I’ve been living in traveling in South-East Asia and Central America for the past ten years so I’m no stranger to the potential impact of exposure to microbial pathogens. Whether it’s Bali Belly or Montezuma’s Revenge, traveler’s diarrhea is the most common ailment experienced by people visiting a foreign country. Spend any length of time in a tropical location and chances are very high that you could be affected.
Along my travels I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with intestinal infections using natural medicine. Through personal experience I’ve also discovered first-hand strategies to make the entire situation a lot more comfortable. So I am writing this post to share this knowledge in the hopes that it may prove helpful if you ever find yourself in this unfortunate circumstance.
Many of these remedies are also very helpful for general digestive problems including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth and Candida.
How To Prevent Travelers Diarrhea
The general advice given to vacationers is to avoid eating any raw foods including salads and fruit, with the exception of those fruits that you peel yourself. It is also recommended to only drink sealed bottles of water and to stay away from ice in any beverages. Travelers diarrhea is usually caused by bacteria in untreated water so these steps can reduce your risk of exposure.
As a raw food enthusiast I’ve bent these rules on many an occasion, while still exercising caution. I will often eat a salad if it is in a tourist-oriented restaurant as they generally use filtered water to wash their vegetables. (If this is not obvious on the menu you can ask if it is the case). The same goes for ice in restaurants that clearly state their use of purified water.
However, I never purchase salads from street food vendors, sliced fresh fruits that have been sitting on ice or young coconuts soaked in cold water. In these venues there is no way of knowing how or if the salad is washed and whether that ice or water is from the tap – and this most likely is so.
On the whole this approach seems to work for me and the occasions where I did become sick while traveling were most often after eating cooked food in a restaurant. In Nepal I was much more careful than usual but still suffered a very severe bout of food poisoning after eating rice and cooked vegetables.
So when I recently began feeling unwell I just figured it was from a salad that wasn’t prepared properly or exposure to a local bacteria that I didn’t have resistance against. Eventually after much investigation we discovered that our home water system was faulty and essentially non-functional. The UV element on our water filter, which serves the purpose of destroying bacteria and viruses, was no longer working.
Even the local people don’t drink the tap water here. We’ve been vigilant to avoid brushing our teeth in this water and we even have a shower filter to reduce the chance of accidental exposure while bathing.
So as you might imagine it came as quite a shock to discover that were essentially drinking up to a liter of untreated tap water every day for six weeks!
What To Do If You Develop Traveler’s Diarrhea: Natural Remedies
The fact that we have been able to effectively maintain our health with minimal ill effects during this period, I can only equate to our use of specific natural remedies.
I’ve developed an arsenal for these situations, which I applied as soon as the symptoms became apparent. After this recent experience I am even more thankful these remedies are available as an alternative natural treatment.
1. Traveler Rescue
Traveler Rescue is a product that I recently discovered and it does seem to offer an effective solution. It uses “reactive plant immunity” to activate the natural healing process of the intestinal cells, stop the proliferation of microbes and neutralize toxins.
After a particularly severe episode where I experienced five extremely watery bowel movements within a several hour period, this was completely resolved after two doses of Traveler Rescue. Normally something like this would take three or four days to settle, so I believe the product does what it claims to do.
They also make a preventative formula called Traveler Protect, which you can take once a day to reduce the chances of digestive issues while traveling.
If you develop diarrhea while traveling the most important thing is to prevent dehydration. The standard medical advice is to take oral rehydration solutions (consisting of water, salt and sugar) and I do recommend keeping these on hand in case of emergency. However, a much better option if you have access to it is young coconut water.
Young coconut water is high in electrolytes including sodium and potassium and contains a small amount of sugars. This makes it much more hydrating than water and easier for your body to assimilate. Coconut water also has the added advantage of offering an antimicrobial effect due to its lauric acid content.
3. Activated Charcoal
Activated Charcoal absorbs microbial toxins and slows down diarrhea. It is so effective that it is often used in hospital settings as an emergency treatment for certain types of accidental poisoning.
Because it is highly absorptive it must be taken at least an hour or two before or after any medications or herbal remedies otherwise it renders them ineffective. It also interferes with the absorption of nutrients from foods.
If I experience travelers diarrhea I will take two capsules, three times a day for a couple of days. In some people it does have the tendency to cause intestinal blockage so stop taking it as soon as the diarrhea is alleviated and if constipation develops.
You can also take a few capsules if you suspect you have eaten an unsafe food. Some sources even suggest it is effective for MSG poisoning.
4. Antimicrobial Herbs
Generally if travelers diarrhea persists for more than a few days a doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately these medications can have very serious side effects.
A much safer alternative is to use plant-based medicines, which in many cases have been shown to work just as well as antibiotics without causing damage to your health.
In this situation golden seal is an ideal choice because it has been demonstrated to be an effective antibiotic in the gastrointestinal tract. (It’s potency for systemic infections is not as clear.).
I like this Gaia formula for Echinacea and Goldenseal because it also offers the immune-boosting effects of echinacea to help you recover faster. This would also be a good prophylactic remedy to take while you are traveling to prevent infections of all kinds.
My favorite herbs for microbial infections is the Parasite M formula, which is a component of the Deep Tissue Cleanse. You can also order this formula by itself directly from me. If you are interested drop me a line. I never travel anywhere without this formula and I believe this combination of herbs is the primary reason why we were able to stay healthy despite daily exposure to a very high microbial load.
Oregano Oil is another very effective option for overcoming infections of any kind but it is very powerful. Personally I don’t tolerate it well but many people are strong advocates.
5. Manuka Honey
For the most part travelers diarrhea is caused by E.coli infection and manuka honey has been proven in the lab to kill this bacteria.
For the best results I recommend the highest possible grade – at least with an MGO rating of 200+, or UMF of 10+. The cream of the crop seems to be this Manuka Honey MGO 400+ (UMF 20+).
You can take a tablespoon, three times daily, directly off the spoon or add it to lukewarm (not hot) beverages. Hot water destroys the active chemicals so if you want to add it to your tea make sure you let it sit for around 10 minutes or so until it cools.
6. Sacharomyces Boulardii
Sacharomyces Boulardii is a probiotic that has been touted as a healthy form of yeast. Studies show that it stimulates secretory IgA (SIgA), our first line of defense against invading microbes and can assist in recovery from travelers diarrhea. However, the evidence indicates that it is even more effective when used daily as a preventative remedy.
Fortunately this probiotic does not require refrigeration making it ideal to take with you while traveling to a foreign country.
8. Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera
When you are suffering from an intestinal infection the gut can become very inflamed. This can be experienced as tenderness and pain in the stomach and intestines. Both Slippery Elm and Aloe Vera help to soothe the gut wall, which promotes healing of the intestinal lining, to help you recover faster.
For this purpose I also like to use the Stomach and Bowel #1 (another component of the Deep Tissue Cleanse.) This formula contains a variety of herbs – including Slippery Elm and Marshmallow – that have a soothing and healing action on the stomach and intestines.
I was planning to write more about how to eat when recovering from food poisoning or travelers diarrhea but this has become quite long and I am running out of time. So I will have to cover that topic in another post.
I hope you never have to go through the unfortunate experience of an intestinal bug while traveling. Hopefully this information can help you take preventative steps to stay healthy on your next trip abroad. But if it does occur at least you can be prepared so you can overcome it as quickly as possible.