Healthy Traveler Tips: Natural Ways to Avoid "Montezuma’s Revenge"

Monday, December 18, 2006 - 10:43am

By Wendy Hodsdon, ND

Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, bloating, fever, headaches, and fatigueall symptoms of a common complaint among travelers, otherwise known as Montezuma’s revenge. What causes these gastrointestinal problems? How can you avoid spending your vacation in the bathroom?

Common causes of travelers’ diarrhea

Bacteria that are literally "foreign" to our intestines are the most common causes of travelers’ diarrhea. These bacteria can be strains of E.coli, Shigella, Salmonella, Camylobacter, and Cryptosporidium. Certain parasites such as Giardia, roundworms, and tapeworms are also problems for travelers.

Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have with highest incidence of parasite infections. Because parasites are often spread through unclean water and food, it is important to be extra careful when traveling to these places.

Some people exposed to parasites never become infected. Other people have a higher risk. The reason? Some people have stronger immune systems. Those with the highest risk include:

  • Young children
  • Immunosuppressed people
  • People with inflammatory-bowel disease (e.g. ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
  • Those taking antacids or histamine blockers.

Simple precautions to avoid diarrhea

Eat and drink clean food and water. While this may be easier said than done, it is the main way to stay healthy. Water can be treated by boiling, filtering, or adding small amounts of iodine. Bottled water is usually readily available and quite safe.

Eating uncontaminated food can be more difficult. Generally, well-cooked and packaged foods are safe for travelers. Raw fruits and vegetables should be peeled to avoid possible contamination from the outside of the food. Raw or undercooked meat, seafood, unpasteurized milk, dairy products, and mayonnaise are at high-risk of contamination and are best avoided.

Ways to treat infections, stomach problems and diarrhea

1.   Maintain stomach acid levels to kill parasites

The body knows how to resist and eliminate parasitic infections. Its defense system kicks in during digestion. Stomach acid kills parasites before they can grow and infect the body. To increase stomach acid levels, keep stress levels low. Another tip is to swallow 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar 10 minutes before meals. Due to lower levels of stomach acid, people taking antacids are more at-risk for infection.

2.   Take probiotics to maintain your good bacteria levels

Another good practice is to increase good bacteria in the intestines. Lactobacillus acidophilus actually crowds out disease-causing bacteria. Supplementing your diet with probiotics (especially lactobacillus acidophilus) while on a trip can help maintain good bacteria levels. A bonus is that probiotics also stimulate the immune system.

3.   Eat garlic cloves or capsules to elimate parasites

Take garlic cloves or capsules at meals to prevent infections. Garlic is a great anti-microbial and assists the body in eliminating parasites; however, this treatment can irritate the stomach and cause garlic breath and sweat. Some forms of concentrated garlic are easier on the body. There are even odor-free forms of garlic for sale. Try this treatment before your trip to see how it works with your system.

4.   Take charcoal capsules to avoid stomach problems

Charcoal capsules can be helpful when eating a variety of new foods. Take a few capsules with meals to help avoid cramping, gas, bloating, and other stomach problems.

What to do if you get diarrhea

If diarrhea develops, let it run its course for few days. Diarrhea is the body’s way of evacuating the parasites. Make sure to drink of water and get plenty of rest. If you’re concerned about dehydration, a sports drinks is helpful. However, if bloody diarrhea develops, consult a doctor immediately.

Prevention is the key to avoiding diarrhea

Diarrhea does not have to be a problem for travelers. With a few simple precautions, you can enjoy the scenery rather than tour the bathrooms of the world!