The prospect of a far flung holiday is an exciting one, but long haul travel is often associated with transient fatigue and a malaise known as “jet-lag” that persists for some days, occasionally interrupting the first few days of pleasure at that long awaited idyllic holiday location.
The symptoms of jet-lag are caused by the disturbance of the body’s circadian rhythms as a number of time zones are crossed during your flight. Studies show that travelling East may result in worse jet lag symptoms as your day is shortened, making it harder for the body to adjust. Below are a few preventative strategies surrounding diet and hydration both prior to departing, during the flight and following disembarkation that may alleviate the symptoms until the body has had the time to adjust to the new time zone.
Certain food groups have been shown to have effects on rhythm adjustment:
- A high carbohydrate, low protein meal may induce drowsiness and sleep as this increases brain uptake of tryptophan and its conversion to serotonin
- A high protein, low carbohydrate meal, may increase energy levels as protein enhances tyrosine uptake and its conversion to adrenalin
By choosing a carbohydrate rich meal you can potentially improve your ability to sleep or if you are lacking energy, a high protein meal can reduce feelings of fatigue. Selecting the best meal type for a few days after you arrive may accelerate that feeling of ‘normality’ allowing you to maximize your well earned holiday time.
Although the most commonly experienced symptoms are sleep disorders and fatigue, some people experience gastrointestinal disturbance associated with jet lag such as cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation. Although not widely recognized, these symptoms may also be associated with jet lag as a disruption in the circadian rhythm may upset the balance of gut microflora, leading to a dysfunction in the immune system and consequently a susceptibility to holiday bugs.
In addition, restricting your alcohol intake during your flight is advisable; alcohol is known to dehydrate the body but also to disrupt sleep patterns. By consuming water and soft drinks during the flight, feelings of lightheadedness, fatigue and headaches may be reduced.
A few simple nutritional steps both prior to departure and during your stay may support and potentially alleviate these symptoms:
- Eating probiotic rich foods two weeks prior to departure (live yogurt, kefir, miso and sauerkraut) or taking a good quality probiotic (available from health food shops or online).
- Consuming foods rich in dietary fibre (apples, mangoes, pineapple, oats, root vegetables, sweet potatoes, pulses and beans) which both support elimination, preventing constipation during a long flight, but equally providing a food source for the probiotics within the system, enabling them to colonise and support a balanced gut microflora.
- Including a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables in your daily diet (dark green leafy vegetables, peppers, beetroot, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower. These provide a source of fibre but equally nutrients to support a healthy gut.
- Consuming plenty of essential fatty acids found in oily fish, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and olive oil to support your immune system.
- Including lean proteins in your diet – either vegetable proteins in the form of pulses, beans and quinoa or lean meat such as chicken, game, turkey and fish.
Once at your holiday destination, these simple preventative steps will continue to support your immune system and your body throughout your stay, adding to a happy healthy holiday and leaving you to relax and enjoy that well earned holiday of a lifetime.