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  • Travel First Aid: Help for Every Travel Ailment

    Traveling-HealthThe new sights, the sunny beaches, the great food…Travel can be exciting, but even the most experienced travelers need a little help now and then. Here’s our roundup of common travel ailments—and natural remedies that can get you back to enjoying your vacation!

    The Problem: Jet lag

    It happens when we fly across different time zones, causing a disruption in our sleep/wake cycle (also known as your circadian rhythm). Changing time zones rapidly can cause disruptions in falling asleep, staying asleep or staying awake.

    The Solutions

    Melatonin is the hormone our bodies make to regulate the sleep/wake cycle, so taking  extra in a supplement form may help to reset the sleep/wake cycle disrupted from jet lag. Research has shown that melatonin can aid sleep at times when you wouldn’t normally be sleeping. Good brands to try include Source Naturals, Natural Factors, Jarrow Formulas and Pharmaca. Regular doses usually range between 1-5mg.

    NO-JET-LAG (from Miers Laboratory) is a well-loved and trusted homeopathic travel companion. It is safe, easy to take and has been proven effective in tests. A blend of five homeopathic remedies (arnica, daisy, chamomile, ipecac and lycopodium) helps counter the effects of pressure changes and the debilitating effects of long flights.

    The Problem: Travel anxiety

    Many people experience anxiety around travel, whether it’s fear of flying, fear of where you are going, changing your regular daily routine, fear of leaving home or missing loved ones and animals.

    The Solutions

    L-Theanine is a unique amino acid found in green tea that supports mental calmness and relaxation by increasing dopamine and GABA in the brain. L-theanine assists the alpha brainwaves associated with relaxation, without any drowsiness. Brands to try include Source Naturals, Jarrow Formulas and Natural Factors.

    Rescue Remedy by Bach Flower Essences is a gentle formula to help center your emotions when you’re experiencing situational distress. Rescue Remedy is a blend of five flower essences that assist with emotional stress from illness, fright, injury, travel fatigue and irritation.

    Emotional Ally by WishGarden Herbs is formulated to help you cope with temporary anxiety, restlessness and irritability. With herbs like passionflower, skullcap and motherwort, it helps you to re-center yourself and feel relief from travel anxiety.


    The Problem: Motion sickness

    Also known as travel, car, sea or airsickness, it happens when visually perceived motion is different from your vestibular system’s sense of movement. The most common symptoms are dizziness, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

    The Solutions

    PSI Bands are adjustable wristbands that apply acupressure to help relieve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Acupressure works by stimulating the body’s self-curative abilities.

    Ginger can help with nausea associated with motion sickness. Try New Chapter’s Ginger Force or Jarrow Formulas, Herb Pharm or Pharmaca brand Ginger.

    Peppermint can also help with nausea associated with motion sickness. Try Herb Pharm’s Breath Tonic or Enzymatic Therapy’s Peppermint Plus.

    Homeopathic Gelsemium Sempervire 30c is also indicated in motion sickness.


    The Problem: Travelers’ Diarrhea

    This one is common for a few reasons—one being that you are simply drinking water you’re not used to drinking. Another reason may be that the water is not thoroughly treated at your destination. The microbial balance in the digestive tract may be easily disturbed during travel, so it’s important to plan ahead and supplement with probiotics to give the immune and digestive tract a head start.

    The Solutions

    Start taking a good probiotic a few weeks before your departure to build up healthy colonies of friendly flora. Some specific probiotic strains are more effective at helping with travelers’ diarrhea, but remember that many probiotic formulas require refrigeration. Try Florastor, made with S. boulardii, Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS or Dr. Ohirra’s—all of which are excellent products that do not require refrigeration.

    If possible, stick with bottled water from a trusted supplier, and use methods of sterilization when necessary (i.e. plan ahead for boiling, water cleansing tabs or filtration).

    The Problem: Decreased Immunity

    Cramped airplanes and foreign bacteria can take advantage of anyone’s immune system. That’s why it’s a good idea to start building your immunity several weeks before your trip.

    The Solutions

    WishGarden Herbs’ Kick-Ass Immune is formulated to activate a healthy immune response and emphasizes respiratory health, which is especially important when flying in airplanes. It’s handy for travel in 1 or 2 oz sizes.

