Most of us will delight in the warmer weather typical of this time of year, and balmier temperatures certainly seem to lure us outside. The trouble is, we’re not the only species of animal that the heat tends to bring out in droves. The buzz that accompanies the summer months all too often comes from insects and bugs that may blight our enjoyment of the great outdoors both at home and abroad. Bites and stings can cause considerable discomfort, and may pose significant health hazards for individuals prone to overblown allergic reactions. In some far-flung places, the threat of insect-borne infectious diseases such as malaria hover over us too.
Fortunately, natural medicine offers quite a few effective means of protecting our bodies from the unwanted attentions of tiny winged creatures. Garlic, for instance, has long been believed to have insect-repellent potential. Anyone who has ever got up close to someone who has eaten food laced with garlic may have noticed that this herb does not just taint the breath, but the sweat too. Garlic odours can literally ooze out of our pores, and it appears this may act a deterrent to insects tempted to make a meal out of us. One study found that individuals supplemented with garlic capsules were much less likely to be bitten by ticks compared to those taking placebo (inactive medication). In this study, the dose of garlic used was 1200 mg (1.2 g) per day. This is roughly equivalent to one whole clove of garlic each day. Ideally, the garlic should be taken raw, as cooking tends to reduce its pungency and may diminish its repellent effects.
Food-based approaches may help in the treatment, as well as the prevention, of bites and stings. One favoured remedy is an extract of pineapple known as bromelain. This natural substance has natural anti-inflammatory properties in the body, and can ease the itching and discomfort when taken as a supplement. 500 mg of bromelain should be swallowed three times a day on an empty stomach. Applying bromelain topically can help take the sting out of an insect attack too. A ground-up bromelain tablet or contents of a capsule should be made into a paste with water. Coating the affected area in this paste two or three times a day does seem to help quell pain and irritation from both bites and stings.
Intrepid types who are looking to protect themselves from mosquito bites may do well to pack a citronella candle. In one study, burning a citronella candle reduced mozzie bites by more than 40 per cent. However, the use of a repellent applied to the skin will almost certainly afford greater protection, and this is important in regions where malaria is endemic. The insect repellents most commonly advocated in high-risk areas are those based on the chemical DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). I got put off using DEET some years ago while travelling in Thailand, when a bottle of the stuff leaked in my toiletries bag and dissolved my toothbrush. I have since learnt that DEET is a potentially toxic substance, and has been known to cause seizures in children. Those seeking a safer alternative to DEET (especially for their children in particular) may prefer eucalyptus oil. One study showed that a eucalyptus oil-based repellent actually offered more protection from mosquito bites than preparation containing DEET. Taking a natural approach will help to ensure that the bugs don’t bite this summer.