It’s the usual story: going on day three of your much-anticipated summer vacation and, well, you haven’t used the facilities. The gas, bloating, and cramping are kicking in. You’re starting to get uncomfortable and irritable. Suddenly, your relaxing vacation is feeling a lot less so. Your mind starts to race and you wonder what you can do. Take a laxative? No, that’s too risky. Will it give you diarrhea? Will it have you running to find the nearest bathroom at the beach or the amusement park?
Although nobody likes to talk about the embarrassing subject of constipation, the fact is this: Constipation specifically associated with travel is a little-known digestive health secret that plagues tens of millions of Americans who hit the road each summer.
According to AAA, two-thirds of US adults planned to vacation last summer and averaged more than three trips. In 2013, more than 40 million Americans were projected to travel for the Independence Day holiday alone.
We also know that 48 percent of both leisure and business travelers develop constipation while traveling, reports a recent survey by Allium Research and Analytics. Traveler’s constipation is an all-too-common problem, but many suffer in secret because nobody talks about what causes it and what can be done to prevent it.
People develop constipation while traveling for a variety of reasons: changes in schedule, different diet and mealtimes, dehydration, and sitting for long periods of time in cars or planes. There’s often a psychological aspect as well. This includes anxiety, stress, and the “home bowl” issue—one’s preference for his or her own bathroom.
When you sit for long periods of time on a plane or in the car, there is a decreased motility in the GI tract and more stress is put on your bowels. There is also a tendency to consume extravagant meals on vacation or grab the quick and easy options—such as hot dogs, pizza, chicken fingers, or nachos at a rest stop. This change in your eating also throws off your bowel movements. You are likely consuming less fiber and eating at different times of the day than you usually do. This disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm and affects the hormones that aid in digestion.
Because no one wants to spend a summer vacation scoping out the nearest bathroom due to the harsh side effects of laxatives, take these preventive steps to make sure your digestive system remains regular.
TIPS TO A HEALTHY SUMMER VACATION
>> Maintain a regular schedule as much as possible. Stick to your sleep and wake schedule, and designate meal times. Also, make time for light to moderate exercise if you don’t plan on doing a lot of walking during your trip. This will help to keep your bowel movements normal.
>> Try to increase your fluid intake several days prior to leaving. Aim for two or three extra glasses a day, and even more on the day of your trip. Electrolyte-based drinks are especially helpful. Electrolytes promote absorption of fluids from the intestines and help travelers to stay hydrated.
>> Increase your fiber intake several days prior to departure. Water also helps fiber to be more effective in normalizing your bowel movements.
>> Cut back on sugar. Excess, indigestible sugar ferments in the large intestine, creating gas, bloating, and constipation.
>> Increase your intake of potassium and magnesium. White beans, spinach, and potatoes are high in potassium, while squash and pumpkin seeds, avocados, and mackerel fish are all high in magnesium. Magnesium is especially useful to help keep the bowels moving.
>> Take omega-3 supplements. Omega-3 oils such as flax, hemp, and fish can help keep digested food moving through your colon.
Many individuals respond better to one type of laxative compared with another. Unless you know which laxative has worked for your body in the past, there’s a reasonable chance an over-the-counter laxative is not going to work. If you find that your body needs a little more assistance, look for a gentle blend of several different types of natural laxatives, which can improve results without worrying about sudden onset.
With a little pre-trip preparation, your trip can be the easy, care-free vacation you desire.
Ed Levine, MD, is a Connecticut-based, board-certified gastroenterologist. He is the creator of Good To Go, an all-natural solution created to help prevent traveler’s constipation. See Simple Solutions on page 62 or visit begoodtogo.com for more information.