Summer is the time for family reunions, church picnics, vacations, and fun in the sun. There’s a feeling of childlike excitement and optimism in the air, which feels amazing. However, there’s also a tendency to use summertime as an excuse to take a “vacation” from our healthy diet and lifestyle. We often hear about cold and flu season, which starts in the fall with the return to school and our hectic schedules (and continues with the sugar holidays). But what if what we do in the summer is setting us up for sickness as the days get shorter?
Summer Habits: Why We Get Sick in The Fall
Summer can be our downfall if we don’t make healthy choices in the warmer months. After three months of vacation food, margaritas at the Tiki bar, brand-name sunscreen, late nights with friends, a few ticks, and a “break” from supplements, we are setting ourselves up for a major crash come fall. It might seem excessive to insist on healthy living through the summer (what, no Cool Whip?), but you’ll be glad you followed through when others are coughing and sneezing in the weeks following Labor Day.
Summer Vacation Food
You may be on vacation, but that doesn’t mean your food choices should be! Summertime is often when we go back to the foods of our childhood. We resort to simple-to-prepare and processed foods that are full of chemicals and additives. It’s also easy to take in more alcohol than usual and forget about our food allergy lists. But are these choices benign? Unfortunately, no.
Hot Dogs, Chips, and S’mores
Hot dogs with white buns, chips, and s’mores. What is summer without these foods? Well, believe it or not, they weren’t always a part of the American diet. They have only been around in their current form since the 1950s or so. These processed foods are full of chemicals that burden the immune system. Some of the toxic ingredients include:
- Genetically modified Ingredients (GMOs) – toxic to the gut and body in general
- Corn syrup/High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – especially toxic to the liver
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – toxic to the brain, cardiovascular system, gut, and hormones
- FD&C colors – tied to ADHD, some may aggravate allergies
- Soybean oil – may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease
- Sugar – inflammatory
- Other food additives – toxic to the gut and immune system
These are just a few of the negative effects associated with these toxic ingredients. Unfortunately, one or more of them are in most packaged foods these days.
Just look at the ingredients of “innocent” campfire marshmallows:
Ingredients: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Dextrose, Modified Cornstarch, Water, Contains Less Than 2% Of Gelatin, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Blue 1.
In just one “food,” you’re taking in GMOs (in three forms of corn), chemical additives, lots of sugar, artificial color, and artificial flavors. The healthiest ingredients in these marshmallows are water and gelatin, and gelatin only makes up less than two percent of the ingredients. We haven’t even talked about Hershey’s chocolate or honey graham crackers. Of course, s’mores usually follow a meal full of even more chemicals.
What can you do instead? Start somewhere! You don’t have to eliminate all these foods completely. Just make better choices: Get organic/grass-fed hamburgers and hot dogs. Try black bean burgers. Skip the bun. Switch to organic ketchup without the high fructose corn syrup. Get some grain-free and/or organic corn chips instead of the name brands. Try natural or organic marshmallows or make them yourself. You can even make our healthy S’mores Bars to enjoy around the fire.
Alcohol. ‘Nuff Said
Between the high fructose corn syrup in cocktail mixers (including tonic water –look at the ingredients list), other added sugars, and alcohol, your liver is in trouble by the end of August. The liver is your major detoxifying organ that makes sure your body isn’t overwhelmed with chemicals (including ethanol = alcohol) and other toxins.
According to a study published in the Annual Review of Immunology,
The liver is a key, frontline immune tissue. Ideally positioned to detect pathogens entering the body via the gut, the liver appears designed to detect, capture, and clear bacteria, viruses, and macromolecules. Containing the largest collection of phagocytic cells in the body, this organ is an important barrier between us and the outside world.
Without a properly functioning liver, your immune response can’t do its job very well. No wonder we’re in such poor shape by the end of Labor Day Weekend. All the vacation snacks, food trucks, and restaurant food have slowed down the liver so much that it can no longer function well as “frontline immune tissue.” The liver is a major ally against disease, and if we haven’t given it proper care, we are vulnerable to illness.
Lazy on Avoiding Food Allergies
With a vacation mindset often comes a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to following a restricted diet. You may have been following your food allergy dos and don’ts pretty well in April and May, but when Memorial Weekend hit, all discipline broke down and you ate your aunt’s famous pasta salad.
