Making travel plans to an exotic location? While researching destinations, booking flights and getting travel documents in order, consider starting a regimen of probiotics to prevent Traveler’s Diarrhea. Probiotics are live microorganisms which may benefit the balance of the intestinal microflora when ingested.
Two of the most commonly used probiotics are Lactobacillus acidophilus (L. acidophilius) and Bifidobacteria (Bifidobacterium bifidus). These “friendly” bacteria assist in the absorption of nutrients in the gut, boost the immune system and help to protect against microorganisms that cause disease. In a healthy human gastrointestinal tract, there are millions of bacteria, especially in the small intestine and colon.
Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD) is a condition which may affect up to 50% of people traveling to developing countries. Characterized by frequent, unformed bowel movements, abdominal cramps, nausea, fever, bloating and urgency, it is a most unpleasant souvenir that would best be avoided. Typically, TD is acquired by ingestion of food or water contaminated by a variety of bacteria, viruses or protozoa, most commonly E.Coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, Rotavirus and Giardia.
There are no vaccines to prevent TD, but probiotics can be taken before traveling as a form of “insurance.” By boosting the immune system and fortifying the GI tract, probiotics can help the body resist and fight off the unwanted “bad” bacterial contaminants. In a meta-analysis of 12 studies, researchers concluded that probiotics significantly prevent traveler’s diarrhea. (Travel Med Infect Dis. 2007 Mar;5(2):97-105.) Travelers should also be vigilant about using bottled water, eating vegetables cooked rather than raw and washing hands thoroughly before eating.
Probiotics are available in foods (yogurt, kefir, fermented foods) and supplement form, with supplements usually having a greater effect. Typical doses of probiotics supplements range from 1 to 10 billion colony forming units a few times per week. They need to be consumed on a regular basis (a few times per week) to maintain their benefits in the intestinal flora. When traveling, choose probiotics that are shelf stable that don’t require refrigeration so they maintain their effectiveness while you are on the road.
Megan Witt, RD
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