Thursday, December 24, 2015

Healthy Travelling

By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND  

Winter season is travel season for many. Increased accessibility to global travel offers the luxury of escaping the cold weather and heading to warmer climates to relax, enjoy the warmth of the sun and enjoy new experiences abroad.  Travelling is an opportunity to take time for yourself, spend time with family and friends, immerse yourself in cultural activities and new adventures to break the regular mundane routine. Depending on the purpose, location and duration of your trip, your travel may range from being hectic to relaxing, low risk to high risk, and overstimulating to rejuvenating.  Being adequately prepared for travel ensures a more enjoyable and healthy trip.

Travelling can be exciting. However, it may expose you to new situations and environments which may pose additional health risks. How prepared you need to be depends on whether you are planning a short family vacation to Mexico, or a longer solo trip to volunteer abroad, or a business trip to Asia. Based on your previous experiences, you may need more extensive preparation if travel triggers unwanted symptoms. Included below are a number of tips which may be beneficial to help you prepare for your travel.

Seeking naturopathic advice can help address specific health concerns such as: jet lag, travel anxiety, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, insect-borne illnesses, infections, parasites, cuts, burns and altitude sickness.  The tools that a naturopathic doctor has access to can support prevention (prophylaxis), diagnose and treat travel-related illnesses.  Sleeping patterns and food habits may shift drastically on a trip. By supporting the body, the chances of travel-related illness may be reduced. In addition, supporting mental and emotional health in unfamiliar environments is critical to well-being.

Every individual is unique with inherent strengths or weaknesses. Depending on your constitution, certain organs or body systems may be more susceptible to illness.  For example, individuals with weak immune systems may become more vulnerable to respiratory tract infections; individuals with circulation issues may experience swollen feet and ankles after a flight; i
ndividuals with anxiety may experience panic attacks triggered by the stress of travel. A naturopathic doctor can help you identify and treat aspects of your health which require strengthening, as well as treat illnesses contracted during a trip.

Naturopathic medicine can prevent and treat the following travel-related concerns: 

  • Jet lag: shifting from one time zone to the other can have a significant impact on the body's circadian rhythms which regulate our sleep/wake cycle.  Melatonin is a natural hormone that is made by the body which helps us sleep.  When changing time zones, melatonin production may take a while to readjust, leading to symptoms commonly associated with jet lag.  For individuals struggling with jet lag, natural melatonin supplements or nervine herbs can help your body readjust more quickly to the local time zone.  Sunlight exposure also helps us reset our circadian rhythms and reduces the effects of jet lag.
  • Infections:  coldflu, and parasite exposure multiplies when travelling. Coupled with a weakened immune system, travellers become more vulnerable to illness.  With naturopathic medicine, you can keep the terrain strong to prevent microorganisms from thriving.  When the environment is unfavourable, parasites are less likely to thrive.  If you do contract parasites, proper diagnosis and treatment options can be provided by your naturopathic doctor. Certain herbs have specific properties that are anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic to target the pathogen and support your recovery.
  • Digestive issues: diarrheaconstipationindigestion are the most common unpleasant "side-effect" of travelling.  Ingesting new foods from unknown sources, combined with the stress of travelling can lead to a range of uncomfortable situations.  Traveller's diarrhea can be very unpleasant and prevent you from enjoying your trip.  Constipation may develop due to anxiety or due to poor hydration or lack of fibre.  Prevention is key to strengthening the digestive tract prior to travel, reducing susceptibility to digestive upset.  Naturopathic medicine can treat acute digestive issues, allowing you to enjoy your trip.
  • Travel anxiety can escalate into more severe anxiety and fear.  Panic attacks triggered by fear of flying can leave an individual exhausted and terrified of future travel.  If you are a worrier and experience anxiety frequently, herbs and homeopathic remedies that support the nervous system can help you relax, along with meditation techniques.
  • Altitude sickness: when travelling to mountainous regions such as the Himalayas, Andes or the Rockies, the sudden change in atmospheric pressure and oxygen can result in dizziness, nausea, fatigue and more serious symptoms.  Supporting the circulatory and respiratory systems are critical prior to your trip. A naturopathic doctor may do lab work to check your hemoglobin and iron levels, and suggest herbs, homeopathics and lifestyle suggestions to reduce the risk or altitude sickness. 
  • Mosquito & insect bites may carry infectious diseases.  Malaria is prevalent in many tropical regions and can be a serious health issue if not diagnosed or treated promptly. Know the risk at your destination and which prevention and treatment options are available. Reduce your risk of infectious diseases in the first place by reducing your chances of being bitten.  There are numerous internal and external options to ward off insects, in addition to diet and lifestyle factors.  Bitter foods, homeopathics and herbs, such as neem, can repel mosquitoes, as do a variety of essential oils.
  • First aid: cuts, burns, bruises are unfortunately common scenarios while travelling for adults and children.  Help prevent infections and complications by carrying naturopathic first aid supplies such as lavender oil, aloe vera gel, or calendula cream for bite or burns, arnica cream or homeopathics for bruises and sprains, in addition to bandaids and gauze.  These can help in minor injuries, or carry you through until you receive medical attention.
For detailed tips for healthy travelling, please check-out our handout titled, "Travelling Tips" at: http://www.naturopathicfoundations.ca/patients/handouts/

A naturopathic doctor can help you prepare for your trip, help you to stay healthy during your trip and improve recovery after your trip.  When you are adequately prepared, you can reduce your chances of travel complications such as traveller’s diarrhea, parasites, infections and fatigue.  Naturopathic medicine can assist you with any pre-existing conditions which may flare up during travel and help you recover from acute illnesses contracted while abroad, to ensure healthy re-adjustment.

Staying healthy while travelling will allow you to enjoy your trip to the fullest and open you to a world-full of exciting experiences. Wishing you safe and happy travels !

 Dr. Leena Athparia ND has travelled extensively to many countries in Asia, Europe, Middle East and South America and has had first-hand experience with naturopathic travel medicine.  She focuses in preparing you for travel so you stay healthy and enjoy a wonderful trip. If you would like to book an appointment with Dr. Leena Athparia ND, please contact Naturopathic Foundations at 905-940-2727 or email lathparia@naturopathicfoundations.ca