Nearly every year at the Christmas holiday season I travel from San Diego to my family's home in the Pacific Northwest. For the first several years I made the trip, I found myself, a day or two into the vacation, becoming ill with the usual Winter maladies -- a head cold, sore throat, the flu -- nothing exotic, but enough of a bother to dampen my holiday spirit. Initially, I was somewhat surprised, as I tend to stay fairly healthy in spite of the fact that I'm exposed daily to any number of infectious diseases in my medical practice. As I studied the situation, however, I realized that the deck was stacked against me: I was traveling during the typical cold-flu season to a climate colder than the one I had become accustomed to and during a particularly stressful time of the year. To top it off I usually fly home. A number of recent studies have reported on the poor -- even dangerous -- air quality and high bacterial counts inside many commercial airplanes.
Other factors which may contribute to illness while on vacation include 'let-down phenomenon,' jet lag from traveling to a different time zone, changes in diet, and fatigue from traveling long hours. There are, however, some simple measures that can be taken to help ensure a healthy trip. You can begin to boost your immune system several weeks before you plan to travel. Try taking vitamin C or increase your dose to 3-5 grams daily if you already take it. Increase vitamin C gradually and take in divided doses with meals. Consume a little less if you experience digestive disturbances. You may also want to take an herb called Echinacea, available in most health food stores. Begin taking it a week or so before your expected date of departure and continue taking it throughout the trip. Follow directions on the bottle for dosage. If you choose not to take Echinacea prophylactically then at least carry some along with you and begin using it at the first sign of a cold. Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, available in pill form from health food stores, has been found in some studies to prevent jet lag.
Traveling during the summer months presents a different array of
potential problems. The summer vacationer is often exposed to more sun than (s)he is accustomed to. Here again, prevention is the best medicine. Try to get short exposures to the sun prior to your departure. While on vacation, avoid extended periods in the direct sun, particularly during the height of the day -- 11 am to 2 pm. Use a good sun screen. For cases of sunburn, aloe vera gel applied liberally offers some relief as well as does the homeopathic remedy, Cantheris 30x. If you plan to engage in strenuous activity, be sure you are in good physical shape. If you spend most of the year sitting behind a desk and not getting much exercise you shouldn't expect to go hiking, water skiing, swimming or scuba diving without experiencing sore, strained muscles. Arnica 30x should provide some relief if you do experience the pains of over exertion. Also available as a topical gel, Arnica can be rubbed into tired, sore muscles for a soothing and healing effect.
Some additional precautions are advisable if you will be traveling to a third world country. Either avoid drinking the water or take along your favorite method of water purification (check with a sporting goods store or with your travel agent). Taking some form of friendly bacteria in capsule form is an excellent way to help prevent traveler's diarrhea. By populating your intestines with good bacteria, the not-so-friendly ones that you may be exposed to will be less likely to gain a foothold. Ask for acidophilus at your local health food store. (Look for acidophilus in a form that doesn't need to be refrigerated such as freeze-dried.) Should you become stricken, there are a few things you can do to bring traveler's diarrhea under control. Charcoal tablets, available at most pharmacies, may be taken to absorb the toxins. Don't be frightened by the subsequent black color to the stool. The homeopathic remedy, Arsenicum 30x is often helpful in stopping diarrhea. If there is no improvement after several doses, try Podophyllum 30x. Sometimes doctors will prescribe the antibiotic, Tetracycline, as a prophylactic measure. Be aware, however, that Tetracycline, in addition to the problems associated with many antibiotic drugs, increases your sensitivity to the sun which, in some susceptible individuals, can result in a fairly major skin rash. Grapefruit seed extract has a natural antibiotic effect and may help if diluted according to the directions on the bottle. Large amounts of garlic may also be helpful.
Being prepared in advance for these potential problems can make your vacation a more relaxing and enjoyable time. The following are readily available items that you may want to include in your own natural healing first aid kit for traveling:
Charcoal tablets - for diarrhea and food poisoning. They may also be crushed and mixed with a little water to make a poultice for drawing out infection. In naturopathic medical school I wrote a research paper on 26 different medicinal uses for charcoal. I found that there was at least one condition for every letter of the alphabet for which charcoal could be used.
Ginger capsules or tea - for nausea and motion sickness.
Echinacea - to boost immune system (see above).
Grapefruit seed extract - natural antibiotic (see above).
Garlic capsules - natural antibiotic.
Aloe vera - sunburns, burns in general (see above).
Arnica gel or lotion - apply topically to sore, strained muscles or bruises (not to be used on broken skin).
Calendula ointment - apply topically as a healing, antiseptic salve for cuts, burns, abrasions, skin rashes.
Eucalyptus oil - apply a few drops topically to repel insects (store away from the homeopathic remedies).
It is important to include several basic homeopathic remedies in your travel kit. A general rule of thumb is that a homeopathic remedy of the potency 30x or 30c should be taken approximately 3 to 4 times daily for an acute problem. Stop taking it when symptoms begin to disappear. The usual dose is 2 pellets under the tongue, taken at least 20 minutes before or after food or drink.
I recommend that you include the following remedies in 30x or 30c potency (available in better stocked health food stores):
Apis 30c - to counter insect bites and stings (if you have an allergy to bees, use your bee sting kit instead).
Arnica 30c- first remedy to give after any injury, for shock, trauma, swelling, bruising, muscle strains and over exertion.
Arsenicum 30c - for diarrhea and vomiting (be sure to replace electrolytes as well).
Cantheris 30c - for burns, sunburns.
Cocculus 30c - motion sickness, jet lag.
Nux vomica 30c - nausea, headaches from eating or drinking too much, traveler's constipation (be sure to eat plenty of fiber and drink lots of water).
Rhus tox 30c - use at first sign of poison oak or ivy or if you think you may have come in contact with either of these plants.
Ruta 30c - sprains, torn ligaments.
A little preparation will help to ensure a more pleasant vacation. Don't forget your vitamins and your sun screen. Bon voyage!
Kathi Head, ND, a naturopathic physician, practices in San Diego.