Dear Pharmacist,

What spray do you recommend for hiking or picnicking outdoors?

—T.K., Denver, Colorado

Answer: This may shock you but I prefer chemical sprays that contain DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. I am all about good bug protection and can't find any natural spray that works. Mosquitoes and ticks and other 'vectors' as they are called, carry pathogens that can infect you, and disable you with encephalitis, malaria, Lyme, Babesia and other diseases.

When I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa to give a lecture, there was so much concern about Dengue fever transmission from the mosquitos that some men boarded our plane with one specific task, to spray it down while all of us passengers covered up our face and nose to avoid breathing the fumes. Their intention was to kill any mosquito on board, God forbid it infected a passenger.

So I take no chances. I used to take more chances, until I saw the ramifications of this in my own family from one darn tick. Now I spray the chemicals on, as if I was on the television show "Naked & Afraid." It would be my survival item, ha ha. I go out when absolutely necessary and avoid endemic areas and lakes that harbor disease-carrying critters. I wear long pants while hiking. I also keep up my B vitamins. Most of the time, the mosquitoes will swarm my husband and ignore me. I think the B vitamins matter. If you have a methylation snp (pronounced "snip"), you will be deficient in B vitamins. After I found out I had low B vitamins, I restored levels with a high-quality B complex, and added methylfolate, and now the bugs don't find me quite as tasty. Science doesn't back me on that, but many report the same finding as me. It's really all about how attractive a bug finds you, that's why (if you can believe the Internet) spraying yourself with Listerine or eating garlic makes you less attractive to bugs.

I respect that some of you don't want to spray on the chemicals, and if you want a natural alternative, here's a suggestion, but it may not work as well when applied:

  • 32 ounces of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons each of dried sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme and peppermint
  • 1 tablespoon of dried basil
  • 5 drops of essential oil of catnip

Put all of this in a big glass jar and tighten the lid. Leave it there for 3 weeks (shake it every day though). Strain it and dilute by half with distilled water. Put it in little spray bottles that you can carry in your backpack or purse. Use as needed before going out.

Now I'd like to end the myth that taking antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin before going out repels bugs. It's not true. These drugs, especially Benadryl reduces itching and redness but that's all. Finally, some bug bites require medical attention. If you develop swollen lymph nodes, fever, headaches, hives or low blood pressure this requires medical attention.

Suzy Cohen

Suzy Cohen, is known as America’s Pharmacist. She has been a licensed pharmacist for 24 years and is a Functional Medicine practitioner. She’s the author of 6 books, including her most recent Amazon #1 best-seller, “Thyroid Healthy: Lose Weight, Look Beautiful and Live the Life You Imagine.”

She was the host of The Thyroid Summit which broadcast worldwide in June 2014. Suzy has been a syndicated columnist for 19 years reaching 20 million in circulation each week. She is a Huffington Post writer, and also hosts her own syndicated medical minute on TV. Suzy has been featured on The Dr OZ Show 6 times, and has appeared on The View, Good Morning America Health, The Doctors and hundreds of other networks. She is a member of The Institute of Functional Medicine, also the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, The American Pharmacists Association and ILADS, the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. You can read free articles and receive your free newsletter by visiting her website, SuzyCohen.com

Books authored by Suzy Cohen include:

  • Thyroid Healthy
  • Headache Free
  • Drug Muggers
  • Diabetes Without Drugs
  • The 24-Hour Pharmacist
  • Eczema: Itchin’ for a Cure (kindle only)
  • Understanding Pancreatitis & Pancreatic Cancer (kindle only)
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