    Perfect Immune by New Chapter is a probiotic, whole-food multivitamin that provides comprehensive support for immune and natural defenses.

    New Chapter LifeShield Immunity is an awesome blend of medicinal mushrooms packed with beta glucans that help potentiate and modulate the immune system.

    Also, don’t forget to wash your hands often and disinfect when traveling. I like sanitizers by CleanWell, EO and Dr. Bronner’s.


    The Problem: Sunburn

    Because travel destinations are often at a higher elevation, near water, closer to the equator or sunnier than where you are coming from, sunburn can be inevitable. Make sure you wear a hat, stay out of the sun during peak hours and reapply a good mineral sunscreen. And if you do get burnt, here are ways to beat the heat.

    The Solutions

    To treat sunburn, try All Terrain’s Aloe Gel Skin Relief with healing herbs, Boericke and Tafel’s Califlora Calendula Gel or Boiron’s First Aid Calendula Lotion. And after being out in the sun all day, remember to stay hydrated with electrolytes. Coconut water is an easy way to get them, but Ultima Replenisher or Trace Minerals’ Electrolyte Stamina are powdered electrolyte drink mixes that are great for travel.

    The Problem: Sleeplessness

    Whether it’s jet lag or loud hotel neighbors, there are a variety of ways to combat sleeplessness.

    The Solutions

    Herb Pharm’s Relaxing Sleep Tonic is an herbal blend with valerian, sold in a small 1 oz bottle that’s convenient for travel.

    Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc. is designed to help with difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep or for low-quality sleep.

    Sleep Formula by Pharmaca, containing melatonin, 5HTP and L-theanine, has worked well for many people.

    Magnesium is great to take before bed to promote relaxation and calmness. Try Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm, Pure Essence’s Ionic Fizz or Kal’s Magnesium Glycinate.

    You may also want to try an eye mask and/or earplugs to block out unwanted sounds or sights. The Bucky Forty Blinks Eye Mask is one of my favorites because it’s contoured to relieve pressure against the eyes.


    The Problem: Digestive issues

    Different foods, whether they’re too rich or just something you’re not used to eating, can also play a big part in the health of your digestive system.

    The Solutions

    Chewable Papaya Enzymes help promote healthy digestion by breaking down carbohydrates and proteins. Try Pharmaca brand or Natural Factors’ Chewable Papaya Enzymes. (Plus they’re delicious!)

    Bring along more potent digestive enzymes in case you’re headed somewhere where you know the food is more challenging for your digestion. I like Megazymes by MegaFood, Digest Gold or Digest Spectrum by Enzymedica, Advanced Enzyme System by Rainbow Light or Complete Digestion by Enzyme Science.

    Probiotics are always recommended when traveling to promote a healthy immune system and optimal digestion (see Traveler’s Diarrhea for shelf-stable recommendations). Begin taking probiotics a few weeks before travel to allow time for colonization in the gut. A belly with a powerful amount of microbial flora will protect you against harmful bacteria and viruses, helping you to stay strong and healthy during your travels.

    WishGarden Digestive Bitters can help balance the pH of the stomach and ease an acidic tummy. Supports healthy digestive response and enzymes.

    Hyland’s Upset Stomach is a homeopathic, charcoal-based formula designed to relieve gas and bloating from overeating or improper diet. Safe for adults and children.

    UrgentRx Heartburn Relief comes in pocket-sized packets designed for easy transport, featuring 1000 mg of calcium carbonate for fast-acting relief of heartburn, acidic stomach and acid indigestion on the go, with or without liquid.

    Ask a Pharmaca practitioner for solutions to travel problems not listed here.

  • How Do I Choose a Probiotic?

    We know now that probiotics are good for us. But with so many to choose from, how do we choose one that’s right for us? Not all probiotics are created equal; different varieties of bacterial strains have different benefits, in addition to differing potencies, routes of ingestion, manufacturing methods and so on. Read on to learn how to choose a probiotic that’s right for you.

    First, identify why you need probiotics. It may be to counteract a course of antibiotics, to support digestion, to treat a yeast infection or simply to boost immunity. While many products are formulated to suit a particular need, others are general in their labeling. Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a probiotic that suits your needs.

