Dr John Briffa: Bite back

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. 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, as this herb does not just taint the breath, but the sweat, too. Garlic odours literally ooze out of our pores, and it appears this may act as a deterrent to insects. One study found that individuals supplemented with garlic capsules were much less likely to be bitten by ticks compared to those taking placebo. In this study, the dose of garlic used was 1,200mg (1.2g) per day. This is roughly equivalent to one clove of garlic a 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 has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can ease itching when taken as a supplement (500mg of bromelain should be taken three times a day on an empty stomach). Also, a ground-up bromelain tablet, or contents of a capsule, can be made into a paste with water. Coating the affected area with this two or three times a day seems to help quell pain and irritation from both bites and stings.

Those 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 give greater protection. 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 in Thailand, when a bottle of the stuff leaked in my toiletries bag and dissolved my toothbrush. I have since learnt that DEET is potentially toxic and has been known to cause seizures in children. Those seeking a safer alternative may prefer a eucalyptus oil-based repellent, as one study showed this offered more protection from mosquito bites than one containing DEET. Taking a natural approach will help to ensure that the bugs don't bite this summer.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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