Whether we are taking time out, exploring new places, relaxing, adventuring or just having a change of scene, holidays are a valuable and wonderful part of our lives. Unfortunately, they can sometimes be marred by illness or discomfort. A lecturer once said that we would never be ill when we travelled if we moved at horse or walking pace and adjusted to the changes in the environment, food and water as we went. While this is hardly feasible, there is support we can give ourselves if we recognise some of the pressures travelling puts our body under.
In this blog our guest writer and homeopath, Kelda White, shares her advice on keeping well whilst travelling or on holiday.
Holidays can refresh us on so many different levels but the actual strain our bodies and minds go through to get us there can often go unseen. The following may seem unduly negative, and I may sound like a kill-joy but please bear with me. When we understand the issues that we, often unwittingly, cause our bodies, we can compensate for them. There is usually a point just before a holiday when I wonder whether it is all worth it. Fitting in work beforehand, dealing with travel arrangements, making sure the garden, house and cat are going to be adequately catered for, packing, and all of those last-minute jobs sometimes add up to, well, feeling as if I might need a holiday. Of course, it is always worth it but most of us experience some level of stress beforehand, even if the end result is positive.
The travel itself can also be a challenge for our long-suffering bodies. There may be an early start, irregular meal times, travel at altitude in a pressurised, atmosphere-controlled, high speed aeroplane or a long car or train journey. When we arrive, with luck it will all go smoothly but if we are abroad, we may arrive to different air, a new climate, food we are not used to, more alcohol than usual, water with an unfamiliar composition and a time-zone which may be at odds to our usual body-clock. For the sensitively attuned, even finding your feet in an unfamiliar place can be unsettling, even if it is exciting at the same time.
When we take this into consideration, we can see how our resilience may be at low ebb when we arrive. The good news is that there are plenty of things we can do to stay well while we are travelling. Armed with common sense, a bit of preparation and a few natural health aids, we stand a good chance of making sure that our holidays are the restorative experiences we hope for.
It pleases me greatly to see an increased focus on gut health and a recognition that it plays a role in everything from digesting our food to immunity. So, it may come as no surprise to hear that supporting our precious microbiome can help us to stay well on holiday. Taken at least two weeks before travel, probiotics, particularly Saccharomyces boulardii and a mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, have been shown to significantly prevent the dreaded travellers’ diarrhoea1. This is partly down to their role in our immunity but also because they aid digestion and preserve the integrity of the mucus lining in the gut, making it harder for pathogens to take up residence. Probiotics for travel should be those that do not require refrigeration and which contain a range of bacteria. Babies can also benefit from probiotics – just make sure that you choose a product which is designed for them. The bacterial profile of babies’ guts is different to that of adults so it is important to give them a supplement which complements their microbiome.
Increasing the diversity of our gut bacteria can also help us adjust to new foods. Our bacterial profile reflects, among other things including genetics, our normal diet as the microbes which thrive in our gut are the ones which need the food that we regularly eat2. So, it makes sense that when we bombard the inhabitants of our intestines with new ingredients, they may have trouble adjusting. Ensuring a good range of bacteria before we leave reduces the incidence of bloating, constipation3 and indigestion caused by a change in diet. Digestive enzymes may also be helpful in this instance.
Getting our digestive systems ready to travel is one thing we can do to maintain our health and we can also boost our immune system with herbs such as Echinacea. While there are specific plants for different systems in our bodies, there are some which are a good overall support. Echinacea is antimicrobial and active against both viral and bacterial pathogens4. It can be taken as a tincture or capsule before travel and for up to three months while away. It boosts our immune system and can both treat and prevent illness.
There are several nutrients which are associated with a robust immune system. Selenium is involved in essential cellular processes for almost all cells including those involved in immunity. Unfortunately, selenium content in food is declining due to reduced levels in the soil and this is predicted to get worse5. Fortunately, supplementation is effective and easily available. Vitamin C is almost so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget but it is a powerful antioxidant and supports strong immunity. Zinc is also important as it is vital for the formation and action of cells6 such as neutrophils which ingest and destroy pathogens, so called ‘natural killer’ cells and macrophages which are a type of white blood cell. Zinc’s antioxidant quality helps to ensure the integrity of membranes and prevent damage by free radicals. This may be particularly important if we wish to indulge in alcohol or sunbathing while we are on holiday, although taking zinc is no substitute for moderate behaviour. Beta glucans is another immune-stimulator although the type that does this is not the cholesterol lowering variety found in oats. The one we need here is found in certain mushrooms and bakers yeast although it is also readily obtained from supplements.