    While taking antibiotics
    Antibiotics are good at their job of wiping out invasive bacteria. The problem is that they are also good at killing beneficial bacteria, setting the stage for gastric distress, diarrhea and possible secondary infection—making it critical to take probiotics concurrently. Note that you should always take antibiotics and probiotics on opposite schedules so their effects do not counterbalance each other (i.e. take probiotics at least 2 hours away from antibiotics).

    While on antibiotics, take a higher-potency probiotic (20-100 billion) to replenish gut flora, and continue them for a month or more after your course. For this purpose I recommend Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora Critical Care,Nature’s Way Primadophilus Optima, Pharmaca’s Ultimate Probiotic Blend and Pharmax High Intensity products.

    Yeast and women’s balance
    Probiotics are very effective in balancing vaginal flora, which helps guard against infection and prevent overgrowth of candida. Suppositories offer a direct method to assist vaginal flora—be sure it has at least a billion lactobacillus to support vaginal flora. Taking oral probiotics at the same time can offer maximum coverage. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Fem-Dophilus or Vitanica’s FemEcology. Both of these products are formulated for vaginal flora balance and can be used as suppositories as well.

    Probiotics for children
    Probiotics are extremely important for developing digestive tracts and supporting immunity. Kid-specific products are formulated to make them appealing for little ones. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Yum-Yum Dophilus or Nature’s Way’s Primadophilus Kids.

    Potency is measured in colony forming units (CFUs). A good first step is to ensure you choose a product that gives a “good until” date to ensure potency until a certain date. (Some manufacturers only stamp their CFUs at the time of manufacture, e.g. “1 billion active L. acidophilus and B. bifidum at the time of manufacture.”) Because probiotics are live organisms at the time of manufacture, over time you can expect a slow die-off of bacteria, which ultimately renders the probiotic useless. This happens much faster if the product is improperly stored.

    Potency varies widely in probiotic supplements, generally between 1 and 100 billion CFUs. Currently there are no standardizations for dosing and potency with probiotics. You may need a period of adjustment to identify what potency is optimal for you, but here are some general guidelines to help you start.

    • For mild digestion problems (gas, bloating, diarrhea) try starting with a lower dose (5-10 billion CFUs) and working up.
    • For more severe digestion issues (chronic diarrhea, gas, bloating and infections), you may want to try taking a lower potency every other day and working your way up to a much higher potency (since there can be gas and bloating associated with probiotics colonizing in the gut).
    • For bowel regularity, try New Chapter’s Probiotic GI Tract.
    • For general intestinal maintenance, try taking 1-2 billion CFUs per day, as in Enzymatic Therapy’s Acidophilus Pearls. Many people choose to take a much higher maintenance dose because they have found that it gives them optimal digestion and immunity. A popular product for daily use is Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS,which contains 5 billion per dose and does not require refrigeration.

    In addition, probiotic formulas are often formulated with added prebiotics—non-digestible food that feeds probiotics and promotes healthy flora. Examples of prebiotics include FOS and inulin. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus + FOS or Pharmaca’s Acidophilus and Bifidus.

    Other considerations


    Since many probiotics are grown in a culture that contains dairy, people who are completely lactose intolerant must look for dairy-free formulas. There may also be traces of gluten in some products, so be sure to check the label or ask a qualified health practitioner for a gluten-free option. A few allergen-free products to try include Pharmax HLC, Jarrow Formulas’ Allergen-Free Jarro-dophilus or Thorne Research’s FloraMend.


    Many probiotics require refrigeration to maintain potency, which can be inconvenient—especially for travel—but there are several good probiotics that do not require refrigeration. Try Jarrow Formulas’ Jarro-Dophilus EPS, Essential Formulas’ Probiotics 12 Plus Original Formula or Enzymatic Therapy’s Pearls. Be sure to follow proper storage of your probiotic, paying attention to moisture, light and temperature.

    Delivery methods

    There are a variety of delivery methods for probiotics, including liquids, powders (great for infants!), capsules, chewables and suppositories. Fermented foods are also a terrific source of probiotics, including kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, anything pickled, miso, tempeh and soy sauce. Kombucha is a popular fermented tea that is a great source of probiotics.


