image credit – Linda by Hans Vink
The Georgians and Victorians thought being beside the seaside was good for your health and modern science is backing up their enthusiasm. Getting outside and down to the seaside for 15 to 30 minutes a day, even in a cold climate, can significantly improve your wellbeing.
The smell of good old seaside air is caused by dimethyl sulphide gas, given off by the sea, and not ozone as was commonly believed.
Getting a lungful at the beach will help you to sleep better because sea air is full of negative hydrogen ions, charged particles abundant in sea spray and concentrated in fresh air, which improve our ability to absorb oxygen by neutralising damaging free radicals (positive ions). These negative ions can also balance levels of seratonin, the feelgood hormone, making us less prone to anxiety.
Sea air may also make sufferers of cystic fibrosis (CF) – where thick mucous clogs the lungs – feel better. Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel discovered that CF patients exposed to air at the Dead Sea (which has a high oxygen level) ended up with more oxygen in their blood, which improved their breathing.
According to Dr Eldar Berkovits, a member of the research team, the extraordinarily high concentration of minerals found in the Dead Sea’s mud, sulphur pools, geothermal springs, and in the surrounding atmosphere, also aided the breathing of patients with respiratory problems and pulmonary disorders.
According to Skin Research and Technology, when researchers treated dermatitis with sea water. The salt and potassium chloride content ”sealed” the damaged skin and speeded its healing.
A spokeswoman for the British Association of Dermatologists says many parents report that their child’s eczema improves after swimming in the sea. “This could be due to other factors such as relaxation, a change of climate or diet,” she says. “However, sea water has antiseptic properties and may reduce an infection associated with the eczema. It may also help to heal the skin. But you need to be extra intensive with emollients before and after swimming to prevent any drying effect. Wash the salt off afterwards, then moisturise.”
Sea water is also touted as a cure for hay fever, colds and sinus infections, as it has strong antihistamine effects and is a good decongestant. The manufacturers of Sterimar, a French nasal spray, claim this will also reduce snoring.
In our desire to avoid the risk of skin cancer, we have swung too far the other way and aren’t getting enough sun. This is according to doctors around the world, who are warning that we now need to get a bit more of the stuff, in a sensible way of course.
In Australia, one in four people now has a deficiency of vitamin D – symptoms include muscle pain, weak bones/fractures, fatigue, lowered immunity, depression, mood swings and sleep irregularities, according to Dr Marilyn Glenville, an expert in women’s health (www.marilynglenville.com).
“I’ve seen it in clinics myself,” she says. “We need the vitamin D that sunshine provides to help us absorb calcium and avoid osteoporosis.”
Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin. An Australian report in Clinical Endocrinology, in 2005, showed that the higher the level of vitamin D in the body, the lower the blood glucose level, suggesting that sun avoidance may be linked to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
“It may also be useful in prevention of heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, boosting the immune system and have anti-ageing effects,” says Glenville. “And, according to Irish researchers, it can reverse the inflammatory effects associated with age-related memory decline.”
The American Medical Association is so concerned about the increasing lack of vitamin D that it is lobbying the Federal Drugs Administration to increase the recommended daily allowance (RDA) from 200-600 biological units, or “iu” (depending on age), to up to 1,000iu, as it is believed that its anti-inflammatory properties may actually help to prevent cancer. (In Britain, the RDA is 200iu a day.)
“It’s about balance,” says Glenville, “not getting sunburnt. The body can store vitamin D for 60 days after gentle daily exposure.”
UV rays are often used by dermatologists to help with conditions such as psoriasis and acne, although Dr Richard Pojar, director of the Skin Research Unit at Leeds University, has suggested that in the case of acne, this may be simply a placebo effect.
Sand acts as a natural exfoliant, helping the old skin to shed more quickly and improving its natural regeneration. It also makes an excellent surface for exercising, just look at the bodies those beach vollyball guys and girl have.
The extra resistance it imposes on muscles can maximise the effects of any fitness regime. Award-winning Holstein cattle, the ”Vortex” herd in Dorset, are stabled in sand beds, rather than straw, for its health benefits. Farmers claim that this leads to fewer cases of lameness. So if it’s good for cows, just think what padding around on a beach barefoot could do for your hooves.
Seaweed has has high levels of zinc, chromium, manganese, selenium and particularly iodine, which is very important for the healthy function of the thyroid gland. It also has anti-cancer benefits and reduces cholesterol.
Seaweed baths have long been popular in Ireland, where they are believed to aid rheumatism and arthritis. This is thought to be due to its high concentration of minerals, trace elements and polysaccharides.
Its high salt content acts as an effective agent for promoting chemical exchange and drawing out toxins from cells – which is why it is often added to face masks and body wraps.