Vacation Insurance of a Different Kind
If your summer plans include travel or a “stay-cation”, or if you are just waiting to escape an unfriendly winter, there are some simple strategies that one can employ to ensure that health and enjoyment levels remain high.
Some simple pre-trip planning, can keep traveller’s diarrhea away and improve your immunity. Or if you find yourself in a position beyond prevention, there are some strategies that can help get you through it without feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation.
Fortification of your gut flora prior to traveling can go a long way to preventing traveler’s diarrhea, and other infections as well. Your digestive tract plays host to many species of friendly bacteria, and their presence in our gut help strengthen our immune system, process certain chemicals and hormones for us, produce fatty acids that can be used to nourish our colon cells, as well as keeping our bowels moving without incident. If these numbers are diminished, through poor diet or certain medications like anti-biotics, these protective effects can be compromised.
Traveler’s diarrhea is a self-limiting infection of the gastro-intestinal tract (small and large intestine). Self-limiting, meaning that it can usually resolve on its own, but is not necessarily pleasant while present. The bacteria is usually a species of E. Coli, and usually finds its way into our systems via contaminated food from improper hand-washing techniques, or contaminated water supplies.
Taking probiotics, or friendly bacteria for 4-6 weeks before travel, can top up your supply of protective flora, and therefore be a firmer barrier to any foreign species that might make their way into our digestive tracts. For probiotic supplements there are a few things you want to keep in mind:
We need both high quality and high quantity to be effective.
Refrigerated is best, as this ensures that the number of bacteria that were put into those capsules remain alive until you ingest them. We want to supplement with a good quantity of “colony-forming-units” to ensure that the bacteria will establish a home in our digestive system, and this means preferably billions per capsule. Yogurt is not effective to do this as the quantity of available CFU’s is less, and some of the species used to make yogurt are not ones that are meant to colonize our digestive tracts. The most common species to find are: Bifidus and Acidophilus… and they need to be human strains. You can tell that they are human strains usually by doing a bit of research or noting if they have a little letter/number combination after their name. An example: Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL-60, or Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL-20. They match our own flora and they colonize best.
Aside from these benefits, good solid friendly flora have also been shown to possibly improve mood, and can also offer protection in children against the development of asthma, eczema and allergies.
Sleeping well before you travel and during can be a powerful immune system supporter as well. If you are changing time zones, or if you are prone to not sleeping well the night before travel, considering some natural, mild, non-addictive sleep support ingredients may be helpful.
Passionflower and Theanine can be useful to calm a “busy, worrying” brain down the night before or during the day of travel. They typically have a mild, nerve calming effect for most.
If you are jumping time zones, you may do a low-dose melatonin the night before you travel, as well as for a few days before your bedtime in your travel time-zone. Melatonin can be useful to help regulate your circadian rhythm and adopt your new schedule more quickly. You can do the same thing upon return from travel.
Natural supplements have the potential to have side-effects or interact with medications, so please always consult a professional to see which ingredient or dose is appropriate for you. It is also advisable to try a new supplement on, prior to travel for at least 4-5 days to ensure you tolerate it well.
If you find yourself with a touch of the GI upset, remember that it is usually self-limiting and respond with generous water intake and rest where you can. Medical attention may be required if you notice prolonged fever, or if you are noticing any blood in your stools.
Probiotics can help turn things around, although with their refrigeration requirement, they might not be an easy travel companion.
Certain natural ingredients like oregano and grapefruit seed extract have potent anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties. These may be options to contain your illness, but if symptoms progress or worsen, medical attention can be required.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, and may the application of some of these techniques allow you to enjoy your vacation fully.