    Be sure to read directions thoroughly! Products can differ based on whether or not they should be taken on an empty stomach.

    Side effects

    Probiotics are considered generally safe and well tolerated, and serious side effects are fairly uncommon. Possible side effects include gas, bloating and tenderness in the gut (either to the touch or with motion) and possible diarrhea or constipation. Because these symptoms occur while the bacteria are colonizing in the gut, they tend to become less pronounced with ongoing use. There have been rare reports of infection occurring in the severely ill or immune-compromised.

    There is no evidence that higher doses of probiotics are unsafe (even though they may be more expensive and unnecessary for some). When in question, start lower and work your way up. Back off on potency if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms from the probiotics, but don’t give up! Speak with a qualified health practitioner if you have concerns with any side effects from probiotics colonizing.

    Trusted manufacturers

    Perhaps the most important aspect in choosing your probiotic is purchasing from trusted manufacturers with good manufacturing practices and quality control! These brands should have research available to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products, including proof of potency and ability to survive the environment of stomach acids and bile salts. Special manufacturing techniques are required to ensure the probiotics make it to their destination for colonization (i.e. small or large intestine). Examples of these techniques include enteric coating and “beadlet” technology. A few examples of trusted manufacturers include Pharmax, Metagenics, Pharmaca, Renew Life, New Chapter, Jarrow, Udo’s and MegaFood.

  • Good Digestion All Stars

    Digestion issues? Good news. There are a variety of tools that can help smooth out indigestion and other intestinal issues. Here, Kate Brainard, naturopathic doctor, gives some suggestions for natural digestive aids that can make everyday meals more pleasant.

    If you need long-term digestive support

    "There's not anyone out there that shouldn't be on a probiotic," says Kate. "Especially if you have regular bouts of indigestion, like constipation or diarrhea, probiotics are crucial."

    For travel-ready probiotics that don't need refrigeration, turn to Dr. Ohhira's or Jarrow Formulas' Jarro-Dophilus EPS. But Kate's favorite is Bio-K: "It's a life-changing product. They're in a live culture, so once it goes into the digestive tract it immediately starts colonizing," says Kate. "I've had people say 'this product has saved my life'."

    If you're about to eat something you know doesn't agree with you   

    "If you're eating a big meal, or something that you know will cause heartburn," says Kate, "that's a great time to take enzymes to help break down the food." As we age, especially, our natural production of enzymes decreases and can leave behind big food molecules that enter the bloodstream and throw our immune system out of whack.

    That's why Kate suggests taking enzymes right at the beginning of a big meal. "It's going in and supplementing what your body is already making," she says. For a simple approach, chew papaya enzymes like Zand Herbals' Quick Digest. You can also try MegaZymes by MegaFood, a formula that combines powerful enzymes with probiotics, as well as carminative (or gas-fighting) herbs like ginger and marshmallow. For more chronic digestive issues, try Enzymedica's Digest Gold.

    If you tend to get heartburn

    Heartburn can come from a number of issues, including dysfunction in the lower esophageal sphincter caused by low stomach acid, hiatal hernia or even certain foods (acidic or fatty foods are often culprits).

    If you're worried about heartburn, take some preventive measures-Kate recommends Natural Factors' Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) , which goes in and coats the lining of the esophagus to promote healing. "It doesn't necessarily treat the heartburn, but will definitely make the meal experience more pleasant," she says.

    Kate also suggests a customer favorite called Heartburn Free, from Enzymatic Therapy. Formulated from orange peel extract, the capsules only need to be taken every other day until you get more permanent relief.

    If you overeat

    Those carminative herbs--like fennel, ginger and other spices--can be a great post-meal digestive as well. Try a cup of hot tea like Traditional Medicinals' Eater's Digest, which combines digestion-enhancing herbs with the benefits of warmth, which Kate says will naturally help move digestion along. Or simply take a few of Gaia Herbs' Gas & Bloating capsules.

    Ultimately, Kate recommends simply slowing down and enjoying your holiday meals. "We all know that this is the time we're going to indulge," she says. "But you're going to walk away feeling a lot better if you can take breaks between eating."

    Bring your specific digestion questions to a Pharmaca practitioner.

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