bites and severe poison ivy reactions.

Relax! There’s more to love about the longer days ahead. New research supports the use of a few natural supplements and remedies to soothe summer’s potential mishaps. Here’s a look:


TRY: Aloe vera. This is hardly breaking news, as Egyptians used aloe vera some 6,000 years ago, but a new study supports its efficacy for skin troubles. In 2009, a presentation at the International Congress of Dermatology revealed that topical aloe vera was more effective than a topical steroid in treating psoriasis.

STEER CLEAR IF: You want to try oral aloe vera and you’re taking any other medications. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, abdominal cramps and other unpleasant tummy issues can accompany the ingestion of aloe vera and can interfere with the absorption of other drugs.

A Summer Cold:

TRY: Zinc. A new study published in February by The Cochrane Collaboration found that the popular supplement (whose effectiveness has long been debated) reduced the duration and severity of the common cold. The study included nearly 1,400 subjects.

STEER CLEAR IF: You are pregnant, breastfeeding or have HIV/AIDS. The National Institutes of Health also reports, “taking more than 100 milligrams of zinc daily or taking supplemental zinc for 10 or more years doubles the risk of developing prostate cancer… Single doses of 10 to 30 grams [1,000 to 3,000 milligrams] of zinc can be fatal!.”


TRY: Magnesium. Changes in the weather can trigger asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, and the summertime – with ozone alerts, high temperatures and pollen or campfire smoke in the air – can be especially troublesome. But new research by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine published in the Journal of Asthma in February, 2010 indicates that oral magnesium supplementation can improve lung activity and the overall quality of life among men and women with asthma.

STEER CLEAR IF: You have a weak gastrointestinal (GI) tract – magnesium can cause nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. People with heart disease or kidney problems should also talk to their physician before taking supplements with magnesium.

Mosquito bites:

TRY: Oil. Nope, not that retro tanning oil, but the kind that comes from the lemon eucalyptus plant. This naturally occurring pesticide – called p-Menthane-3,8-diolis the only safe and effective plant-based alternative to DEET for repelling mosquitoes, biting flies and gnats, according to studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended oil of lemon eucalyptus as a form of protection against mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile virus. Citronella oil, meanwhile, can scare off ‘skeeters’ for about 20 minutes, found a New England Journal of Medicine report. You may have heard of thiamine, or vitamin B1, as a natural mosquito deterrent, but the jury’s out on this remedy. A study conducted in the 1960’s showed that thiamine may repel female mosquitoes because of the skin odor it produces, but follow-up studies have been inconclusive and a 2005 report published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association “found no effect of vitamin B supplementation.”

STEER CLEAR IF: You have highly sensitive skin, as lemon eucalyptus oil can cause a reaction. It can also cause eye irritation, so it should not be used on children under three who might rub the oil into their eyes.

Poison ivy reactions:

TRY: Avoiding it in the first place with long pants, long-sleeved shirts and gloves. About 85% of the American population can develop allergic reactions to the urushiol oil found in poison ivy, oak and sumac, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). And the more you touch it, the more likely you are to develop a nasty, even debilitating rash. But if you’re already seeing the telltale, angry red bumps, the AAD recommends bathing in oatmeal or baking soda to relieve the discomfort. You can also try extract of jewelweed, in the impatiens family – though few studies have examined its effectiveness, it’s long been a popular folk remedy for poison ivy rashes.

STEER CLEAR IF: You are pregnant or breastfeeding, as there is little information on the safety of jewelweed for pregnant or lactating women.

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