Travel Constipation – How To Avoid It?
What’s worse than finally getting to your holiday destination, to find your bowels have closed their doors for the trip? Travel constipation is a very common complaint and can impact the quality and enjoyment of your holiday.
To avoid things getting blocked up this summer, read on for my top tips to get things moving in the right direction.
Touch down in your destination, only to find your stomach the size of a balloon? You’re not alone. When we fly, the air inside your gut actually expands – all thanks to changes in atmospheric pressure. Whilst at the beginning of your journey this may have felt unnoticeable when you land this gas may have transformed into full-on bloat. This additional pressure on the intestines can impact your bowel movements, leading to potential changes in your regularity.
Whilst many of us travel to relax, the actual experience of travelling to get to our dream destination can put a lot of stress on us, both physically and mentally. Rushing to the airport, hoping our baggage isn’t over the maximum weight, dedicating enough time to pre-flight shopping and the flight itself can all put us into a fight or flight response.
In this state of stress, we release our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, to keep the body alert and ready to face the threat. And whilst this is a great survival mechanism when it comes to our gut symptoms, it can do more bad than good! When we are in a stressed state, the body sends resources such as blood flow and energy, away from the gut and directs it to more vital areas of the body such as our heart, brain and muscles. The repercussions of this can result in indigestion, nausea, slowed digestion, bloating and potentially constipation and/or diarrhoea.
Specifically, with constipation, stress and anxiety can cause the muscles in our digestive system to slow down, which can delay the need to open your bowels. And when our bodies are under stress, we release more of the hormone CRF (corticotropin-releasing factor), which impacts gut motility and triggers the intestines to slow down, potentially resulting in constipation.
CHANGES IN ROUTINE
Travelling can throw all sorts of things out of whack, such as our normal diet, daily routine and… trips to the toilet. Constipation can begin right from the travel get-go when you’re in transit, with limited access to toilets, paired with dietary changes and dealing with new surroundings. Try to stick to the same times for meals, your morning wake up routine and yes, your poos!
Landing in a new time zone can mess up your whole body’s balance – everything from your sleep-wake cycle to your organs and digestive system. And yeap, not only does jet lag potentially leave you feeling deliriously exhausted, but it can also throw your pooping schedule out the window.
Our gut bacteria work 24 hours a day, but when they become jet-lagged and our internal body clock changes, we may experience gut lag. Gut lag is when you don’t feel hungry at meal times and feel hungry at the wrong times during the day. For example, you wake hungry at 4 am, or need a snack as you’re falling asleep. This change in eating patterns and potentially more snacking might impact your gut movements and bowel habits.
Try some preventative steps to help minimise jet lag such as adjusting your routine ahead of time or timing your flights right as you head into a new time zone.
When away, eating habits are switched up due to being in a new environment and mentally switching off from your everyday mundane routine. You want to fully enjoy yourself, delve into the culture and experience new and different foods.
The hotel breakfast buffet may result in indulging in numerous courses of foods you wouldn’t usually eat at home. This, along with bigger portion sizes, bread baskets before your meal arrives, switching up your 4pm protein bar for gelato and delving into dessert each night can all contribute to giving your digestive system a slight, well BIG shock.
Not forgetting FODMAP stacking, the build up of FODMAPs in your gut plus your alcohol consumption starting at lunchtime each day, is all setting your gut up for confusion and a wobble.
HOW TO PREVENT TRAVEL CONSTIPATION
Thankfully, there are ways to ease constipation and the symptoms that surround it:
- BEFORE YOU FLY – Those that suffer from IBS tend to have more sensitive intestines so may need to be extra careful before flying. So, what is the best way to avoid a flare-up in the sky? Reducing your intake of high-FODMAP foods 24-48 hours before flying may help, along with being mindful of what you consume when in the air. If you’re on a short-haul flight it may be best to stick to water and herbal teas, but if travelling further, be prepared and pack a low-fodmap-friendly meal.
- BREATHE – To avoid entering into a state of “fight or flight”, try deep breathing techniques or a 20-minute meditation to help you fully switch off and enter into a “rest and digest” state which primes the body for optimal digestion.
- FOCUS ON FIBRE- Fibre is needed to help bulk out your stool and keep things regular. Think almonds, chia seeds, raspberries, pears and fibrous complex carbs such as quinoa, wholemeal rice and seeded rye bread.
- KEEP A ROUTINE – Maintain your morning routine to keep your gut happy. If you usually get some movement into your day first thing, try to continue this in your new surroundings. Even a 10-minute beach walk or some gentle yoga stretches in your room can make all the difference. If you start the day with coffee and then have breakfast, make sure to continue this habit when away. Maybe a cheeky coffee delivery before you hit up the breakfast buffet? Or why not find a local coffee shop to walk to- getting your steps and caffeine hit in together!
- ALOE VERA – Aloe vera is available in a juice or in capsule form, and it has a mild laxative effect which may help to give some relief from constipation. Start with a small serving if you opt for the juice, then wait 3-4 hours to ensure you don’t experience any negative side effects.
- MAGNESIUM CITRATE- Magnesium citrate is relatively gentle and can be purchased at a chemist to help relieve constipation, our favourite is Pure Encapsulations available here. Please always check in with your GP or healthcare practitioner when trying new supplements.
- WARM WATER- Try starting your day with a glass of warm water before eating anything. This can help to get things moving as the warm temperature can stimulate intestinal peristalsis to help with sluggish bowel movements.
- DIGESTIVE SYSTEM MASSAGE- Tummy massage can help to calm the digestive system and promote relief from short-term constipation, abdominal cramps and trapped wind to encourage the gentle emptying of the bowels. If you are London based, check out the body matters clinic here.
- HYDRATE- Our poop reabsorbs water as it passes through the gut, and thus dehydration is one of the most common causes of constipation. Staying hydrated can keep everything moving smoothly, so ensure you are drinking a minimum of 2 litres per day, and even more when travelling.
- MOVE- Exercise and working out is essential for regular bowel movements, but when you’re stuck on a plane, in a coach or a car for long periods of time this can be challenging. The colon responds well to activity, so aim to move from your seat whenever possible. If you’re waiting for your gate at the airport, don’t just sit, use it as a good opportunity to walk around and get some additional movement in before you know you’ll be sitting for a period of time. Every little helps, and once you arrive at your destination, make a conscious effort to get some movement in, even a gentle walk or some yoga stretches in your room.
- PROBIOTIC – Consider taking a good quality, multi-strain probiotic to help support your gut health and keep things moving over the duration of your trip. Aim to start at least a few weeks before departure because it can take time to build up good gut health, whilst also getting you in the habit of remembering to take them. I like Inivivo available here.