Summer is when people start acting on their exercise resolutions, venturing outdoors in search of fresh air and sun. Many traditional therapies can boost your vitality and help you deal with some of the hazards of the outdoors.
It has almost become folklore to ascribe the stereotypical Russian athlete's performance to Eleutherococcus senticosus (devil's shrub, Touch Me Not or Siberian ginseng). This herb raises the fatigue threshold allowing people to follow more demanding and strenuous training schedules. One study showrd that ginseng can significantly increase your capacity for physical work (Planta Medica, 1986; 53: 175-177) and promotes a more economical use of glycogen (stored energy) (J Wagner et al, Economics and Medicinal Plant Research, London: Academic Press, 1985; 1: 155-209). Studies have also shown Eleutherococcus senticosus to be non toxic and safe (II Breckhman, Man and Biologically Active Substances, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980).
Increasing the physical demands on your body can also have side effects. So called "sports anaemia" is a mild decrease in haemoglobin, generally affecting endurance athletes. It is not a true anaemia as the red cell mass is constant, but the plasma volume becomes increased disproportionately. Execise induced haemolysis (the loss of haemoglobin) and gastrointestinal bleeding affects about 15-20 per cent of marathon runners.
Contact sports frequently cause short term damage to normal red blood cells, and although the risk of chronic anaemia is rare, the sickle cell trait may increase it. These soft tissue injuries (bruises and contusions) and sprains can heal at a quicker rate by administering bromelain a mixture of enzymes which come from the pineapple plant (J Ethnopharmacol, 1988; 22: 191-203). And of course, the most widely known of all the homoeopathic remedies, Arnica montana (Wolf's bane), is indispensable. As it is a decongestant, a cool compress of Arnica (cotton wool or absorbant cloth soaked in 15 ml of Arnica to 500 ml of water), applied every two hours, has been shown to significantly relieve ailments such as tennis or golfer's elbow (Arzneimittel-Forschung, 1971; 22: 191-203).
Another problem urban outdoor enthusiasts must contend with is air pollution. Exposure to ozone and its oxidising activity is thought to injure lung tissue. But the combination of the antioxidant vitamins C and E seems to offer effective protection. New data indicate that these vitamins, along with beta carotene, can protect against ozone induced lung damage (Occup Environ Med, 1998; 55: 13-17). A Dutch study measured respiratory volume and expiratory flow in 26 amateur cyclists when summer ozone concentrations were high. One group received 15 mg beta carotene, 650 mg vitamin C, and 75 mg vitamin E daily for three months and showed no difference in lung function after exercise. By contrast, the control group clearly indicated decreased lung function as ozone levels increased.
This vitamin combination also protects against UV induced skin damage. A new study shows that vitamins C and E together significantly reduce your skin's tendency to burn, indicating a reduced risk of later UV damage (J Am Acad Dermatol, 1998: 38: 45-48). What is important here is the combination of vitamin C and E: neither on its own has a UV screening effect. Vitamin C can actually boost vitamin E back into its active form once it has been oxidised and rendered inactive. And a report from Japan has demonstrated how vitamin E indirectly regenerates vitamin C (J Nutr, 1997; 127: 2060-4).
And if you do overdo it in the sun, the soothing gel of aloe vera can be applied for relief: break a leaf open and apply the gel to the affected area.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, homoeopath and osteopath.