Gut health while travelling: Tips to avoid travellers' diarrhoea and jet belly

4 minutes

Key takeaways

  • Travellers' diarrhoea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and stomach cramps.
  • The general rule of thumb when travelling to another country is this: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.

Travelling opens doors to new cultures, experiences, and... unfortunately, potential digestive disruptions. Travellers' diarrhoea, bloating after flights, and "jet belly" are all common complaints that can put a damper on your adventure. But fear not, wanderlust-filled friends! By prioritising your gut health before, during, and after your trip, you can reduce the risk of these unpleasant surprises.


Understanding travellers' diarrhoea

One of the most common ailments affecting international travellers, travellers' diarrhoea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and stomach cramps. It occurs due to eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Fortunately, it usually isn’t serious for most people, but it can be quite unpleasant.


What is jet belly? Jet belly symptoms?

From take-off to landing, your body is constantly adjusting to changes experienced while flying. One significant change is the shift in atmospheric pressure. As the plane ascends and descends, the air pressure inside the main cabin increases or decreases accordingly. You’ve likely felt your ears pop during take-off and landing due to the air within your ear canal adjusting to match the cabin’s air pressure. Similarly, this pressure adjustment occurs within your digestive system, contributing to travel bloat. Common jet belly symptoms include bloating, gas, stomach discomfort and constipation.


Pre-travel gut prep: Building a good gut health foundation

Your gut microbiome, a complex ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, plays a vital role in digestion and immune function. Studies show a healthy microbiome can ward off travelers' diarrhoea. Here's how to fortify your gut before departure:

 

  • Probiotics power: Consider a daily probiotic supplement for at least two weeks before your trip. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria that can crowd out harmful pathogens you might encounter when travelling.

  • Fibre feast: Up your fibre intake from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fibre feeds the good bacteria in your gut, keeping your digestive system running smoothly.

  • Hydration hero: Adequate water intake is crucial for healthy digestion. Start upping your water intake a few days before your trip to avoid dehydration during travel, which can worsen gut issues.

In-flight tips for managing jet belly and bloating after flying

Changes in cabin pressure can cause gas to expand, leading to discomfort and even constipation. Here are some in-flight strategies for gut health:

 

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water during your flight, and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

  • Move Around: Take breaks to walk up and down the aisle to keep your digestive system active.

  • Light Snacks: Opt for light, easy-to-digest snacks, and avoid heavy, greasy foods during your flight.

Post-travel tips to help with gut issues after returning home

Jet belly bloating and travellers' diarrhoea can sometimes strike after you've returned home. This is because the disruption to your gut microbiome takes time to fully resolve. Here's how to ease your gut back into its routine:

 

  • Continue probiotic supplements: Continue taking quality probiotics for a week or two upon return to support gut recovery.

  • Reintroduce familiar foods: Don't overwhelm your gut with a sudden return to your usual diet. Start by reintroducing familiar, easily digestible foods like steamed vegetables and plain yoghurt.

Travellers' diarrhoea prevention and treatment

Watch what you eat

The general rule of thumb when travelling to another country is this: Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. Other tips that may help decrease your risk of getting sick include:

 

  • Don't consume food from street vendors.
  • Don't eat raw or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish.
  • Don't eat moist food at room temperature, such as sauces and buffet offerings.

Travellers’ water safety tips

Always consider the quality of the water you are drinking, especially when visiting high-risk areas:

 

  • Avoid unsterilised water: Don’t drink water from taps, wells, or streams.
  • Boil local water: If needed, boil it for three minutes, then let it cool naturally.
  • Skip tap water ice cubes: Use bottled or boiled water for ice cubes.
  • Safe baby formula: Mix baby formula with bottled or boiled water.

Travellers' diarrhoea treatment plan

If you experience travellers' diarrhoea, monitor your symptoms. Most cases resolve within a few days, but if they persist or worsen, seek medical advice. Remember to stay hydrated and eat light, easily digestible foods until you feel better.

Also, research has shown that probiotics including L. reuteri DSM 17938, useful in reducing the severity and duration of diarrhoea in children.

Bon voyage!

By prioritising your gut health before, during, and after your travels, you're setting yourself up for a smoother adventure. Remember, a happy gut is a happy traveller! So, pack your probiotics, stay hydrated, and enjoy creating lasting travel memories.

 

References

Traveler's diarrhea - Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/travelers-diarrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20352182. Accessed June 17 2024.

 

Probiotics: What you need to know - NCCIH. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed June 17 2024.

 

Acute Diarrhea in Adults and Children: A Global Perspective - World Gastroenterology Organisation. https://www.worldgastroenterology.org/guidelines/acute-diarrhea/acute-diarrhea-english. Accessed June 17 2024.

 

This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. The article does not imply that any substance mentioned is intended for the diagnosis, cure, treatment, or prevention of any disease.

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