It's not blizzards or floods or twisters that cause the most weather-related deaths in the U.S. -- it's heat. Climate scientists tell us we can expect to see a lot more of sweltering days in North America as record-setting high temperatures continue to show themselves each year. The 2011 heat wave alone is blamed for at least 24 deaths in the U.S., and in Europe as many as 50,000 heat-related deaths are attributed to the 2003 heat wave [sources: Herrmann, National Weather Service].
Short of spending the day inside, and just sweating as you go from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car and office, what can you do? As it turns out, what you eat might help you cope with the summer heat.
Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables (and supplements if you fall short) is one of the best ways to stay healthy all year. The right nutrition can also help protect your body from the skin-damaging effects of the sun, from wrinkles to skin cancer, and other summertime maladies -- antioxidants naturally help the body prevent and fix the day-to-day damage the cells of your body endure.
There are studies that suggest supplementing certain vitamins may help you get through the summertime with a little less wilting, or at least a little less sneezing. Let's start with a look at how vitamin C might help keep you cool this summer.
Vitamins C and E
Since the 1930s, research (and some anecdotal wisdom) has shown that vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplementation helps the body physiologically respond to heat stress. It reduces your likelihood of developing heat-related illnesses such as heat rash and heat exhaustion -- it can also be used to treat heat rash that's already developed. Daily vitamin C supplementation also shortens the length of time it takes your body to adjust to a new hotter environment, known as heat acclimatization. How? Possibly by reducing how fast your sweat glands tire out, but it's also shown to lower body (rectal) temperature [source: Ringsdorff, Kotze].
Preliminary research also indicates that vitamin C may be promising as a natural anti-histamine, as well as a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C may help lessen the symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis, possibly most effective when combined not only with your current hayfever medication, especially with quercetin, a plant-derived flavonoid (you'll find it in red wine, tea and olive oil, as well as in berries and other darkly pigmented fruits and vegetables) that may help prevent your body from producing histamine.
Additionally, vitamin C's antioxidant effects may help the body protect itself from cell damage by encouraging the production of collagen and the growth of new tissue -- it also helps your tissue make repairs. These antioxidant benefits may help protect your skin from sun damage, including photoaging. Vitamin C is sometimes used topically to reduce the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays on the skin, and when you combine C with another vitamin -- vitamin E -- the pair may help prevent sunburns.
What else can vitamin E do for your summertime blues? Vitamin E has antioxidant benefits that help protect skin from UV damage when you use it topically before applying sunscreen, both before sun exposure and after you've been out in the sun.
Similar to the anti-allergy benefits vitamin C, when used with your existing seasonal allergy therapy, vitamin E may help reduce the severity of seasonal allergies (specifically nasal symptoms) and asthma. Vitamin E shows promise for calming the parts of the immune system that activate when you have an allergic response.
Just as vitamins C and E may offer relief for seasonal allergy sufferers, vitamin D also seems promising in helping to control asthma -- some early research indicates vitamin D's anti-inflammatory properties may help put the symptoms of asthma in check. What else can vitamin D do for you this summer? We'll talk more about the summertime benefits of vitamin D, as well as what vitamin A can do for you and your risk of skin cancer, next.
Vitamins D and A
We know that vitamin D is good for our skin. It increases the skin's thickness, and thicker skin means fewer wrinkles, which is why vitamin D is a popular ingredient in anti-aging skin care remedies. Research has also found a link between our amount of sun exposure and how well our immune system is working, including our skin's immune defenses. Too little sun exposure and you risk developing a vitamin D deficiency. Too much sun exposure and you risk developing skin cancer. What surprised researchers in recent years, however, is that vitamin D3 may play a role in preventing cells from uncontrollably growing and dividing, which could protect us from certain cancers such as colorectal, breast and even skin cancer. In fact, a recent study discovered that when women took daily vitamin D supplements they had a 57 percent reduced risk of developing melanomas, a deadly form of skin cancer [source: RealAge]. But, Goldilocks, there is no recommendation for how much sun exposure is just right, so many doctors recommend supplements instead.
Vitamin A -- retinol -- may also help protect us from melanomas. Researchers studying vitamin A and its role in preventing skin cancer found that people who took daily vitamin A supplements (rather than relying on food intake) were 60 percent less likely to develop melanoma than those who didn't take supplemental retinol [source: Hazell].
