So why is this, and how can we prevent it?
Travelling to a new environment has the potential to expose you to new pathogens that your body and immune system hasn’t encountered before, therefore its response is bit slower and symptoms feel worse.
The actual act of travelling, before even reaching our destination, is often the biggest causative factor of getting ill while away, especially internationally and on aeroplanes. The cramped conditions, stress of the journey, poor food choices/options, being sedentary and disrupted stress patterns are a constant hammering for the immune system.
The World Health Organization did a study on the oxygen in aeroplanes and its affect on illness and reported to find no evidence that the recirculation of cabin air increases the likelihood of illness. But, as far as bugs lurking in other places goes; the cold and flu virus can survive for 72 hours on plastic surfaces and the Norovirus can survive for 2-4 weeks! Hand sanitizer anyone?
So with environmental factors out of our control, special attention needs to be on what we can influence to reduce the likelihood of illness, and run at your optimum for your entire trip away-
1. Hydration: cabin air is greatly lacking in water, the humidity is only 5-10%, so you lose water every time you exhale. Dehydration reduces the circulation of immune cells and helpful nutrients throughout the body, and leads to pH and chemical imbalances that interfere with your immune function. Drink plenty of fluid before beginning your journey, and always take your own water on a flight or a large empty bottle, which you can asked to be filled as often as you desire.
2. Sleep: sleep deprivation (less than 7 hours per night) supresses immune function, especially if you are never reaching a restorative deep sleep, or have broken sleeps. Jat Lag is a big issue here, so on long international journeys try and book the ‘red-eye’ flights so you will hopefully sleep through, and keep your first day at your destination appointment free to have catch up naps. Melatonin is a helpful supplement, which helps regulate your sleep wake cycle, it can also be taken homeopathically.
3. Nutrition: part of travelling is enjoying new foods and I support that in everyway! The worst nutritional factor for your immune system is sugar, it can reduce your immune systems function by as much as 80%, and for hours, so keep it minimal. If you are travelling regularly I recommend taking your own food, on the plane and for the odd meal, even if it’s just to cover breakfast time, muesli is easily transported in snaplock bags and even plant based protein powders can be a life saver. Research salad bars, juice bars, healthy cafes and whole food stores that may be close by for on the go options and to stock up your hotel fridge with.
4. Supplements: since travelling demands more from your body than usual day-to-day requirements I generally recommend taking supplements while travelling, the best immune boosters are probiotics, vitamin C and Zinc, start taking these 7-10 days before your journey. Taking a greens powder such as spriulina, barley grass or wheat grass is also helpful for energy and immunity, especially if raw vegetables and salads aren’t readily available at your destination.