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How to Cure Jet Lag (by Avoiding It Entirely)

Looking out of an airplane window over the wing tip at a sunrise

For this article we’ve teamed up with Naturopath Emma Mihill to get to the bottom of flying, how to cure jet lag and what exactly it is about plane journeys that makes you feel so rubbish!

This might sound a bit familiar… You get on the plane giddy with excitement, dreams of holidays, sunshine, even the new surrounding of a business trip. You might be enjoying a newly acquired holiday glow, memories of fun times, and a peachy complexion from good food and fresh air. Then, disaster! Halfway through the flight, you pop to the loos to find a ghostly version of yourself in the mirror: raisin-like skin, pale lips and a sheen of something we can politely describe as  ‘plane dew’ sprouting from your temples. You leave the plane exhausted, stressed and wondering if Holiday Glow simply hadn’t made the flight.

“Humans are creatures of habit,” Emma explains. “The bacteria in our bodies flourish according to  our environment.  New surroundings are a shock to the system with new bacteria to become wise to quickly.” It’s not really surprising that putting our bodies in a tin can, pumping it with dry air and plane fumes at 35,000 feet and feeding it (let’s not beat around the bush) a culinary abomination, will have a significant effect on our stamina and the way we look and feel. Readjusting your body-clock when getting off the plane is just one small part of combating that exhausted feeling you get after flying. By following what Emma calls her ‘flying protocol,’ you can ensure you don’t waste any time on holiday feeling like something the plane spat out.

Jet Lag Cure Protocol #1: Take Probiotics Two Weeks Before the Flight

Your bacteria thrives in a homeostatic environment, it doesn’t like change, it doesn’t like holidays and it definitely was not designed to fly. Studies have shown that flying actually reduces the levels of bifidobacteria and acidophillus – two types of bacteria that assist in the creation of vitamins in your gut (amongst many other roles) – to drop significantly. With your immunity weakened, you’re a sitting duck for anything nasty floating round the cabin.

Taking probiotics two weeks before you fly and all the way through your trip, will keep your bacteria from going ‘out of whack.’ There is a particular non-pathogenic yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii which is particularly good at preventing the usual suspect of diarrhea when traveling to foreign countries.  It supports your immune system by increasing levels of what’s called SIgA.  SIgA sits in out gastrointestinal mucosa and helps to fight pathogens.

Jet Lag Cure Protocol #2: Drink Lots of Water!

Our bodies are happiest when the humidity in the air around us is at 50-70%. When we fly, the humidity is more like 20%. Whilst this isn’t enough to seriously dehydrate you on its own, throw some in-flight alcohol, along with the complimentary tea or coffee and you’re really not going to feel too great at the other end.

So, stay away from alcohol or any caffeinated drinks, and keep yourself regularly watered; about a half liter every hour should ensure you’re sufficiently hydrated, and will help avoid that very special  ‘just-got-off-a-plane’ look.

Jet Lag Cure Protocol # 3: Dose Up!

When in flight, your body needs all the help it can get to help to fight off anything floating around the 50% recycled air cabin. Also, it probably isn’t a bad idea to top up on any supplements that will help boost your energy levels.

Vitamin C is an important heavy metal chelator, and a powerful antioxidant. Add some vitamin C to your water bottle, being careful not to take too much, about a gram every two hours should do it. “I just add it to my water bottle and sip it throughout the flight,” explains Emma. “Also, because of all the petro-chemicals take chlorella – a detoxifying algae. About fifteen tablets every two hours should do it.”

Fill your water with vitamin C, chlorella and if you want to give you body a further boost, try Alpha Lipoic Acid. This feeds into your mitochondria – the organelles in your body that produce energy.  Alpha Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant and is used by your body to produce your most important antioxidant; Glutathione. Healthy levels of Glutathione during flight are a first defence against free radical damage. 

So, you have your probiotics, vitamin C, plenty of water, Sun Chlorella and Alpha Lipoic Acid. This should already help you top up all the good stuff, and combat anything that might take advantage of a lower immunity as well as chelate those heavy metals.

Jet Lag Cure Protocol # 4 – Don’t Eat the Plane Food!

There are several things that are fundamentally wrong with the food offered to us on planes. Firstly,   it seems to be there all the time! From the first few minutes of getting on the plane, a constant stream of snacks is presented to us with little to no correlation to meal times – either side of the trip! You probably wouldn’t take too kindly to be woken up in your bed at 3am and served a heavy four course meal, a plane journey should be no different.

This leads me onto the next part; quality.

Our palate changes significantly during flight, in fact all of your senses do, but you will typically lose 30-50% of your palate. Is that why the food tastes so bad? Partially, but add to that the fact that the food IS bad. Plane food is filled with additives and preservatives, salts, sugars, and overloaded in fat. Airlines plan their menu for entire months at a time and gate catering services will stockpile ingredients and then cook the meals long in advance of the actual flight.

