Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama drinks teas during a seminar at the University of Mumbai in Mumbai, India. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Freedom to choose teas and dietary supplements

Can some teas really help you sleep better at night? And is there a dietary supplement that can protect you from sunburn? While we are free to buy these products, they are worth checking out. Here goes:

A close friend swears that his first cup of Sleepytime tea won’t be his last. It helped him sleep better. So I took a look at the ingredients. At the top of the list is chamomile which has been used as a sleep and digestive aid in some cultures for hundreds of years. Hard data on the effects of chamomile for sleep are unfortunately scarce, however.

Some studies show that chamomile is a safe way to get a good night’s sleep; other studies show no benefit. Pregnant women should avoid chamomile, advises the National Library of Medicine, since one variety, Roman Chamomile, may cause miscarriages. Chamomile is also related to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds and daisies in case you are allergic to any of these plants.

Sleepytime tea also contains spearmint, which according to its manufacturer, Celestial Seasonings, “is thought to help settle the stomach and soothe the mind.” At any rate, spearmint is a plant source of anti-inflammatory substances and has been used as a medicinal plant for more than 200 years, say scientists.

Celestial Tea folks also say lemongrass gives Sleepytime tea, “a uniquely uplifting flavor and aroma that many tea drinkers describe as ‘hitting the reset button.’ ” Fair enough. Enjoy.

Another friend approached me this week about a product that she heard, “helps you from getting sunburned.” Interesting. It’s called astaxanthin —pronounced asta-zan-thin (I think) —which is a potent antioxidant in the carotenoid family. (Carotenoids are pigments that give carrots their orange color.) Astaxanthin gives the orange tint to salmon and is also found in shrimp, crab, red snapper, green algae and red yeast.

Antioxidants work behind the scenes to do battle against wayward oxygen molecules that damage our cells in the process of living. How important is the work of antioxidants? They help protect every cell in our bodies from inflammation and damage that can lead to premature aging and a host of chronic diseases.

But can astaxanthin protect us from sunburn? A few small studies on middle-aged women found they had less saggy skin and fewer wrinkles (sun damage causes skin to sag and wrinkle) after taking doses of astaxanthin ranging between 4 to 12 milligrams for 6 to 16 weeks. And at least one study found that applying astaxanthin directly to the skin helped protect skin cells much like sunscreen.

Always good to check out dietary supplements at reliable sites like the Office of Dietary Supplements www.ods.od.nih.gov. Unlike drugs and medications that must meet strict requirements for safety and efficacy (meaning they work for what you are taking them for), products marketed as dietary supplements do not have to prove they are safe or effective before they can be sold. That’s unfortunate.

Barbara Quinn


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