It is also worth mentioning here that ensuring that our overall nutrient status is at an optimal level is a great, general way of ensuring good health. Taking a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can ensure that we get the right nutrition, even if meal times and our food choices become a bit erratic while we are away.
One of the joys of travelling can be trying new foods. We are beyond the stage now where garlic and herbs are considered exotic but although they are well known, we may not consider their health benefits. Oregano, that delicious Mediterranean herb, is a potent antioxidant, may reduce viral infections and has been shown to have a range of anti-microbial effects7. Garlic is another useful plant to involve in our travel plans. It has an impressive array of benefits including being a powerful anti-microbial8 which means it is useful for treating and preventing digestive and infectious diseases. It is also antithrombotic9 and thins the blood by reducing platelet aggregation. This may be useful if you are worried about clot formation on flights but do be aware if you are taking other medication. The raw clove is probably most effective but might not be so popular with other passengers. Taking one or two capsules per day is an easier option for travel. While it helps reduce harmful microbes, it is also a key prebiotic which help feed the beneficial bacteria in our gut.
Hopefully it goes without saying to be aware of the cleanliness of eating establishments, not drinking water unless you know it is safe, avoiding water in or on ice and salads or fruit and making sure that your own hygiene is not overlooked. But even with the best precautions, it is possible to become ill. Knowing how to make a simple rehydration fluid can be useful. Drinking a solution of half a teaspoon of salt with 6 teaspoons of sugar in a litre of water provides electrolytes which allow our bodies to rehydrate more effectively than drinking plain water. Broth can be substituted or to include potassium, mashed banana, coconut water or fruit juice can added to the mix if available.
A basic kit of homeopathic remedies can also be helpful. Arsenicum Album at a 30c potency is a long-used remedy for food poisoning and diarrhoea where there is anxiety and restlessness and intense burning thirst for sips of water. China 30c can help deal with dehydration whether it is caused by air travel, diarrhoea or vomiting or too much heat. Nux Vomica 30c can be useful for the opposite situation, being a remedy for constipation, indigestion, congestion and supporting the liver in case of a hangover. Arnica 30c is a well-known remedy for bruises. What is often overlooked is that it is also a good remedy for shock or over-strain of the body in any way. This means that it is valuable for mitigating the effects of over-exertion where there is sore bruised pain as well as helping the body to recover from a flight and entering new time zones.
There are also a number of herbs known as adaptogens because they help the body adapt to stress. Ashwagandha has been used in Ayurvedic practice for millennia for its calming properties. In the modern world, this makes it particularly useful for dealing with the stress and sleep disturbance caused by long-distance flights. Siberean and Korean ginseng support the adrenal glands and endocrine system to reduce feelings of fatigue, which can result from travel.
The focus so far has been on physical complaints, but travel can be emotionally unsettling for some. Arg Nit 30c is a homeopathic remedy which is known for helping with anticipatory anxiety, particularly fear of flying. Essential oils such as lavender and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can also help relieve anxiety10 – either put a few drops into a base oil and massage into pulse points of drop some onto a hanky and inhale when required.
Lemon balm can also help soothe insect bites so may be a useful addition to a travel kit. To prevent insects biting, garlic (taken internally) can help as well as natural insect repellent essential oils such as citronella, lemon eucalyptus oil, thyme and cinnamon. Thyme is a powerful antimicrobial as well so could be useful on more than one front.
While we are making holiday preparations, spending a bit of time readying our bodies for travel can be beneficial. Packing a few natural remedies will also give you support while you are there, helping you have a holiday to remember for the right reasons.
About the author
Kelda White was inspired to qualify in homeopathy over 15 years ago after experiencing how effective and life expanding it can be. She works with remedies, flower essences, herbs, nutrition, gut support and intuitive reflection to foster natural health. As well as treating clients online and in Malvern, she is senior tutor at the Midlands College of homeopathy, runs a student clinic and supervises other homeopaths.
If you have questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters, please do contact our team of Nutritional Therapists.
- Enders, G, GUT the inside story of our body’s most underrated organ, 2017. p162-168
- McKeith, G. Food Bible, 2008. p237
- Curtis, S. Homoeopathic Alternatives to Immunisation, 2002. p17
- Hoffman, D. The New Holistic Herbal, 1983. p202
- steel, S, Cross, C, Brown, L (eds). Complete Health and Healing, 2017. p19
- Steel, S, Cross, C, Brown, L (eds). Complete Health and Healing, 2017. P81