Pharmacist Andrew Watson of Goodmeasure Pharmacy, Parkgate looks at the joys and pitfalls of summer for our health
The summer months that lie ahead have some wonderful health benefits. The sight of blue skies, green vegetation, and colourful wild and garden flowers usually cheer us up.
However, while some of summer’s greatest attributes can improve health in one way, they can also be detrimental in others. Here we look at how to stay happy and healthy this summer.
The sun lifts our mood by stimulating the brain to release the hormone serotonin which gives us the feel-good factor and can help with depression, anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Some of the more common and useful medicines, such as citalopram, fluoxetine and sertraline allow the brain to access more serotonin which of course improves our mood.
Sunlight on our skin produces vitamin D, an essential vitamin for bone health. Vitamin D is necessary for our bodies to absorb calcium and phosphate which strengthens bones, teeth and muscles. Lack of this vitamin can cause rickets and brittle bones. In the summer, exposing bare arms, legs, backs, faces without sunscreen for about half the time it would normally take before burning is recommended for the required amount of vitamin D.
The pitfall is obviously damaging our skin by too much exposure so then it’s time to cover up and apply sunscreen of at least factor 30. Sunburn is uncomfortable, itchy and may lead to blistering. The chance of developing skin cancer is increased.
We get a lot of pleasure from growing plants in our gardens or seeing them in the parks and countryside. A beautiful view of wildflowers is a good way to practice the popular therapy of mindfulness which teaches us to observe with our senses of sight, smell, sound and touch.
This can stop thought patterns going round and round in our heads and realise these are just thoughts and should not control us. Getting free of negative thoughts can be very beneficial for our mental health.
I have not mentioned the sense of taste; this is because, beautiful as they are, some plants are poisonous and should never be eaten. In fact some like stinging nettles should not be touched. However, when cooked the stinging chemicals are destroyed and they are a good source of vitamins with a spinach-like taste.
Laburnum has a history of fear which resulted in many people removing it from their gardens. Children ate the seeds from the pods thinking they were like peas and many had their stomachs pumped, but no childhood deaths occurred. The worst result was vomiting.
Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade, is extremely poisonous and grows in hedge bottoms. It has purple bell-shaped flowers with green tinges. Similar to blueberries, the berries are green, ripening to shiny black and taste sweet at first. But just two berries could kill a child.
The symptoms of poisoning are blurred vision, loss of balance and dry mouth. There is an antidote to atropine, one of the main ingredients, so medical assistance is vital along with a carefully picked (wear gloves) specimen of the plant.
Giant Hogweed is a very toxic plant and looks like very tall cow parsley with red markings on its stems. When touched it removes all protection from the sun resulting in burns, blistering and scarring. The affected area should be washed with soap and water, covered with a clean cloth and medical assistance sought.
Hemlock Water Dropwort is also very poisonous. It grows in marshy conditions, flowers in June or July and its roots look like parsnips. These roots may become exposed after heavy rain. Deaths have occurred after eating the roots.
Other plants not to be eaten are foxgloves, snowdrops, daffodil bulbs, yew (all parts including berries if chewed), chrysanthemums and mistletoe.
Of course the best advice is to let you and your children enjoy our wonderful countryside, but don’t eat the plants.
Swimming in the sea, lake or river is refreshing and is good enjoyable exercise. But it can also be hazardous.
Pollution from sewage can cause ear, nose or throat infections and sickness. So a blue flag beach is best and preferably don’t swallow the water. Take antibacterial wipes for your hands after playing in streams and rivers. Don’t just jump into lakes as they can be extremely cold, wade in slowly to accustom yourself to the temperature to avoid hypothermia.
The main sea creature that could hurt in the UK is the jellyfish. Try to avoid touching them as their tentacles can cause painful stings. Remove the tentacles with a clean stick or tweezers and apply ice to the sting.
Hopefully you and your family will play happily and safely in our streams and beaches and connect to nature by learning about the marine animals in the rock pools and ponds.
Enjoy the summertime; it lifts our spirits and gives is more daylight to exercise and keep fit in the warmth, but be aware of some of the pitfalls.