Humans are an integral part of nature, so changes in nature — the macrocosm — reflect in humans — the microcosm — and vice versa. Good health can be maintained by understanding and respecting nature and the impact climatic changes could have on the body.
According to Ayurveda, changes occur in all living beings based on six seasons – dewy, spring, summer, rainy, autumn and winter.
Of all the seasons, the most weakening is summer and during this period, the sun is said to drain energy from living beings.
According to Ayurveda, during this season, the energy factor, kapha, decreases while vata increases. The former affects the lubrication of joints, vigour and virility, and strength, among others, while the latter causes emaciation, sleep disturbances, lack of energy and strength, pain in the bones and joints, loss of appetite and flatulence, and a heightened state of emotions such as grief and sorrow.
Characteristics of summer
• The sun’s direct rays and the hot winds will not only dry the land but also affect the human body.
• There will be predominance of the fire element and its qualities.
• Water content in living creatures reduces.
• The dryness of the climate leads to the increase of the Vata dosha.
• Pungent (spicy) becomes the prominent taste in summers. So spicy dishes should be the least used during this season.
Common health problems associated with summer
Health issues during high environmental temperatures could include dizziness, fatigue, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat syncope – temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure. Elderly people and children are most at risk of these conditions.
Children absorb more heat on a hot day and lose heat more rapidly on a cold day. Also, children have considerable lower sweating capacity than adults, so are less able to reduce body heat by evaporative sweating.
Another important factor to keep in mind is that children are less likely to feel thirsty during prolonged play and exercise, and sometimes do not interrupt their game time to drink fluids.
Most healthy individuals will naturally drink water when they get thirsty. But for many elderly people, the thirst mechanism is not finely tuned. Those who have suffered a stroke or have Alzheimer’s or a brain condition could have their thirst mechanism compromised, resulting in them not consuming enough fluids at the right time or the required quantity. Elderly people also face another major issue: their body thermostat may not be functioning to peak capability, resulting in the system not being able to regulate temperature.
Summer is also the time when we should be more aware about the harsh effects of the sun’s rays on the skin. Look for moles that change colour or whose borders change, or for rough, raised areas of skin that do not heal even after applying moisturisers and first aid creams. If you notice any change in the mole’s size, shape or surface, inform your dermatologist at the earliest.
Those who are fair skinned or who have a family history of skin cancers should take extra care and protect themselves from the harsh effects of the sun.
Certain medications taken by elderly people for high blood pressure and cardiac conditions are known to flush out essential salts from the system. Coupled with perspiring due to high temperatures, such medications that can act as diuretics can lead to dehydration.
Those who have had previous incidents of heatstroke and those who indulge in strenuous physical activity should take extra care. Use of medications such as antipsychotics or tranquilisers that interfere with the body’s heat regulatory system should be consumed under strict medical guidance and monitoring.
Dehydration can lead to constipation and bloating as well. Some other symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth and tongue, loss of appetite, headache and a lack of energy, and muscle cramps.
Sunburn is due to overexposure of the skin to ultraviolet light. While most minor sunburn issues disappear in a few days, a more severe burn with blisters can form, requiring medical attention. Apply sunscreen any time your child is going to be outside for more than 30 minutes. Cover up with long sleeves or hats to reduce sun exposure.
Ayurveda offers a regimen to be followed in each season to prevent ailments. These are the most natural ways to refresh you, regain resistance and promote good health.
What to drink
• Replenish your system with fluids – preferably water – regularly.
• Buttermilk – diluted yoghurt – thoroughly churned and mixed with a pinch of cumin powder and sugar is an excellent drink for summers.
• Drinking water boiled with a root of Hemidesmus indicus is widely used in Indian summers.
• Cold water to which a pinch of edible camphor powder or the woodfordia fruticosa flower is added can also be used for drinking.
• Children need to be reminded to drink water.
• Avoid beverages with caffeine as this will cause dehydration.
• Avoid carbonated beverages; carbonation may cause bloating and prevent adequate consumption of fluids.
• Drakshadi kashayam 15ml diluted with cold water is a balancing summer drink.
What to eat
• The use of sweet, cold and unctuous foods is more suitable in this season.
• Avoid or reduce spicy, salty, sour tastes in food. Eg: pickles
• Sweets prepared out of organic milk are especially good in this season.
• Include ghee in your diet.
• Consuming Ayurveda tonics like Drakshadi lehyam, Satavari gulam, Brahma rasayana, Chyavanaprasam as per medical advice is also beneficial.
• Consumption of lean meats is good in this season. A thin soup of meats can be included during your meals. Mutton is a good option.
• Cold water with organic sugar and puffed rice can be had.
• Increase intake of organic milk.
• Rice and wheat are good grains to be included in your diet. Avoid millets.
• Avoid overuse of yoghurt.
What to wear
Clothing should be light coloured, lightweight, absorbable and loose fitting cloth to facilitate the evaporation of sweat.
What to apply
Applying oil all over the body 30 minutes before bath at least three times a week is ideal. Traditional preparations like Ksheerabala thailam, Chandanadi thailam, Madhuyashtyadi thailam, Dhanwantharam thailam, Pinda thailam etc. can be used as per medical advice.
Avoid overexertion. Exercise only during the cooler parts of the day. As a rule of thumb, if you feel your mouth going dry, then you need to reduce your exercise. If you experience heat cramps, physical exertion should be discontinued and fluids and electrolytes replaced in your body.
Snoozing for 30-60 minutes during the day is recommended during summers.
Special care for children and the elderly
• Parents should be educated about the heat sensitivity of children aged less than five years. They should drink liquids periodically during activities even if they do not feel thirsty.
• Check on old people frequently during summer to make sure they’re taking in enough fluids, their homes are properly ventilated and their mental state is normal. Confusion is a sign of heat exhaustion and dehydration. If a senior has a fever or exhibits behavioural changes from the heat, take him or her to an urgent care facility for treatment of possible heat stroke and dehydration.
• Avoid the sun’s peak hours: 10am to 3pm.
• Although the use of fans may increase comfort at temperatures less than 32C, they are not protective against heatstroke.
• Most sunburn can be treated with cool compresses or baths, and soothing gels or creams. Gels with menthol or aloe vera are particularly effective.
• Summer sun can damage your hair’s cuticles and result in dry, drab, split and brittle hair and ends. Sunlight can be just as damaging as a hot blow dryer.
• Apply oil on the scalp at least 3 times a week. Classical preparations like Chandanadi thailam, Aarukaladi thailam, Neelibhringadi thailam, Thriphaladi thailam etc. can be used as per expert advice.
• Trim your hair ends; wear a hat while out during peak hours or when at the beach.
• Consider switching to a more gentle shampoo. A mixture made of a paste of the leaves of hibiscus rosacynansis and green gram paste can be used instead of shampoo.
• Avoid any products that contain alcohol or formaldehyde.
• Consider shampooing your hair less often during the summer.
This is the season when your body needs some TLC. The joints in the body also needs more lubrication. Treatments like Thala pothichil, Navarakkizhi, Takradhara, Abhyangam can help.