Holiday health hazards – and how to avoid them!

A family on a beach

Ensure that you enjoy a happy and healthy holiday this summer, with our experts’ advice

Tummy troubles

“The dreaded travellers’ diarrhoea can affect up to half of all international holidaymakers,” says Caroline Harmer, nutritionist and digestive care expert for Renew Life UK (www.renewlife.co.uk). “To avoid tummy troubles when travelling stay well hydrated, including during the flight to your destination. If you are unsure of the tap water purity, stick to bottled water and beverages (this includes teeth cleaning). Avoid undercooked meat and seafood and, in high-risk areas, eat cooked vegetables and avoid salads. Avoid leftovers and wash your hands before eating or handling food. Taking a daily probiotic before you travel and while you are away is the best way to help maintain healthy gut balance, regular eliminations and avoid tummy troubles. Also, because up to 80 per cent of your immune system is found in your gut, probiotic supplementation can help support healthy immune function away from home. When choosing a probiotic supplement, look for 50 billion live bacteria and 10 strains per capsule.”

Jetlag

According to the Sleep Council (www.sleepcouncil.org.uk), jet lag is the inability to sleep at the right time or being drowsy and sleepy at the wrong time – a mismatch between our biological clocks and the time zone we are in. As a general guide the body takes roughly one day for each time zone travelled to adjust to a new cycle of day and night.

As the body clock’s natural cycle is slightly longer than a day we find it easier to adjust travelling west, back in time, as it lengthens our day, whereas travelling east shortens it. The Sleep Council recommends using light to help re-set your body clock. Use 4am (departure point time) as a guide. Exposure to bright light just before this time will delay your clock when going east; exposure to light a couple of hours after that time when going west will advance it. Sleep expert Professor Chris Idzikowski also recommends taking an eye mask and ear plugs with you and using the mask and your seat’s nightlight to reflect the time at your destination – wear the mask if it is night time where you are going; keep the light on and mask off if it is daytime.

Dehydration

“When you’re on holiday, topping up your fluid intake might be the last thing on your mind but it is very important,” says Dr Emma Derbyshire, adviser to the Natural Hydration Council and expert nutritionist. “When the weather heats up this can drive up the body’s temperature and lead to over-heating i.e. feeling very warm, dizzy and disorientated. In worst cases, this may lead to heat stroke, which can be a very serious condition. The NHS provides a useful recommendation that women should drink eight 200ml glasses and men should drink 10 200ml glasses of fluid per day. Water is one of the healthiest ways to hydrate as it doesn’t contain sugar or calories. An easy way to monitor changes in hydration status is to check the colour of your urine. This should be a pale straw colour – anything darker and more fluid is needed. For short and long-haul flights make sure you drink enough fluid before flying, as air conditioning systems during the flight can increase water evaporation from the skin. Also, bear in mind that young children don’t recognise the early signs of thirst, which can make them particularly vulnerable to being dehydrated so offer them drinks on a regular basis.”

Sunburn

To guard against sunburn, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. “The SPF of a sun lotion only indicates the level of protection against UVB radiation,” explains Ian Taylor, a cosmetic scientist with natural and organic beauty brand Green People (www.greenpeople.co.uk). “It does not tell you anything about the protection it offers against dangerous UVA light. Products that offer very high SPF levels will give excellent protection against UVB radiation, but it is unlikely that they will offer the same high levels of protection against UVA radiation. Physical sun filters – minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – sit on the surface of the skin and act like a physical barrier between the skin and the light but they may leave an unsightly thick white film on the surface of the skin. Chemical filters can be synthetic or naturally derived. They work by undergoing a chemical reaction in the presence of UV light. As a result of this reaction the structure of the UV filter changes and it gradually loses its protective properties. This is why sun lotions need to be reapplied every two to three hours to maintain protection. Certain commonly used synthetic chemical UV filters should be avoided, such as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and oxybenzone which have both been shown to have photo-toxic and oestrogen mimicking activity.” To further protect your skin from the sun, spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm and cover up with light, loose clothing and a hat.

Insect bites

“Ticks are currently on the rise and consequently so is Lyme disease,” explains Howard Carter a bite protection expert and MD of incognito® (www.lessmosquito.com). “If you’re going to be walking through the countryside, tuck trousers into socks and spray legs and ankles with a 100 per cent natural DEET-free insect repellent containing Citrepel 75. To avoid mosquitoes, cover up arms and legs with suitable clothing – light coloured clothing is strongly advisable. Odours, bodily or otherwise, like certain kairomones and perfumes are strong attractants so wash thoroughly, including exfoliating with a loofah, and do not use perfumes. Apply an effective insect repellent (as above) and keep away from stagnant water. Mosquito activity peaks around dusk and dawn so stay indoors at these times. If you’re unlucky enough to get bitten you could try using a gadget that delivers a small, harmless electrical impulse, triggering the brain to release endorphins down the same neural pathways. When these happy hormones are released they trick the brain into thinking you haven’t been bitten. This helps to stop the itch and urge to scratch the bite.”

Travel sickness

Travel sickness can unfortunately spoil the journey for many a holidaymaker, but herbal medicine can help to soothe the problem. “Ginger root is equally effective for car, boat, train or aeroplane journeys,” says medical herbalist Nathalie Chung. “Good quality crystallised chunks of ginger, readily available in shops, can be taken but the distinctive pungent nature of ginger can induce nausea in itself so capsules may be preferred. Ginger is most effective when ingested before travel. A more popular taste is peppermint; the plant contains volatile oils which are anti-emetic. These constituents have a mild anaesthetic action on the stomach wall which eases nausea, reducing the desire to vomit. You could also protect and soothe the mucous membranes of the digestive tract with meadowseet or German chamomile. These herbs work for motion sickness by reducing excess acidity. Infusions can be prepared in advance to sip hot or cold first before, then during travel.” A medical herbalist is able to make up customised blends of herbs in numerous preparations, appropriate to the individual and answer all your questions. To find your nearest herbalist go to www.nimh.org.uk

Check out our great buys for summer and holiday health here...

Read previous Your Health articles here...

A top buttonTop