Warmer weather is upon us, and during the warm weather months of late spring and summer, people tend to do a lot more traveling. Who doesn’t love a fun road trip, or travel via plane or train. There is one particular drawback however, that effects 50% of travelers and that is travel-related constipation. One of the main reasons why so many travelers are effected, is due to the fact that our intestines contain more nerve receptors than almost any other part of the body, which is why they are extremely sensitive to travel-related changes in diet, schedule, stress and physical activity. All these changes can disrupt healthy digestive balance and function, which can then trigger travel-related constipation.
In addition to making sure that you are taking frequent breaks to stretch and walk about during your travels, there are a few additional, and often overlooked, preventative measures you can take to ensure that your digestive function remains as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.
Body Interrupted – A hectic travel itinerary and limited restroom access, can often prevent you from using the bathroom when the urge strikes. When we are forced to “hold it”, this suppresses the gastrocolic reflex, which is the bowel movement (BM) triggering muscle contractions that tend to occur around the same times each day. Every time this happens, it makes the BM impulse less likely to return on schedule either later the same day, or even the following day. This can quickly have a compound effect also, so you never want to leave the issue of constipation unaddressed.
The good news is, there is an easy way to outsmart this timing problem. Our BM reflex is most likely to occur soon after we wake up in the morning. Making sure you leave at least a 30-45 minute relaxation window before you have to leave your hotel room, will assist in triggering and allowing you to have a BM before heading out for the day. To further help things along, always make it a habit to drink a full glass of water immediately upon rising. This kick-starts the flow of our digestive juices. Another trick you can use if the first-morning water hasn’t already triggered a bowel movement, is to return to your room immediately after eating breakfast, since eating is another BM initiator. The “golden rule” here, is to avoid “holding it” as much as possible.
Protect Against Sneaky Fluid Loss – When traveling, our constant exposure to the dehydrating effects of air-conditioning and forced ventilation in airplane cabins, train cars and our automobiles, all sap our body of vital fluids. This can quickly cause a disturbance to our digestive function, because even mild dehydration can make intestinal contents drier and more difficult to pass. To help guard against constipation due to fluid loss, always drink at least 8 ounces of water (not soda, coffee, energy drinks or alcohol) every single hour, until you’ve reached your destination. Yes, the extra water intake will mean more frequent trips to the bathroom, but that helps out even more, because you’ll not only be preventing dehydration with all the water you’re drinking, but the bathroom break will give you the opportunity to stand, walk and stretch for a few minutes. And, physical activity provides an ‘internal massage’, which helps keep intestinal contents moving along.
Stress, Magnesium and Constipation – Not all aspects of traveling are enjoyable. We are subject to the stresses of traffic, waiting in line, flight delays, lost luggage, restless children, and more. This layering of stress upon stress, quickly uses up our body’s internal stores of magnesium. Magnesium is a muscle-relaxing mineral that is quickly depleted when the body is subjected to stress, which can then result in unwanted constipation. This happens due to the fact that stress-induced magnesium shortages can hamper intestinal muscle movement, which greatly slows the rate at which contents travel through and out our system.
To avoid the stress, magnesium shortage, constipation cycle from happening, you’ll want to be sure to add extra magnesium to your diet either via magnesium-rich foods, or through supplements. Some of the best magnesium-rich foods you can snack on, are raw nuts, dried plums and dried apricots. Just munch half a handful of one of them throughout the day, or when you are feeling tense and overwhelmed. You can also supplement with 400 mg of magnesium daily in capsule form and in split doses throughout the day, or purchase magnesium in powder packet form, and add a packet to a bottle of water twice throughout the day. Powdered magnesium comes in a variety of flavors like raspberry, lemon and orange, so they’ll also give your water a little flavor boost as well.
Safe and healthy summer travels!
Bon Veggie Appetit!
Gina ‘The Veggie Goddess’ Matthews