Sea and Sun, two extraordinary health’s allies
Interview with Doctor Isabella Giuseppin, Paediatrician at the Hospital in San Donà di Piave (Venezia)
Beach for kids!
A holiday at the seaside with our children allows us to dive into an "alive habitat" and to look for its healing and beauty properties. As soon as the temperatures become warmer, millions of people flow into these "primordial mother's arms", as sort of an answer to an ancestral call. The chemical composition of the sea, which has always been considered a source of life, is very similar to the one of the blood plasma: it proves its deep connection with the human genre.
Which are the sun’s beneficial effects on health?
The exposition to the sun determines an improvement of the calcium intake and the activation of vitamin D, which is a fundamental hormone to bind calcium to the bones especially in the first childhood, during pregnancy and in the adolescence and seniority years. These are crucial phases during men’s life, in which the bone is “eager of calcium and vitamin D”.
Which health damages causes the lack of sun?
Vitamin D does not activate itself without sun action, and consequently calcium will not bind to bones. Its lack causes rickets, osteopenia, osteoporosis, high risk of fractures. Not only: vitamin D favours the production of cells and proteins that prevent recurring respiratory diseases, it also allows a better control on asthma and on atopic dermatitis, prevents autoimmune diseases (diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis) and reduces depression and schizophrenia.
Wide bright beaches, long walks on the seashore from April until September in seaside resorts far from the pollution, which obstructs the passage of UV rays, a diet rich of fish and sun baths even for children are necessary in order to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D and to avoid its pharmacological supplementation. From recent researches came out the fact that just 9.3% of the children living in Verona has optimal levels of vitamin D, while the others just do not. We cover up our children too much, we take them rarely to the seaside, we use sun lotions with too high protection and the return of rickets is the effect. That is a problem that concerns everyone of us.
Does the sun have a role in regulating good mood and the correct sleep-wake cycle?
Sure! The sun stimulates the brain’s production of serotonin, the “good mood” hormone. Serotonin is the body’s modulator for humour, appetite, sleep and pain perception and it has a powerful action on the brain; variations in its quantity can cause depression, anxiety, aggressiveness, immoderate hunger, insomnia, headache and other common problems in everyday life. This is the reason why holidays at the seaside make you “happy”. Many antidepressants (like Prozac) just stop the reabsorption of serotonin, then reactivate and increase its quantity, which is particularly low in depressed people. Even some migraine medications raise serotonin’s level (like Sumatriptan). Dark chocolate produces an enzyme similar to serotonin; in fact, everybody knows that eating chocolate gives a good feeling. A holiday at the seaside has the same effect of chocolate on our central nervous system, as well as antidepressant or migraine medications! It is a moral duty for paediatricians to advice parents an holiday at the seaside.
Which are the seawater’s beneficial effects?
Sea has the “best mineral water” as it contains almost all elements (60 oligoelements): sodium and chlorine, anti-inflammatory and disinfectants, iodine, which restores the hormonal balance and phosphorus for heart’s health. The presence of plankton in seawater (phytoplankton and zooplankton synthesize molecules as well as antibiotic and antiviral activities) has an anti-infective and anti-inflammatory effect on body’s systems, particularly on the breathing one.
This can be carried out with relatively simple methods, such as baths, sunbaths, inhalations and aerosols.
Is it true that some pathologies can be treated with seawater?
Yes, it is true: pathologies of the breathing system for example, such as bronchiolitis and cystic fibrosis. Sodium chloride aerosol (which paediatricians call hypertonic solution) is constantly used for all winter diseases of the breathing system; bronchiolitis of children under one year is one of them. In fact, sodium chloride is the best existing mucokinetics, asreported by researches on cystic fibrosis, which causes viscous mucus, and reactivates the function of the cilia (the “natural sweepers” of the breathing system) that have been paralyzedby viruses, allergens and polluting substances
Is it true that iodine has a regulating role in some hormonal diseases?
Yes, it is true, with thyroid for instance. Iodine, present in air and fish, makes thyroid work better and contributes in healing its malfunctions, which are very common among women. Even just walking along the seashore you can breathe a real “marine aerosol” made of mineral salts present in seawater, wind and waves: it is a real cure-all for the respiratory apparatus.
What can you tell us about the beneficial effects of the sea on skin and muscles?
Sun and minerals present in water have healing effects on our skin: they smooth it, reduce inflammation, stimulate its microcirculation and reactivate the blood circulation system. Some examples are the beneficial effects on atopic and seborrhoeic dermatitis, on acne, on psoriasis and on wounds that do not heal easily, like the ones of diabetic people. As it releases warmth slowly, sand has a de-contracting effect on muscles, a perfect cure for those who have arthritis and rheumatisms.
What kind of beaches should paediatricians suggest to families?
They should advise them to go to beaches that are suitable for children. The beaches chosen by paediatricians are those that have been awarded with the Bandiera Blu qualification (Bandiera Blu is an award established in the year 1987 by F.E.E. - Foundation for Environmental Education - a non-profit organization which works for environmental protection). These are sandy beaches (so there are no rocks, pebbles or gravel) and are very well-organized: they provide animation for children and competitions; there is a wide beach, a rescue service, parasols are well-distanced from each other; the sea is clean and the water level is low at the sea shore. There are accommodations near the beach, near equipped hospital. There are also shops and cultural events (which are very appreciated by moms and dads), but there is no loud night life.
What do you think about thermal bath treatments?
There is a constant increasing number of children who have illnesses related to phlegm: children who always have a cold or recurrent bronchitis and otitis; they can also be affected by rhinogenic deafness and consequently of language and learning impairment. In addition to the medicines used during the acute phase of the disease, sea baths and thermal baths are an effective help against ear and breathing system diseases. Thermal bath treatments include aerosols, warm-humid inhalations, micronized nasal irrigations, nasal washes, nebulisations, endotympanic insufflations, baths with different temperatures...); they have a synergic effect, they allow to reduce the medications and improve their tolerance. The most affected age range is the preschool one: these children have breathing system disorders (viral and allergic rhinitis, bronchiolitis, asthmatic bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis, adenoiditis) and auditory system diseases (medium and serous otitis, deafness). This happens because the child’s immune system is not mature yet, the lymphatic tissue is often hypertrophic in the nose and in the throat and the Eustachian tubes are shorter and in a horizontal position compared to the adults’ ones. In addition to these predisposed anatomic conditions we have to add the premature entry in communities, such as nurseries, schools, so that children are highly exposed to infective agents and to environmental pollution (Atmospheric particulate matter pollution, smoke, poor exposition to sun). Holidays at the seaside at least twice a year in association with thermal bath cures can prevent childhood diseases.