Going on vacation from our food allergy list has its effects. Rather than staying on track on our healing journey, the gut becomes inflamed… over and over again. When the gut is inflamed, the immune response is also affected. Setting off an immune response day after day burns it out over time. That’s the summer sizzle we’re talking about.
When that happens and then we’re exposed to infections, we are in such a weakened state the immune response can barely function to keep us healthy and energetic.
Summer Toxin Exposure
So, far, we’ve just talked about what we put in our bodies in the summer. But what about what we put on them? What goes on topically eventually ends up in your bloodstream, triggering an immune response.
What We Put on Our Skin
Ingredients in personal care products matter! That includes summer products like sunscreen, bug spray, and ointments for cuts, scrapes, and bug bites. Some common products and ingredients to watch out for are:
- Sunscreens: oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate, octinoxate, homosalate, parabens, parfum, and others.
- Bug repellant: DEET, butane, propane, isobutane, aminomethyl propanol, fragrance (containing all kinds of additional chemicals), and more.
- Triple antibiotic cream: bacitracin zinc, neomycin sulfate, and polymyxin B sulfate. (Source: com)
Whatever goes on the skin goes through the skin and into the immune system. If you think about it, there are plenty of medications that are given by topical application, including nicotine patches.
Infections Lurking Afoot
Another toxin that may enter through our skin is tick-borne or mosquito-borne infections. These have become more common since they were first discovered in the 1970s. Besides Lyme disease, there are many other bacterial or other parasitic infections that are transmitted through the saliva of insects. According to the CDC, some of these include:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Not all infections cause the characteristic bull’s eye rash or another outward indication of infection. Rather than shrug off a tick bite, particularly from back-legged or deer ticks, it’s best to just go in and get the short-term antibiotic (doxycycline). Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for a depressed immune response down the road.
Go, Go, Go…
Because the days are longer and there’s so much to do (campfire nights, gardening, berry picking, festivals), we may not make sleep a priority or take care of ourselves as well during the summer.
Long Days, Short Nights
When the days are long and nights are short, we might find ourselves staying up late by the campfire and then getting up with birds. That leads to chronic sleep deprivation for months at a time. When sleep time suffers, the immune system suffers. Research shows that sleep impacts the immune system.
While it can be challenging to get enough sleep each night, do your best to make sleep a priority. Keep a regular work week schedule and try to keep late nights for Fridays and Saturdays. Life is easier and more pleasant with adequate sleep, and you’ll reap the benefits with a balanced immune response.
No Time for Healthy Habits
During the school year (whether we attend or teach or not), there’s a tendency to make time for regular exercise and create diet and supplement plans for ourselves. We may get up early to exercise, drink our protein shakes, follow a diet, take our supplements, and generally live a disciplined and healthy lifestyle.
However, for some reason, summer can tend to lead us astray. We may feel there’s no time to exercise, order and organize supplements, and prepare healthy food ahead of family gatherings and parties. However, it can be done! It’s all a matter of deciding where our priorities lie. Make it a family affair — prep food together, plan weekly hikes or bike rides, and divvy out supplements ahead of time.
Enjoy Summer + Stay Healthy The Wellness Way
Start somewhere! Remember that dis-ease doesn’t come out of nowhere. Your body is designed to be healthy! It’s just a matter of putting good things in and on your body and living a low inflammation lifestyle. There are many ways to do this: Find healthy versions of your favorite foods. You’ll find lots of ideas on this website and on The Wellness Way social media accounts. Use natural or organic personal care products, including sunscreen and bug spray. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and follow your food allergy lists. It will pay off in the long run! If you don’t know what your food allergies are, or how your immune system is currently functioning, make an appointment with a Wellness Way clinic and find out.
- Health risks of genetically modified foods – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Fructose and sugar: A major mediator of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Patho-physiological and toxicological aspects of monosodium glutamate – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions to Dye for – PMC (nih.gov)
- Immune reactivity to food coloring – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Soybean Oil Modulates the Gut Microbiota Associated with Atherogenic Biomarkers – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Impact of sugar on the body, brain, and behavior – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Immune Responses in the Liver – PubMed (nih.gov)
- SC Johnson (whatsinsidescjohnson.com)
- Triple Antibiotic Ointment – FDA prescribing information, side effects and uses (drugs.com)
- Diseases Transmitted by Ticks | Ticks | CDC
- The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease – PubMed (nih.gov)