I have just returned from almost two months exploring India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, drinking all of the chai, eating all of the samosas, watching all of the sunsets and smelling all of the (sometimes really bad) smells. Avoiding traveller’s diarrhoea was really high on my priority list, probably even higher than seeing the Taj Mahal. As a naturopath and nutritionist, I have a particular interest in digestive disorders; post-travel IBS is something I have seen in my patients many times before. ‘My digestion hasn’t quite been the same since I got back from India/Bali/Thailand/Africa/Mexico’ is a sentence I have heard more times than I can count! Luckily naturopathic medicine offers many solutions to digestive complaints, but as the age old saying goes “prevention is better than a cure” and I wanted to do everything within my power to avoid winding up in a dodgy Indian hospital with food poisoning. When I left Australia for Colombo I was confident that I was prepared to the best of my abilities to keep my tummy happy whilst travelling. With a little bit of preparation, you too can do your best to avoid Delhi belly! Although these tricks are specific for India and the rest of Asia, they can also be applied to Central/South America, Africa, and pretty much anywhere else where you may be at risk of food poisoning.
First thing’s first – probiotics! Probiotics are the good bacteria which reside in our intestines. These little guys influence everything from our digestion to our immune systems to our menstrual cycles and even to our mood! They’re pretty amazing little bugs. Saccharomyces boulardii (SB) is a strain of probiotic which unlike most probiotics does not need to be kept in the fridge – perfect for travelling. What’s more is that it has been proven many times before to both prevent and treat travelers diarrhoea and parasites. It is an absolute must for anyone travelling to India, South East Asia, Centra/South America or Africa. If you take nothing else – take SB!
Next on my list was zinc and vitamin C. These nutrients have countless functions in our bodies and keeping our gut health in check and our immune system pumping to ward off any nasty bugs! Vitamin C is also a super strong antioxidant, which are important to consider after being on airplanes as they emit ‘gamma-rays’. Gamma-rays are really strong pro-oxidants (the opposite to antioxidants), causing damage to our cells and accelerating aging (and since returning home to Melbourne I’ve starting paying proper attention to anything that is anti-aging – I swear being amongst so much smog and dust everyday has given me premature wrinkles).
The food in India is no doubt AMAZING however one thing it does lack is fresh greens. And one of the biggest things to keep away from when trying to avoid food poisoning is unfortunately fresh salad. Taking a greens powder (i.e. spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass) is a great way to get in some of the nutrients that you miss out on when you’re not consuming fresh greens everyday like most of us would at home. When I ran out of the greens powder I took with me I came across some spirulina capsules at one of the Ayurvedic centers we went to. Spirulina also detoxifies heavy metals and other toxins – essential after a few days in smoggy Delhi!
If you can get your hands on it – Ars Alb is the homeopathic remedy for travellers diarrhoea. It’s a good one to take if you can, not only because it works so quickly but also because you don’t need much and so a little bottle of it (approx. 10ml) can be carried around in your pocket or bag really easily. Activated charcoal is another remedy that I had in my little bag of tricks. Activated charcoal binds to bad bacteria in the gut and removes them from the body. It can also reduce bloating and gas if you’re prone to it. You must drink A LOT of water when taking activated charcoal – at least 3 litres!
Electrolyte tablets truly saved us from becoming dehydrated on so many occasions – after many a long journey on a hot and crowded local bus, after our 4-day trek in Nepal, and after one too many mojitos on new years eve in Sri Lanka. Oh, and also after I spewed out of and all over our overnight bus from Agra to Varanasi. Yep, despite my very best efforts I still got a little bug towards the end of my trip, but I do truly believe that without implementing all of the above it would have been a lot more severe. I doubled my dose of trusty probiotics and was fine within a couple of days, and most importantly didn’t bring any IBS back home with me. If you do succumb to any food poisoning, it’s is essential to replace the electrolytes you lose from it as dehydration can have some serious consequences.
Some quick final notes: India can be a pretty overwhelming place, I loved it but I know many people who have been and did not. Stress can greatly impact the digestive system too, so be sure to try and center yourself whenever you can, and as much as you can. I always like to travel with a little bottle of lavender essential oil – it’s an insect repellent, natural perfume, headache cure, sleep aid and all round relaxer all in one! Stay curious and be open to the magic that India holds; I promise you will be rewarded.
This article was originally posted on Travelettes.