Vitamin A helps your body repair sun-damaged skin, and may be one of the best options to combat the fine lines and hyperpigmentation of photoaging. In fact, if you use topical anti-aging products containing retinol, you may already know the benefits of vitamin A on your skin. Vitamin A comes in a few forms, and it's the compound form retinol that helps the body make needed repairs, including repairing sun-related cell damage and restoring collagen and elastin.
More Great Links
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology - Allergist. "Have Asthma? Vitamin D May Help." 2009. (April 20, 2012) http://www.acaai.org/allergist/Resources/research/Pages/have_asthma.aspx
- Bastyr University - Batyr Center for Natural Health. "Fight Allergies with Vitamin E." (April 20, 2012) http://www.bastyrcenter.org/content/view/319/
- Burke, K.E. "Photodamage of the skin: protection and reversal with topical antioxidants." Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Vol. 3, no. 3. Pages 149-155. 2004. (April 20, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17134430
- Carilion Clinic. "Sunlight's Vitamin D May Help Prevent Skin Cancer." (April 20, 2012) http://www.carilionclinic.org/Carilion/P08861
- Great Lakes Dermatology. "Vitamins: The cure for sun damage?" (April 20, 2012) http://www.greatlakesdermatology.com/medical-treatments/article/vitamins-cure-sun-damage
- Hazell, Kyrsty. "Vitamin A 'Could Prevent Skin Cancer' Say Experts." The Huffington Post UK. 2012. (April 20, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/03/02/daily-vitamin-could-prevent-skin-cancer_n_1315778.html
- Herrmann, Lynn. "US heat wave death sclimb to 24, heat to intensify." 2011. (April 20, 2012) http://digitaljournal.com/article/309435
- Kansas State University - Research and Extension. "Eating Right helps Protect Skin From Sun, Too." 2002. (April 20, 2012) http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/news/sty/2002/protect_skin060502.htm
- Kotze, H.F.; van der Walt, W.H.; Rogers, G.G.; and N.B. Strydom. "Effects of plasma ascorbic acid levels on heat acclimatization in man." Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol. 42, no. 5. Pages 711-716. 1977. (April 20, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/863837
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - National Weather Service. "Heat: A major killer." (April 20, 2012) http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/index.shtml
- Oregon State University - Linus Pauling Institute. "Vitamin D." 2011. (April 20, 2012) http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminD/
- RealAge. "Pop this Supplement for Your Skin." 2011. (April 20, 2012) http://www.realage.com/health-tips/calcium-vitamin-D-prevent-skin-cancer
- Repinski, Karyn. "The ABCs of vitamins for more beautiful skin." 2009. (April 20, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30604650/ns/health-skin_and_beauty/t/abcs-vitamins-more-beautiful-skin/#.T48eEqtYu8M
- Ringsdorff, W.M., Jr. and E. Cheraskin. "Vitamin C and Tolerance of Heat and Cold: Human Evidence." Orthomolecular Psychiatry. Vol. 11, no. 2. Pages 128-131. 1982. (April 20, 2012) http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1982/pdf/1982-v11n02-p128.pdf
- Schutte, Petrus. "Heat Stress Management in Hot Mines." Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. 2009. (April 20, 2012) http://researchspace.csir.co.za/dspace/bitstream/10204/4447/1/Schutte1_2009.pdf
- Shahar, E.; Hassoun, G.; and S. Pollack. "Effect of vitamin E supplementation on the regular treatment of seasonal allergic rhinitis." Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Vol. 92, no. 6. Pages 654-658. 2004. (April 20, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15237767
- Strydom, N.B.; Kotze, H.F.; van der Walt, W.H.; and G.G. Rogers. "Effect of ascorbic acid on rate of heat acclimatization." Journal of Applied Physiology. Vol. 41, no. 2. Pages 202-205. 1976. (April 20, 2012) http://www.jappl.org/content/41/2/202.full.pdf+html
- University of Maryland Medical Center. "Allergic rhinitis." 2011. (April 20, 2012) http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/allergic-rhinitis-000003.htm
- WebMD. "Natural Allergy Relief." 2008. (April 20, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/allergies/features/natural-allergy-relief
- WebMD. "Supplements for Healthy Skin." 2009. (April 20, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/skin-care-guide
- WebMD. "Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)" (April 20, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1001-VITAMIN+C+ASCORBIC+ACID.aspx?activeIngredientId=1001&activeIngredientName=VITAMIN+C+(ASCORBIC+ACID)