I’m excited for our vacation to Costa Rica. I can’t wait for the warm weather, the monkeys and the fish tacos. But I am not looking forward to the “turbulence” my GI tract feels after flying (pun intended). Bloating, gas and constipation is common among the jet set but those of us with sensitive bellies may be even more at risk. So let’s take a look a what’s really going on and what can be done to minimize digestive disturbances while traveling.
Flying across the country or across the world requires that we sit in a highly pressurized tube for hours at a time. This tube has more pressure and less humidity levels than our bodies are used to. What does this mean for our GI system?
The increased pressure in the airplane increases the pressure in our bodily cavities including our abdomen, sinuses and ears by up to 25% (1). So we are prone to feeling more bloated and gassy than normal. Yes, this is why you likely smell gas from your fellow frequent flyers. Plus, the dry air onboard can be dehydrating, which can lead to constipation. So what can you do?
Avoid carbonated beverages – no need to add more pressure to your already expanding abdomen
Save the booze for when you arrive at your destination – I hate to be the fun police but alcohol is a gastric irritant and your belly doesn’t need to be more angry than it already is on a flight
If you have to eat on board, opt for easy to digest foods. This differs for everyone but think simple foods like soup, chicken & rice, eggs on toast, etc. Salads and nuts can wait until you arrive.
Consume tons of hydrating fluids such as water, herbal tea, and soup. Keep dehydrating foods and beverages to a minimum like salty snacks and caffeinated beverages (just reminding you that alcohol is also dehydrating). And continue hydrating when you arrive.
Crossing numerous time zones doesn’t just mean a couple of days of jet lag but your digestive system is wondering what time it is, as well. Digestion is highly influenced by our hormones, which are directed by our circadian rhythms. You may be awake while your body is normally asleep, which is when digestion slows. So what can you do?
Adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible by being awake during daylight hours and sleep during the nighttime.
Get some sun to help reset your body’s circadian rhythms
By following these tips, you should have a much more comfortable trip with minimal discomfort. Bon voyage!
1. Aerospace Medical Association (2002). Medical guidelines for airline passengers. Retrieved from: https://www.asma.org/asma/media/asma/Travel-Publications/paxguidelines.pdf