Travel is one of the most enjoyable pastimes, but can also expose travelers to various risks, including GI related risks, through changes in food, diet, or irregular eating habits. All of these can result in a variety of gastrointestinal ailments related to the ingestion of pathogenic bacteria, or something as simple as an unsettled stomach due to a change in environment and food.
When we travel, particularly overseas, we are at risk from a wide variety of microbes that our bodies are not normally exposed to. Given that travel frequently involves a change of time zones, lack of sleep, eating out a lot, air travel, and other stressors that we would not encounter in the familiar routine of home, our immune system is likely not firing on all cylinders during that time away either.
Our immune system not functioning optimally while traveling, combined with exposure to unfamiliar pathogens is a recipe for getting sick. While getting sick could mean just a cold, a temporarily depressed immune system could also mean more severe illness too. Travelers Diarrhea is a common problem people experience when traveling. Up to 50% of people experience Travelers Diarrhea, which can range from simple gastroenteritis to a more debilitating problem that can last long after returning from an overseas trip. Travelers Diarrhea is caused by ingesting food or water containing heavy bacterial contamination. The bacterial contamination may not necessarily be pathogenic, but a visitor may just be unfamiliar to microbes, food, and environment. In contrast, the same food or water may not make a person living in that location ill. Onset of symptoms can be rapid, taking 1-3 days to develop. Travelers Diarrhea usually causes loose stools, abdominal cramps, and nausea may also be present. Typically Travelers Diarrhea is not associated with fever.
Research has shown that the use of probiotics can be an efficient way to protect and remedy Travelers Diarrhea, and maintain healthy digestive support while on vacation. A review of 900 clinical studies over 30 years by Dr. Lynne McFarland found that probiotics were able to significantly prevent Travelers Diarrhea with no serious adverse reactions. When selecting a probiotic, try to choose a multi strain probiotic that contains both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum are known to be of particular benefit even when traveling to regions where the risk of exposure to pathogens is greater.
Lactobacilli prefer the small intestine while Bifidobacteria prefer the large intestine. The presence of probiotics in the GI tract initially helps to keep you regular and prevents constipation. Probiotics also help to crowd out any unfamiliar or pathogenic bacteria you may encounter in food and water. In addition, Lactobacilli and Bifidobacter also produce various bacterial by-products that help change the pH of the GI tract to a more acidic environment, which also stop the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Finally, probiotics also produce other by-products that have an antibiotic effect that can prevent pathogenic bacteria growth so they don't take hold.
In some cases, Travelers Diarrhea may become more serious or one may even suffer from food poisoning. In such cases, you may be prescribed or need to take an antibiotic. Antibiotics can be of great help, however, they will indiscriminately kill both “good” and “bad” gut bacteria, leaving you prone to further infection after treatment. To avoid further issues and hasten recovery physicians uniformly recommend taking a probiotic with and after antibiotic treatment.
When using probiotics for travel it is often better to use them as a preventative, which means that you should start taking probiotic supplements a few weeks before you will leave, if you are not taking them already. This allows you to introduce the beneficial probiotic bacteria to your gut prior to travel. With an established probiotic population present in the gut before you leave, your natural immunity and gut health is optimized. It is also important to continue taking the probiotics while traveling and after returning home in order to maintain the probiotic benefit and protection.
At SuperBio (which requires no refrigeration and contains all the essential strains for traveling: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum) we recommend 1 - 2 capsules per day before you travel and throughout your trip with continued use after you return home.
In such cases, taking a course of probiotics before a trip may enhance your gut’s constitution to withstand these common insults and allow you to be more physiologically prepared. This does not mean that common precautions, such as drinking clean water and eating cooked foods should be ignored. However, we would see taking a probiotic as an additional precaution that can enhance your body’s ability to withstand the rigors of travel.