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Healthy Travels Make Happy Travels

December 18, 2007 | Sara Thyr, N.D.

No matter where you are going, or how long you are going to be there, excitement over your upcoming trip can be tripped up by worries that you or someone in your party will fall ill during your adventure. In a foreign land, this may become more of an adventure than you are bargaining for. At Grandma’s house, it puts a damper on the time with family. If you are on the family ski vacation, illness may take precious time away from the slopes.

There are a few simple, natural therapies that are worth packing for those inopportune illnesses and other health issues.

Eating for health

But first, consider your nutrition to be paramount. Many people fall ill simply due to not getting enough nutrients. In Italy, you may feel justified in treating yourself to copious amounts of red wine and bread with olive oil. Consider the relative nutrient density, and perhaps choose those after you have had a good plate of vegetables or a lean protein source. Sugar depresses your immune system for 3-4 hours after consumption. So limit your intake of those rich deserts, and completely eliminate them if you are not feeling well. Fiber is also very important for proper digestion (which to most naturopaths is the seat of good health). If you are not eliminating properly during your travels, which many of us struggle with, you are going to be more predisposed to illness and infections. Be sure to choose foods that are high in fiber (dates and dried apricots are great), and consider taking a fiber supplement along if constipation is something with which you frequently struggle.

Digestive illnesses are the ones about which I get the most questions. When my friend Carolyn was heading to India for sabbatical for 6 months, I gave her what I dubbed the “Delhi Belly Trio,” which includes probiotics, berberine and a fiber/charcoal supplement.

Probiotics correct digestive imbalances

Probiotics are the good digestive flora that live in your gut. They are commonly referred to as lactobacillus or bifidis. When you become extremely ill, particularly with diarrhea, many of the good bacteria are flushed out. Replacing them can not only slow down the flow, but also prevent you from getting it again. They can also help correct constipation, as they work to break down your food. If you really want to be proactive, take them before and during your travels to prevent getting sick to begin with. There us an enormous variety of probiotics on the market. Recent research showed that many over-the-counter brands not only do not have the number of live organisms that is claimed on the label, but they also have other “contaminant” bacteria that could actually be harmful. Many probiotics also need to be refrigerated to remain stable, which, unless you happen to be hiking in the arctic, is a bit inconvenient when you are traveling. There are a couple of brands that are stable at room temperature: Culturelle “Lactobacillus GG” and Integrative Therapeutics “Probiotic Pearls.” These should be readily available at your local health food stores.

Beyond their usefulness for digestive complaints, probiotics are also very helpful at maintaining general good health. The mucosa of the GI tract is the first line of defense against many pathogens. And having proper intestinal flora beefs up this arsenal.

Natural anti-viral & antibiotic

Berberine, the active component in Goldenseal and Oregon Grape, is an herb with anti-infective properties. Berberine has antimicrobial effects including antibacterial, antifungal, and some antimycobacterial and antiprotozoal activity. For the microbiologists: Berberine has activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Eschericha coli, Shigella boydii, Vibrio cholerae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Microsporum gypseum, Cryptococcus neoformans, Sporotrichum schenkii, Entamoeba histolytica, and Giardia lamblia. Taking it during episodes of digestive illness helps to fight off the offending bacteria. It is a wonderful herb to have along for it’s antibacterial properties for nearly any infective process. It is because it works in so many ways that I find it the perfect herb to take along on trips. Generally, herbs work best if they are taken away from food. Berberine should not be taken if you are pregnant or nursing.

Calm the beast

Blue Heron is a brand name for a combination digestive health product. Since space is limited when we travel, bringing along supplements that can do more than one thing is critical. Blue Heron (made by nutraceutical company NF Formulas) is a calming, soothing, high fiber supplement. This may be one of the best preventative products you could take along. The combination of fibers and herbs that are soothing to the GI tract should keep things humming along, and are perfect to take for either constipation or diarrhea, or any general stomach upset. (As an anecdote, since fiber binds toxins and hormones in the digestive tract and prevents them from being re-circulated in the body, I have had women tell me that this product has put an end to their hot flashes and night sweats…that might be a nice way to spend your vacation, especially if you are headed to a warm climate.) If you are unable to find this particular product, look for something with a one or more of the following ingredients: psyllium husks, ground flax seeds, slippery elm, marshmallow, fenugreek, or triphala.

Charcoal

A charcoal-containing product is also good to bring along. Activated charcoal absorbs toxins in the GI tract and is great for detoxifying and defeating intestinal bugs. Charcoal is excellent at putting a stop to diarrhea. One that I frequently recommend contains charcoal, psyllium husk (fiber), Goldenseal (which contains berberine), lactobacillus, and apple pectin (a soothing demulcent). The brand name is GastroCleanse, but it is only available through healthcare practitioners. If you can’t find something similar, I can order it for you.

