Journeying in another country is an experience that can be exhilarating, enlightening, wonderful, overwhelming, frustrating and disheartening all at the same time. One of the aspects of foreign travel that can be most challenging is remaining healthy. Montezuma’s revenge, parasites, rashes, mosquito borne illnesses and cholera are but a few of the common conditions that can make a traveler’s life wretched. However, mainstream medicine, alternative medicine and of course common sense offer insights that will likely keep you healthy and hardy on your adventures.
Before you leave, think about the basic questions. Are you going to be in an urban area or remote area? What kinds of things are you going to be doing there? Are you going to be eating in hotels or eating native food? Are you going to be going into people’s homes? Are you traveling with children? How strong is your immune system? Are you a risk taker when you travel? To what degree do you try to experience the culture of the country? These answers will give you an indication of what your exposure levels might be. The Center for Disease Control at wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel is an excellent (albeit in my view conservative) resource for alerting you to health information regarding most countries. Vaccinations, use of anti-malarial medications, and necessity of antibiotics should all be responsibly considered regardless of your ethical position on these therapies.
Herbs and supplements are invaluable when traveling abroad. My recommendations are to bring at a minimum three bottles: one digestive aid, a second supplement to kill pathogens and a third to replenish beneficial bacteria. The most prudent digestive aid is hydrochloric acid, or HCl, which is produced by parietal cells in our stomach and helps us to both digest our food and to kill pathogens that are swallowed with our food and water. During times of stress (e.g. a long flight to another country or perturbances of sleep patterns), parietal cell often reduce production of HCl, making us more susceptible to infections. Taking 200-300 mg of HCl every time you eat will dramatically reduce your risk of illness. Antimicrobial herbs might include berberis and cinnamon, both of which have the additional benefit of controlling blood sugar. Black walnut and wormwood are potent anti-helminthics (they dispel worms) and garlic will kill just about everything. There are a number of products that contain all of these herbs (such as Paraguard by Integrative Therapeutics); one to six capsules/d should suffice depending on your risk profile. The third product I recommend is Sacharomyces boulardii. S. boulardii is a probiotic that does not need to be refrigerated. It is excellent for acute diarrhea, outcompetes bacteria and yeast for living space and is capable of degrading toxins produced by pathogens, especially those associated with cholera. If you choose to take more than these three bottles, charcoal is good to have on hand for its ability to bind toxins associated with acute gastrointestinal illness, grapefruit seed extract is a potent antimicrobial and antifungal and both Vitamin A and D are both exemplary for their immune stimulating capacity.
I recommend washing your hands frequently, washing your fruits and vegetables and initially only consuming fruits that can be peeled. Eat at places busy with many local people. If you plan on being in rural areas of the “third world”, it is worth investing in some form of water treatment. Iodine and chlorine are potent foul-tasting oxidants that effectively kill microbes but also create a whirlwind of free radicals for our bodies to handle. Water filters trap organisms 0.5 microns and larger (amebas, protozoa, bacteria and cysts) but they do not catch viruses and require a willingness to pump water daily. Steripens will zap the DNA of all microbes, rendering them unable to cause disease; they are easy to use but require batteries and do not work well in water with high sediment. It is important to have an idea of how to replenish electolytes in case of fever and Montezuma’s revenge. Here is a formula that you can put in a small sandwich baggie prior to your departure: sea salt 1/2 tsp., Morton’s salt substitute (KCl) 1/2 tsp., baking soda 1/2 tsp., sugar 2 tablespoons, Water 1 Liter. If needed, start with 1 tsp every 5-10 minutes, increase as tolerated to 2-3 Tbs every 5-10 min.
Do not let the tribulations of travel prevent you from exploring! As Ray Bradbury wrote: “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”
Dr. Daniel Smith practices at Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic. His new office is on 2612 Barnett Ave. He specializes in naturopathic oncology, but still maintains a strong family practice, treating all manner of conditions. He can be reached at 541-770-5563 or at email@example.com If you would like to schedule an appointment, please ask specifically for Dr. Dan.