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How Travel Impacts Your Gut Health

The Cabinet — 06.14.22
by Rebecca Moragne

Why does travel impact our digestive system? Our bodies are sensitive and when we change time zone, spend time on an airplane, or experience a change in what we normally eat, our digestive system may respond. When you experience an increase in stress, digestion is low priority. For some, food is immediately dumped (think diarrhea) and for others, it is held on to until the stress has passed (think constipation). Regardless, the first sign of stress affecting the gut can be a change in bathroom habits! 

Here we break down what those changes are, and how to help manage them.

What is Airplane Belly?

What it is: As a plane’s cabin pressure constantly adjusts from take off to landing, so does the pressure within your gut. Do you ever feel your ears pop? The same thing can occur within your gut! Through the ascent, excess gas builds up and then from cruising altitude to landing, your body attempts to release that gas. However, sometimes your body does not do so successfully and airplane belly occurs. While the bloating and abdominal pain is not comfortable, thankfully it does not last too long as you adjust to your new destination.

Tips to manage it: Since airplane belly occurs from the body holding on to excess gas, it can be valuable to consider what one is eating during that flight. For example, the flight might not be the ideal time to eat foods that typically when on the ground, cause bloating. Simple snacks, such as nuts, once you reach cruising altitude might be more supportive than trying to finish off a meal while waiting for take-off. The flight is also a very important time to consider increasing your water intake. While you may want to avoid the additional trip to the airplane bathroom, your body will appreciate moving out of your seat. 

Why do I experience Vacation Constipation?  

What it is: Constipation related to a trip often occurs from a combination of factors - not drinking enough water, inadequate fiber in the diet, and drinking more alcohol than usual. When you are traveling, you might be more likely to grab a bagel for breakfast instead of your usual smoothie or multiple weeknights at a bar when usually that is saved for your weekends. 

Tips to manage it: Consider packing high fiber snacks for your trip. For example, a packet of almond butter for that morning bagel or some carrots and hummus to snack on before meeting friends at a bar.

What is Traveler's Diarrhea? 

What it is: Traveler’s diarrhea can either occur from excess stress on your body or exposure to a pathogen. For example, E. coli is a common bacteria related to diarrhea. As mentioned earlier, when your body is experiencing stress, it diverts energy away from digestion. Therefore, your body pushes food quickly through your system, producing diarrhea. 

Tips to manage it: To help decrease stress related to traveling, try and prioritize sleep. While that may be easier said than done, ensuring adequate sleep can help the body adjust to a new time zone and provide necessary energy for digestion. Instead of staying out late the first night of your trip, maybe save that for a couple nights when your body is a bit more adjusted. Additionally, to avoid any annoying diarrhea-related pathogens, avoid food that has sat on a buffet and depending on the location, do not drink the tap water. 

What herbs can help with travel-related digestive issues?

Herbs can provide wonderful support for travel related gut issues. Carminatives can help relieve excess gas in Airplane Belly, bitters can increase bowel activity to support movement in Vacation Constipation, and astringents can help tighten inflamed tissues in Traveler’s Diarrhea.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a carminative and antispasmodic herb that can help relieve excess gas, indigestion, and nausea. 

Bitters, including those even found in cocktails, include bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Just think of bitter tasting foods! In your mouth, the bitter taste stimulates the digestive system to secrete more saliva, encouraging digestion. 

Astringents help contract tissue to reduce excess water loss in diarrhea. The root of nettle (Urtica dioica) is especially noted for chronic diarrhea while Tormentil (Potentilla tormentilla) is recommended for watery diarrhea. Nettle tea can commonly be found in the grocery store. 

This information is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult a physician before treating any disorder.

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