by Joan Haynes, ND
If your vacation plans this summer involve travel to a foreign country, here are some tips to ensure your health stays in tip-top shape while you’re gone. Foreign lands mean foreign bugs, ones that our immune systems are less adapted too. If you are headed to a place where parasites are common, some extra precautions can be very helpful.
1. Prepare your digestive tract & prevent gastrointestinal illness
Increasing your healthy intestinal bacteria for a month before your trip will leave you less susceptible to pathogens. We recommend HMF capsules one cap twice per day. This brand can tolerate room temperatures for up 30 days without refrigeration. If you are headed to a hot area without a fridge or air conditioning, buy a brand that is heat stable.
Make sure your digestive function is strong
Normal stomach acid is our best defense against pathogenic organisms. If you have symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, or indigestion, check with your doctor to see if supplementing with hydrochloric acid is appropriate for you.
Don’t drink the water (or eat the salad, or iced drinks, etc!)
Hydration is very important of course, and if you are travelling to an area that has contaminated water, vigilance is required to avoid gastrointestinal illness. The best solution is to bring your own water filter and treat your water yourself. REI has some great options. If you choose to go the bottled water route, make sure that you are the one opening your bottles and check the seals. It is not uncommon in impoverished countries for locals to refill old bottles with unclean water and resell it. Similarly, do not believe any claims that the water or ice is boiled or treated. I could have saved myself a week of misery in Nepal if I had been less naïve! Peel your own fruit, insist that your food is steaming hot when it’s brought to you, and eschew raw salads and ice. You will be a less frequent visitor to the latrine.
Consider Hepatitis B vaccination if travelling to endemic areas
Hepatitis B causes an acute viral infection of the liver. Severe malaise, fatigue, and abdominal pain are common symptoms. It is transmitted when food preparers don’t wash their hands properly after using the toilet. The vaccine itself is one of the more benign ones, and could save you from ruining your vacation.
2. Prepare your circadian rhythm with melatonin
Jet lag can slow down the best of us. If you are travelling across several time zones, melatonin can be extremely helpful in “resetting” the circadian clock. Take 3 mg at the time that locals would be going to bed (and go to bed yourself). This should help induce proper sleep and wake times for that time zone.
3. Support your immune system
Get adequate sleep, and go easy on the sugar and alcohol. If you are concerned about a tendency to get sick, take an immune stimulating product such as Biovegetarian by Priority 1. As a preventative, the dose is 2 tablets per day. To treat acute illness the dose is 2 tablets 3-4 x/day.
4. Bring a travel kit and add your own natural medicines
- There are a wide variety of great travel kits available. Here is a list of sites that supply them. Choose your kit based on how long your trip is and the availability of good medical care there. American Red Cross.
- Adventure Medical Kits.
- Chinook Medical Gear.
- Travel Medicine, Inc..
- Wilderness Medicine Outfitters.
Additional natural remedies you may wish to add:
For gastrointestinal illness:
Arsenicum 30C A homeopathic remedy that treats vomiting or diarrhea. At the first sign of getting ill, let 3 pellets dissolve under your tongue. Use every hour or two when awake until symptoms resolve.
Charcoal caps Charcoal absorbs toxins in your digestive tract. If you feel you ate or drank something that upset your system, take 2 caps (for a child) or 4 caps (for an adult). You can take 2 more capsules in another 1-2 hours. The charcoal will turn your stool black.
NF Phytofuge These capsules contain several different herbs that kill off parasites and pathogenic bacteria. They can be used as a preventative measure (1-2 caps per day) as well as to treat an acute infection (1-2 caps 3-4x/day).
Probiotics HMF caps or Probiotic Pearls (shelf stable) from the Co-op. Take 1cap with each meal to ensure healthy gut bacteria.
A homeopathic remedy that treats acute injuries by helping to reduce pain, swelling and bruising. Take 3 pellets under the tongue as soon after the injury as possible. This can be repeated every hour until symptoms subside.
A homeopathic topical gel that works similarly to arnica. Apply to affected areas every 2-3 hours as needed for pain and swelling.
Aloe gel Soothing and healing to the skin following a burn. Do not apply to blistering or broken skin. Available at the Co-op.
For sleep/ jet lag:
Melatonin Take 1-3 mg at bedtime in your new time zone.
For colds/flu or general immune support:
Biovegetarian 2 caps per day as preventative, 2 caps 3-4 x/day for acute illness Consider purchasing a homeopathic first aid kit and book for other illnesses and injuries such as sunburn, insect bites, earaches etc.
All products are available at Boise Natural Health unless otherwise referenced. Happy Travels