Be a Pill
If you’re trying to get in shape this summer, consider boosting your efforts with a few of these natural aides.
By Devon Hodge, Western Washington University
It’s common knowledge that staying healthy means regular exercise, a balanced and nutritional diet and proper self-care and hygiene.
However, there are other things that people do to keep (or get) themselves in top form for summer. One important aspect of health that people tend to overlook during the summer months is proper nutrition. A balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and lean proteins is one way to get most of the nutrients that you need. But even the best diets often lack certain nutrients.
As the days grow longer, the sun hotter and the hours spent outside more plentiful, it’s important to know which supplements to take to keep your body functioning in the heat. A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine found that vitamin C and vitamin E supplements can help protect skin against harmful ultraviolet radiation. This means less DNA damage, fewer sunburns and decreased risk of skin cancer. However, to reap the shielding benefits of these vitamins, these supplements must be taken together. Only taking vitamin C can increase immune function, and vitamin E on its own is an antioxidant that takes out potentially damaging free radicals. But if you want to enjoy the anti-ultraviolet effects of these supplements, it’s critical to take them both.
Even if you decide not to take vitamin E, vitamin C also has many health benefits apart from helping protect skin from sunlight. An article on the University of Berkeley California’s website explains how vitamin C can decrease inflammation, leading to a decreased risk of many diseases, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and even some cancers.
Vitamin C can also aid with weight loss. A study posted on the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s website explains that taking vitamin C supplements can encourage weight loss through exercise. However, without exercise, it is unlikely that taking vitamin C will do all that much to help anyone lose weight.
Although vitamin C seems to be the most renowned immune-support vitamin, vitamin A can also help boost immune function. In addition to that, Organic Facts’ website suggests that consuming a small amount of vitamin A improves daylight and nighttime eyesight, slows the natural aging process of skin and can even decrease or prevent acne. Since many people are regularly exposed to the aging forces of sunlight during the summer, which can also damage eyesight (especially if a person looks right at the sun), these are welcome health benefits. As the heat rolls in and short sleeves (or no sleeves), shorts and swim suits come into style, taking a vitamin that actively improves skin health and decreases acne is another plus.
However, there is a warning that comes with excessive vitamin A consumption. Apparently, taking too much of this vitamin can lead to issues such as blurred vision, nausea or even an enlarged liver. Like all the vitamins mentioned here, taking too much can be just as dangerous (if not more so) than not taking enough.
Vitamin D is another critical nutrient that everyone should be taking; well, everyone who isn’t in regularly exposed to direct sunlight year-round, that is. According to an article on Health U.S. News, a fair-skinned person wearing very little clothing only needs to spend ten minutes in the sun every day during the hot summer months for their body to produce enough vitamin D. But for people with darker skin, as well as older people (who don’t produce as much vitamin D naturally), taking a supplement is critical.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to several major health risks. One of the biggest is multiple sclerosis. Decreased amounts of vitamin D in the bloodstream have been linked to increased risk for MS in individuals, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Another consideration is the skin cancer risk of exposure to direct sunlight. While a little bit of sun exposure can be good for many individuals, direct exposure to ultraviolet radiation—which is needed to stimulate vitamin D production in the human body—every day of the year for ten or more minutes a day is too much. So, even for people with year-round access to direct sunlight and skin fair enough to absorb plenty of ultraviolet radiation, it makes more sense to take a vitamin D pill than to risk too much direct exposure. There’s no point upping your risk for skin cancer when vitamin D supplements are readily available.
Vitamins aside, anyone who plans to spend their summer in action should remember to drink plenty of water. Without water, vitamins can’t be absorbed properly. If a person is dehydrated, no number of supplements can stave off the inevitable headaches, weakness, nausea and even heatstroke that drinking too little brings. Drinking plenty of water is an incredibly important part of any supplement or diet program. If you’re not drinking enough, there’s no point throwing supplements at your problems.
For anyone trying to gain muscle weight over the summer, it’s also important to make sure that your supplement program includes plenty of protein. Protein comes in many forms, but if you’re tired of eating fish and chicken at every meal, there are whey and protein shakes, powders and bars that can provide avid weightlifters and athletes with the protein that they need. Beware, however, of the many protein supplements with very high sugar contents. These supplements can do more harm than good.
Another thing to look out for when eating lots of protein is not to consume an excessive amount. If you’re not exercising hard for an hour or more every day, then you probably shouldn’t be drinking a protein shake every day. There are many stories of people buying protein supplements and eating them without exercising in the hopes of magically gaining muscles. This isn’t how it works. The people who did this gained plenty of weight, but their muscles didn’t grow at all.
Of course, before taking any supplements, even natural ones, it’s best to check in with your doctor. Remember to take everything in even moderation. Don’t take too much of any supplement, follow the warnings and instructions on the supplement bottles and never expect vitamins and supplements to act as a medicine or cure for any disease or ailment. Also, don’t think that supplements can replace regular exercise and a healthy diet. If you take all your supplements but never work out or eat well, there’s no point. Fitness is a balancing act. Take the right supplements for summer, but don’t forget to get off the couch and run around occasionally.
And while vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A might be good for skin health, they are in no way intended to act as a replacement for sunscreen. For full protection against the sun, supplements and sunscreen are the best way to go.