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HomeHealth NewsHoliday gut-healthy eats DR MEGAN ROSSI says travelers often experience gastrointestinal changes.

Holiday gut-healthy eats DR MEGAN ROSSI says travelers often experience gastrointestinal changes.

Who doesn’t require a vacation? But in our eagerness to get away from it all, we can sometimes forget to take care of ourselves, especially our gut, and this can be the very thing that ruins our vacation.

And there is something extra discouraging about becoming ill when on vacation.

Problems can begin with the journey itself; you are not alone if air travel causes you to feel bloated or constipated. It is something that happens to everyone, but 20% of the population, including those with irritable bowel syndrome, are particularly susceptible (IBS).

Holiday gut-healthy eats dr megan rossi says travelers often experience gastrointestinal changes.
Holiday gut-healthy eats dr megan rossi says travelers often experience gastrointestinal changes.

Essentially, when the plane ascends, the cabin’s atmospheric pressure changes, allowing trapped air in the stomach to expand and cause the classic bloating and discomfort. This air expansion phenomenon is the same reason why your ears pop and your water bottle or snack bag expands before takeoff.

Changes in bowel movements are a very typical travel ailment (and we’re not talking about traveler’s diarrhea; more on that later). This can be attributed to the fact that we’re consuming different foods, which is fantastic for introducing new plant molecules for our gut bacteria to feed on. However, just as when you train out a new set of muscles and they ache later, so can your gut.

It may take a few days for your gut to acclimatize to a new diet since your gut bacteria must obtain a new set of digestive enzymes to digest the new plant foods.

Changes in our hormones, such as cortisol, the stress hormone (consider the tension of travel), can accelerate the passage of food, causing diarrhea in some individuals and constipation in others.

Moving across time zones can also cause a disruption in our circadian rhythm, which can lead to constipation.

Your gut bacteria have a circadian rhythm that can conflict with a new time zone, impairing their usual daily output, including hormone regulation and vitamin manufacturing.

Melatonin is another hormone that takes a significant hit: in addition to controlling our sleep-wake cycle, it also influences gastrointestinal motility and feelings. This explains why changing time zones might increase intestinal sensitivity.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep your digestive system in optimal condition for travel.

A probiotic supplement (particularly, 500mg of Saccharomyces Boulardii CNCM I-745, available at health food stores and supermarkets) is one way to lower the risk of traveler’s diarrhea by taking it a week before and throughout your trip.

In a pivotal study released in the 1980s by the University of Vienna, it was determined that this specific type and amount of probiotics reduced the incidence of diarrhea among travelers in comparison to a placebo group (32 percent versus 43 percent). Other probiotics have had little benefit.

Alternately, focusing on establishing a broad, and thus resilient, population of gut bacteria through nutrition before a vacation is unquestionably beneficial for reducing the risk of gut infections. This includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. You should consume at least 30 different plant types per week for at least four weeks before your vacation.

In the 24 to 48 hours before traveling, minimize your intake of FODMAPs, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, to prevent bloating and abdominal discomfort.

These carbohydrates are found in a variety of meals and are poorly absorbed in the small intestine; they are fermented by the bacteria in the large intestine, creating gas.

This is often a positive thing, but when flying, the phenomenon of air expansion causes this gas to stretch the intestine.

Cutting back on wheat, barley, and rye-based foods, certain types of sugar (including honey and sweeteners), beans, and certain fruits (apples and peaches, for example) and vegetables (broccoli, garlic, mushrooms) is required for a low-FODMAP diet. You can learn about good substitutions on my website, theguthealthdoctor.com.

However, it’s important to reintroduce these foods once you’ve landed, as the majority of FODMAPs are prebiotic, meaning they support good gut bacteria.

Additionally, on the day of travel (and during the trip), avoid eating large meals; this reduces the burden on your digestive system. Instead of eating your typical quantity of food in three meals, divide it into five or six meals.

In addition to drinking plenty of water, I tend to avoid rich and heavy meals during flights, opting instead for snacks such as my lower-FODMAP pea and mint hummus (recipe in the box to the right), veggie sticks, and wholegrain crackers.

Consider bringing psyllium husk with you when you travel if you experience constipation or looser bowel movements. This water-loving fiber (found in most health food stores) has a dual impact, softening hard stools and thickening loose stools. Try half a tablespoon (3 grams) every day combined with 150 milliliters of water per tablespoon.

When you arrive at your destination, immediately adopt the mealtime routine of the new time zone and try to stimulate digestion by consuming at least two to three different types of vegetables during your first meal.

And if you do contract traveler’s diarrhea, you should avoid anti-diarrheal medicine at the onset, as it may prolong the infection by trapping the pathogen in your bowel. Try instead to:

This reduces the load on your irritated gastrointestinal tract.

Limit foods and beverages that may stimulate the colon, such as spicy foods, high-fat meals, coffee, and alcohol.

Reduce your consumption of FODMAPs (see above).

Use an electrolyte solution (such as Dioralyte) to stay hydrated and maintain levels of vital body salts, which aid in maximizing fluid absorption from your gut, if the diarrhea is severe and fluid is passing “straight through.”

Consider (again!) psyllium husk, which not only softens but also thickens stool output.

The majority of cases of traveler’s diarrhea are minor and so do not require medical treatment; nevertheless, if you are concerned, you should visit a pharmacist.

The good news is that holidays are generally beneficial for your gut health. Due to the relationship between your gut and brain, the majority of my clients with underlying gastrointestinal ailments report significant improvements while on vacation.

A relaxed and content brain results in a relaxed and content gut.


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