Indigestible Travel Or How The Body Can React To New Places And Time Changes

Summer is a time for vacations, travel, and flights. However, despite a perfectly planned trip, great company, and favorable weather, there are some things that can significantly spoil the experience. This is the so-called jet lag and travelers’ diarrhea, which is the body’s reaction to changes in time zones and diet.

Our body is united with nature through circadian (daily) rhythms that determine the intensity of the secretion of certain hormones, the functioning of certain organs, changes in sleep and wakefulness, and body temperature. These rhythms depend on the length of daylight hours and the amount of sunlight.

They are controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, a cluster of neurons at the base of the brain, as well as the endocrine gland pineal gland (pineal gland of the brain.

When you quickly cross several time zones in a row, two separate groups of neurons in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which are responsible for deep sleep and so-called REM sleep, begin to work asynchronously, and the circadian rhythm of our body ceases to coincide with the new time. As a result, the release of cortisol, sex hormones, and thyroxine into the bloodstream ceases to coincide with the state of the body’s activity, and thus metabolism, blood glucose levels, and even menstruation in women are disrupted. This, in turn, leads to changes in behavior: irritability, insomnia, or vice versa, drowsiness and lethargy, sometimes disorientation, problems with concentration, mood swings, and fatigue. Desynchronization is also manifested by malfunctions in the digestive system. You may experience stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhea, and usually lose appetite.

How to minimize jet lag? Experts advise planning flights from east to west, so that our internal clocks will not be ahead of the local time and it will be easier to adapt. When planning the duration of your trip, keep in mind that the symptoms of jet lag will last one to two days for every two time zones crossed. Adaptation to the new time is better and faster for people in good physical shape, and somewhat more difficult for people with existing chronic diseases. Sufficient water intake significantly alleviates jet lag, and a balanced, varied diet that is initially familiar to the body will help digestion.

Another trouble that often happens while traveling is the so-called traveler’s diarrhea. This is a disorder of the digestive system, which is usually caused by infection with E. coli or some other bacteria, viruses or parasites that enter the body through contaminated water or food. Very often, diarrhea of this origin begins in tourists visiting African countries. Latin America, the Middle East, or South and Southeast Asia.

Different water, different food composition, unusual foods, and often a lower level of sanitation than we are used to, provoke severe and sudden abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In most cases, travelers’ diarrhea goes away on its own in a few days, but if there are severe signs of intoxication and dehydration, you should consult a doctor. People with a weakened immune system, chronic intestinal diseases, cirrhosis, diabetes, and those taking antacids or acid blockers are at increased risk of developing diarrhea.

To avoid this trouble while traveling, you should eat well-cooked food in special establishments, not from street stalls. It is better to drink bottled water. And be sure to maintain hand and body hygiene. Since the intestines are the site of the lesion, it makes sense to feed the microflora with prebiotics and probiotics before traveling. Especially if you have recently experienced a strong or prolonged stressful period or have been treated with antibiotics.

If you want to try the local cuisine, you should start with the most familiar dishes or foods, eat small portions and drink plenty of clean water. If you do get traveler’s diarrhea, make sure that you do not experience dehydration, weakness, disorientation, or loss of consciousness. If you have any warning signs, consult a doctor, which you can do with the medical insurance you have taken out before the trip.

New countries, cultures, and food traditions are interesting, informative, and safe if you know about the peculiarities of the body’s adaptation to a new time and environment, and rely on a few simple rules of hygiene and common sense. Enjoy your travels!

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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