After a very long two years, people are once again traveling all over the world. But when you visit an area of the world with microbes your body isn’t used to, there’s a good chance you can get an unwanted souvenir: traveler’s diarrhea. Sharing her wisdom gained by visiting Southeast Asia, Veronica “V” reveals her favorite natural remedies for prevention.
It’s a near certainty that if you travel anywhere in the world, especially somewhere with a developing economy, your digestive system will be attacked by a pathogenic bacteria, virus or parasite. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 70% of people who travel abroad will become stricken with traveler’s diarrhea.
The good news is that the overwhelming majority of people who experience loose watery stools will have a mild case that will go away on its own after a few days.
So there’s no reason to panic about traveler’s diarrhea. Go on your trip and fully experience the food and culture! Don’t let fear of the runs stand in your way. Life’s too short to eat all your meals in the hotel restaurant. Live a little and eat some street food you’ve never tried before.
Still, experiencing traveler’s diarrhea is no fun. Most of the time, the culprit is bacteria. In fact, according to the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, bacteria is responsible for roughly 90% of all traveler’s diarrhea cases, with e. Coli being the pathogen most likely to cause it.
Viruses are to blame for about 10% of all cases. Nasty parasites might receive all the gory attention because they can wreak havoc on the digestive system and they can be really hard to get rid of. But thankfully, parasitic causes of traveler’s diarrhea make up a tiny fraction of all cases. The bad news is that with traveler’s diarrhea that lasts for over 2 weeks, the cause is almost always a parasite.
But fear not because I have 5 supplements that may help prevent being glued to the porcelain throne during your trip (or when you come home).
Having a lot of friendly bacteria in your gut and lots of different varieties (strains) of probiotics are crucial for defending against pathogens. But not any probiotic will do. There’s one in particular that’s been the focus of many research studies on diarrhea prevention or treatment. And it’s the only probiotic that’s a yeast rather than a bacteria. It’s called Saccharomyces Boulardii, or S. Boulardii for short.
It comes in capsule form and you don’t need to refrigerate it so it’s really convenient for traveling. It takes a few days to fully build up in your gut so I start taking it about 4 days before I leave for an overseas vacation. I’ll continue taking it as long as I’m away and then I’ll stop taking it 3-5 days after I get back just to make sure all’s good back there.
You can take other probiotics at the same time you’re taking S. Boulardii. But for diarrhea prevention, only S. Boulardii is backed by extensive research.
Oil of Oregano
So the next supplement that may help prevent ruining your bucket-list trip is oil of oregano. It’s a very potent natural antibiotic. And remember, the most likely cause of traveler’s diarrhea is a bacteria (which is caused by consuming contaminated food and/or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces).
You can tell that oil of oregano is potent just by the taste. It’s so strong so don’t say I didn’t warn you. Some people put oil of oregano drops directly on their food just in case the food is contaminated. But talk about ruining a meal! I prefer to use it away from meals so I can actually taste the food.
It’s probably not a good idea to take oil of oregano for a very long time. So if you’re traveling for a few weeks or longer, use it sparingly, like maybe every other day or every few days.
Oregon Grape Root
Another herbal tincture, Oregon Grape Root contains the active ingredient berberine, which has been shown in research to help prevent diarrhea, and not just against bacterial pathogens that cause it but also viral, parasitic and fungal. So it’s like a broad-spectrum antimicrobial. And it doesn’t taste as harsh as oil of oregano.
This is what they give to people (usually kids) in the ER at hospitals who accidentally swallow something poisonous. Activated charcoal, which is a black odorless powder, binds to toxins and removes them out of the digestive tract. Personally, I wouldn’t use it for prevention but it’s one natural supplement I would consider for treating traveler’s diarrhea.
Grapefruit Seed Extract
GSE is a liquid that some people squirt directly on their food to neutralize any potential pathogens. It doesn’t taste as harsh as oil-of-oregano, but it’s pretty close. Again, I wouldn’t want to alter the flavor profile of a meal I’m enjoying just to prevent a mild case of the runs. So GSE is something I’d use away from food or for treatment.
At the end of the day, a mild case of traveler’s diarrhea is no big deal. It’ll usually go away on its own within 1-3 days. But if you’re on a very long bus or plane ride, I wouldn’t blame you if you took an over-the-counter remedy to stop things up. I should also point out that if you do have bloody loose stools, call your doctor right away to get checked out.
But no matter what … keep on traveling!