Skin conditions

Several herbs can be wonderful for healing skin wounds, including calendula and comfrey. Herbal Ed’s Salve contains Comfrey root, Calendula flower, Chickweed herb, Plantain leaf, Mullein leaf, and St. John’s Wort flowering tops. It is a perfect combination for all sorts of wounds, bites, stings and cuts. The comfrey will help to draw out toxins from venomous stings. The St. John’s Wort will help with the pain from a bite. Calendula speeds healing of dermal tissues. And it comes in a tiny little tin that is perfect for travel. (Be aware if you are in a very hot climate, it may become very runny.)

Trauma medicine

I am a big fan of homeopathic medicines, and there are companies who make a travel kit of homeopathic remedies. If you are not proficient (or even curious) in their use, I would advise only one: homeopathic Arnica. Homeopathic Arnica is good for any sort of trauma or bruise. It’s terrific for sports injuries (or a twisted ankle from stumbling along the cobblestone streets of Venice after too much imbibing.) Homeopathics are very small and easy to travel with. And have virtually no contraindications or medications that they interfere with. They are safe for use in pregnancy, nursing and even for infants and toddlers. I personally carry Arnica with me at all times. You just never know what life is going to bring, or when my klutziness is going to rear its ugly head.

Multifaceted herb

Ginger is a wonderful natural medicine, and another that has many uses. Ginger has a long history of use for upset stomachs and motion sickness. Ginger is also a warming herb and can help fight infections. One nice thing about ginger is that if you neglect to bring a pre-packaged version, it is readily available in most markets. Fresh ginger is most effective, but a packaged ginger tea will also be very helpful. [To use fresh ginger, mince and boil in water covered for 10-15 minutes. Strain off the ginger and drink the remaining tea.] I recommend that travelers who tend to get motion sickness bring along some ginger tea bags as well as some candied ginger or even ginger capsules. Unless you have used it before, it is difficult to know in the moment what will be the easiest to get down.

Ear soothers

If you are planning on being in the water, I recommend taking along an antimicrobial and soothing ear oil. Several reputable herbal companies make a garlic/mullein/St. John’s wort oil. These were initially designed for childhood ear infections. But I find that they are equally as helpful with swimmers ear. Or, infections caused by diving or snorkeling. One very simple trick when you get out of the water is to instill a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol into each ear to get the water out. Problems tend to develop when the sea or pool water is sitting in the ear for hours.

The best in basics

Vitamin C is well researched as an immune system aid. I always travel with a package of the effervescent packages of vitamin C called “Emergen-C.” These readily available supplements can be mixed with water so I recommend putting one in the water bottle you pick up at the airport before getting on the plane. The B vitamins also help to sustain your energy. Kids even like them and they come in several delicious flavors. If you don’t think you’d remember to mix it in water, just find some vitamin C at your local health food store and take 500-1000 mg once a day for prevention and 3-4 times/day when you are not well. The main side effect I see with vitamin C is loose stools, so if you notice cramping or loose stools, cut back on the dose.

Vitamin C is also important as a connective tissue healer, so pack plenty and take lots if you become injured with a sprain or strain.

Constipation

To help with the occasional constipation associated with travel, I usually put in a few bags of the “Smooth Move” tea made by Traditional Medicinals. They are easily found in your health food store, and even many progressive supermarkets. They contain a laxative, which ordinarily I am not fond of, but travel is much more enjoyable when you are not “plugged up.” And it is a natural, mild laxative. So if you take the tea, you will just have a normal bowel movement, not a rush of explosive diarrhea.

Diarrhea

Simple foods like rice and bananas can help with occasional diarrhea. The BRAT diet is a tool to remember for loose stools and upset stomach: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. The charcoal supplement and probiotics will also aid in getting rid of whatever is causing it.

Let your food be your medicine As Hippocrates said, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” So if you have neglected to take along all of the elegant prescribed items above, you can always find things locally that will aid a myriad of problems.

Fennel and Chamomile are wonderful digestive calmatives. Garlic has a broad spectrum of antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Onions are antiviral. Ginger for motion sickness and nausea. Potato is drawing, so place a slice of raw potato on insect bites or stings. Turmeric, particularly common in India and Thailand is good for inflammation, allergies, and digestive problems, along with being a good liver support herb (for those evenings of margaritas on the Mexican Riviera!).

If you are on any medications or have any pre-existing health issues, you should consult your health provider or a licensed naturopathic physician before taking any other supplements or medications. With even the most safe herbs or supplements there may be interactions.

Finally, visualize good health and it will come to you. Focus your energy on illness, and that is what you will draw into you life.

With that, I wish you happy and healthy travels!

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