Vacations are good for us. Taking time to rest, relax, and spend time with loved ones can revitalize our bodies as well as our minds. Unfortunately, with travel often comes stress, lack of sleep, changes in daily routines, and unfamiliar and unfriendly microbes found in new environments. These can take a toll on our immune systems and make us more vulnerable to illness and infection. Getting sick during vacation can ruin any holiday, so take along these 5 essentials to reduce your risk.
1 | Alcohol-Based Wipes
Viruses and bacteria that make us sick are often transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces. These include accommodations inside planes and trains like seats, arm rests, and tray tables. You can reduce your exposure to harmful microorganisms by wiping down shared surfaces before you touch them.
Opt for alcohol-based wipes instead of antibacterial products. Studies show that antibacterial hand sanitizers and wipes can promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, alter our microbiome (the friendly bacteria that helps keep us healthy), have negative effects on our immune system, and increase the risk of allergies and life-threatening infections.1 Some antibacterial products contain toxic chemicals like triclosan, a dioxin that has been shown to disrupt hormones and suppress the immune system. Human studies have linked triclosan to infertility, miscarriage, birth defects, allergies, and asthma, while animal studies have linked it to cardiovascular problems and cancer.2
2 | Water Bottle
The mucus membranes lining our eyes, nose, and mouth are some of the body’s primary defense systems against harmful viruses and bacteria. When our bodies become dehydrated, our mucus membranes dry out and tiny cracks can form. Microorganisms that make us sick can enter the body through these cracks. It’s always important to drink plenty of water (unless your doctor has told you to limit fluid intake for any reason) but it’s especially critical during air travel. Most of the water vapor in the earth’s atmosphere is concentrated within the first 10,000 feet above the surface. Airplanes spend most of their flight time around 35,000 feet, where they encounter less air resistance and burn less fuel, and where the humidity level drops to almost zero.
Stay hydrated by drinking about 8 ounces of water every hour during air travel. Avoid diuretics, liquids that can dehydrate the body by increasing urine output, like alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Bringing your own bottle gives you easy access to water without having to rely on beverage services. Opting for one made out of glass or stainless steel also limits your exposure to chemicals in plastic bottles. At airports you won’t be able to bring a bottle full of water through security, but you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up before you board. Tap water isn’t as good as the filtered water you may have at home, but it’s usually better than bottled water. When the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 10 popular bottled water brands, researchers found chemical contaminants in every single sample, some exceeding legal limits. These included bacteria, heavy metals like arsenic, radioactive isotopes, waste pollutants like caffeine and pharmaceutical drugs, fertilizer residues like nitrates and ammonia, chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive problems like trihalomethanes and bromodichloromethane, and industrial chemicals like solvents, propellants and plasticizers.3
3 | Healthy Snack
Travel often disrupts regular meal times and healthy foods are usually unavailable. Snacks are often processed foods, meals are usually prepackaged, and restaurant options are fast food more often than not. Pack along healthy alternatives so you’re ready when hunger strikes. Choose whole foods that are easy to transport, easy to eat, and don’t require refrigeration like raw nuts and seeds, fresh and dried fruits, and vegetables like celery, cucumber, and carrot sticks. Because these foods are also high in fiber, they can help prevent constipation, which is common during travel.
4 | Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced and secreted primarily by the pineal gland in the brain. It has many essential functions in the body. Melatonin plays an important part in immunity by regulating the development and function of white blood cells but it is best known for its role in regulating our circadian rhythm of natural sleep and wake cycles. Patterns of melatonin secretion vary by time of day. Levels are lowest during daylight hours and begin to rise in the evening. They remain high for most of the night, promoting sleep. Melatonin levels abate in early morning hours, promoting wakefulness.
During travel to new time zones we are exposed to changing light and dark cycles in the environment. This sudden disruption in our circadian rhythm affects the production and secretion of melatonin, causing changes in our alertness during the day and our quality of sleep at night. Taking a melatonin supplement can minimize jet lag and enhance immunity by helping the body adjust to changes in time zones and sleep schedules. When you arrive at a new destination, take melatonin in the evening before you go to bed, only after sunset and always before 11:00 p.m. Some people are more sensitive to melatonin supplements than others and effective dosages range from half a milligram to 5 milligrams.
5 | Lavender Essential Oil
Pure lavender essential oil can be used to promote relaxation during travel. Its sedative properties make it useful as a sleep aid and its anxiolytic and mood stabilizing properties make it especially useful for people who experience fear of flying, discomfort in confined spaces, and other forms of anxiety during travel. Studies have shown that lavender was as effective as benzodiazepines in treating general anxiety disorder.4 It has also been found to improve restlessness, disturbed sleep, general well-being, and quality of life.5 Lavender acts on the central nervous system to modulate neurotransmitters involved in regulating emotional responses to our environment. Lavender’s antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties also make it good for topical first aid. And because it has a pleasant floral aroma, it can be used as natural, chemical-free fragrance.
During travel you can use lavender essential oil as aromatherapy. Place a drop or two in the palm of your hand, rub your hands together, then rub them on your neck, chest, or the skin under your nose (take care not to get it in your mouth). Lavender essential oil should only be used topically, never ingested. (Encapsulated products are available for internal use but should only be used under the guidance of a naturopathic doctor.) Use only pure, organic essential oils and avoid any synthetic and perfume oils.
More articles by Dr Cimperman
2 Weatherly LM and Gosse JA. Triclosan Exposure, Transformation, and Human Health Effects. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part B, Critical Reviews. 2017; 20(8):447–469. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6126357/
3 Environmental Working Group. Bottled Water Quality Investigation. [Web page]. EWG website. https://www.ewg.org/research/bottled-water-quality-investigation. Accessed 11/28/18.
4 Woelk H and Schläfke S. A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Phytomedicine. 2010;17(2):94-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19962288
5 Koulivand PH, Ghadiri MK, and Gorji A. Lavender and the Nervous System. Evidence- Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;2013:681304. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3612440/
Photo by Vincent Versluis on Unsplash
Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.