Using Probiotics for Healthy Traveling| Updated: Feb 04, 2019
The reason this freaked me out temporarily (I fortunately found another source that was able to ship immediately) is because I have quite a bit of travel planned in the coming weeks and starting to take a higher dosage of probiotics now than I usually take at home is very important.
In fact, a therapeutic strength probiotic is the number one most important supplement for traveling (beware: just any old probiotic won’t do the job). If this surprises you and you would have picked another supplement like Vitamin C or cod liver oil as the most important travel supplement, then read on. Here are the reasons why traveling with a strong probiotic is very important.
When we travel, particularly overseas, we are at risk from a wide variety of microbes that our bodies are not normally exposed to. And, given that travel frequently can involve a change of time zones, lack of sleep, eating out a lot, air travel, and other stressors that we would not encounter in the familiar routine of home, our immune system is likely not firing on all cylinders during that time away either.
Our immune system not functioning optimally while traveling combined with exposure to unfamiliar pathogens is a recipe for getting sick. While getting sick could mean just a cold, a temporarily depressed immune system could also mean more severe illness too.
Think Montezuma’s revenge type sick.
Not pleasant for sure as this would definitely wreck a vacation!
To give you a personal example, I am fairly prone to food poisoning when I travel overseas. It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat either. My normally iron stomach becomes rather wimpy for a short period of time! Ironically, when at home, I rarely if ever suffer from intestinal illness of any kind.
I know this about myself unfortunately due to several experiences while traveling overseas to some far flung places in my 20’s. I think this predisposition occurs because huge time zone changes seem to negatively affect my digestive clock such that I temporarily don’t produce much stomach acid, which would, under normal circumstances, eliminate any pathogens I encounter while traveling. As it turns out, a lot of other people seem to have this problem too.
Oh, how I wish I had known about using probiotics for healthy traveling back then! It sure would have saved me a lot of grief.
Since I started traveling with a strong probiotic, I am happy to report that I have not experienced this problem even once.
Famous last words? I hope not.
Travelers Diarrhea prevented with probiotics
Another common problem people experience when traveling is what is called travelers diarrhea. In fact, up to 50% of people experience this annoying and sometimes debilitating problem when they leave home on holiday or for work related reasons.
Travelers diarrhea results from bacterial contamination of food or water. The food or water may not make a person living in that location ill, but a visitor may get sick from the very same food simply because he/she is not used to the common microbes in that unfamiliar environment. Symptoms can take 2-3 days to develop and are primarily just loose stools (not usually any vomiting or fever). Abdominal cramps and nausea may also present.
Upon returning home, these symptoms can last for up to another 10 days!
Science has studied the use of live, beneficial bacteria to remedy travelers diarrhea and maintain health digestive support during times away from home. A review of over 900 studies between 1977 to 2005 found that live bacterial cultures were able to significantly prevent travelers diarrhea with no serious adverse reactions (1).
A multi-strain probiotic containing the strains Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum was shown to be of particular benefit even when traveling to a developing country where the risk of exposure to pathogens would be greater (2).
Why probiotics protect us when traveling
According to Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, who turned me on to probiotics for traveling back in 2007, the proper, therapeutic strength probiotic helps bolster your immune system in several ways. First, it helps keep you regular. Constipation from time zone changes and disrupted eating and sleeping patterns is a common issue, and when things get backed up, your immune system suffers greatly. Rapid dehydration from long air travel hops can also bring on a constipation in a hurry.
Secondly, a strong probiotic that contains soil based organisms (SBOs) helps to protect the intestinal tract from any pathogenic bacteria it is exposed to via food or water. Since the vast majority of our immune system is in the gut, keeping the intestinal tract healthy while traveling will help keep you feeling great so you can enjoy your time away to the fullest.
How to take probiotics before, during, and after traveling
Dr. Campbell-McBride suggests that to reap the greatest protection from illnesses that may strike while traveling, it is very important to start taking probiotic supplements a full two weeks before you will leave if you aren’t taking them already. This period allows the seeding of beneficial bacterial colonies in the gut prior to travel. With beneficial probiotics already strongly present in the gut before you leave, our natural immunity is optimized.
Then, continue with the probiotic regimen during your time away and continue for at least two weeks after returning home.
For example, here’s what I do with my preferred brand for traveling which requires no refrigeration and contains all the essential strains for traveling: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and SBOs.
The directions for general use suggest 1-2 capsules per day with food. At home, I normally take 1 capsule per day usually after dinner. But, two weeks prior to travel, I increase this to 2 capsules per day which is the upper limit for general use. I take one capsule after breakfast and another capsule after dinner.
Then, starting the day I travel, I increase to 4 capsules per day as suggested by Dr. Campbell-McBride: 2 capsules after breakfast and another 2 after dinner.
When I return home, I continue with the 4 capsules per day (2 after breakfast and 2 after dinner) for two full weeks. I then revert back to my usual one capsule per day dosage.
Trouble Swallowing Probiotic Capsules?
If you have trouble swallowing even small capsules, you can open them up and sprinkle directly into your mouth (the taste is neutral) or mix with a little water or juice. This works great for children, who if under 12 should receive half the adult dosage both at home and when traveling. Incidentally, emptying a capsule in your mouth after after brushing your teeth but before bed is a great way for preventing or healing sinus infections.
If you have a found a different brand works for you when traveling (this one is also excellent and requires no refrigeration), please be sure to consult with the manufacturer for the suggested travel regimen for that particular product.
With proper implementation of these probiotic traveling tips, hopefully illness, especially any sort of intestinal illness, will be a thing of the past for you!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
More Information on Probiotics
Choosing the Best Probiotic
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Sarah was awarded Activist of the Year at the International Wise Traditions Conference in 2010.
Sarah earned a Bachelor of Arts (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) in Economics from Furman University and a Master’s degree in Government (Financial Management) from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mother to three healthy children, blogger, and best-selling author, she writes about the practical application of Traditional Diet and evidence-based wellness within the modern household. Her work has been featured by USA Today, The New York Times, National Review, ABC, NBC, and many others.