Inspection were carried out in 2010 at US facilities of two of the world’s biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, as well as another large caterer, Flying Food Group. There were over 1,500 health violations found in the FDA tested plane food. The FDA reported that many facilities store food at improper temperatures, use unclean equipment and employ workers who practice poor hygiene. At some, there were cockroaches, flies, mice and other signs of inadequate pest control.

So what can you do? The obvious choice is to bring your own, and some airlines are now letting you do this. If you’re worried about your delicious grub tasting like cardboard at 30,000 feet, there are some things you can do to offset the changes to your palate without resorting to all harmful additives. The method is, admittedly, somewhat unorthodox and relates to the effect sounds have on our eating experience.

Recent research showed that the “white noise” on the plane is linked to our loss of taste.  The random collections of sounds at high frequencies actually diminishes our taste of salt and sugar because of its distracting effects. Always at the vanguard of food experimentation, Heston Bloomenthal tested out this interesting theory recently by inventing a seafood dish with a very strange condiment indeed. Diners were treated to a hint of surf crashing on the beach via iPods, which they listened to for the duration of the course. Not only would this heighten the eating experience, but also serve as the perfect distraction from a bad dinner date. 

Similarly, in a study by the university of Manchester, scientists found that certain sounds affect not only our perception of salty and sweet but also how ‘crunchy’ we perceive the food to be, which in turn effects whether or not we think it tastes good.  So, will a crunchy salad be less crunchy at 30,000 feet, or do we just perceive it to be so? Most importantly, what can we do to make our home-prepared plane food edible?

Well, you could put on some relaxing Debussy to accompany your meal… or some Iron Maiden. After all, you never know how the flight will affect your taste!

So general rules of thumb when it comes to airplane food is simply, don’t eat it! If you’re on the red-eye, have a substantial meal at your normal dinner-time and don’t eat again until Breakfast. If you don’t want to skip a meal, Emma suggests the following;

“A protein shake sachet for breakfast is just what you need to replenish your body without using up digestion enzymes and exhausting your body further.  I’ll bring a green powder and buy two two- litre bottles of water at the airport. For breakfast, I’ll add some protein powder through the top and then some green powder too. If you’re hungry, a few nuts should do the trick. The shakes are great for amino acids – which will help your body to detox. Your liver will be working hard to chop up toxicants and remove them from the body, so it can use all the help it can get!” Then she adds, “alcohol is really the last thing you need on the plane!”

Jet Lag Cure Protocol #5: Colloidal Silver

A good way to keep anything floating round the cabin at bay, is to use a natural antibacterial spray. Colloidal Silver was used in pre- antibiotic times to combat infection. Ten sprays in your throat and up your nose should kill mouth bacteria.

Jet Lag Cure Protocol #6: Sleep It Off!

The difference in time can sometimes throw your sleeping and eating habits out of whack. Jet lag is caused by disrupting your circadian rhythm; your inbuilt clock that regulates when you feel it’s time for bed. The group of cells in your brain which regulate this are controlled by changes to light and dark and it is the hormone melatonin which responds to dark and controls our body temperature when we sleep. Melatonin is now artificially produced and is available over the counter in the US, but in the UK it is treated as a medicine and is only available from your GP. If you do have Melatonin available to you, taking the supplement will reset your circadian rhythm.

If you would rather regulate your sleep naturally however, invest in a good eye-mask, and there really is no shame carrying a great big pillow on the flight with you.

So there you have it. Jetlag, far from being an unfortunate fact of life, really is quite preventable and if you get used to incorporating Emma’s Jetlag Protocol to your travel itinerary, can save you from that dreaded post-plane feeling that seems to hang around as long as the holiday!  The trick is to keep your body from working too hard and almost tricking it into not realising it’s on a plane.

Emma Says; “It helps if you don’t think about the timeframe. Eat when you would normally eat, and sleep when you would normally sleep. When you land, forget about the timezone ‘back home’ and stay awake until it’s a normal time for you to go to bed.”

In summary,

  • Take lots of probiotics before the flight. Up to two weeks before is ideal, if you incorporate it into your pre-holiday plans it can actually be a fun way of bringing on an early onset of holiday excitement!
  • Try colloidal silver to keep the plane nasties at bay
  • Support your immune system by helping your body detox, this means no alcohol or caffeine.
  • Dose up on vitamin C and amino acids from good quality protein shakes.
  • If you have Melatonin available to you, use it to regulate your sleeping patterns
  • Drink lots of water, 500ml every hour
  • Stay away from the plane food, only eat at your normal mealtimes and if you don’t have the time to prepare a meal, try a protein shake and some nuts.

That’s about it! Enjoy your holidays or business trips and make sure you drop us a few lines to tell us about your trip and how the Jetlag Protocol worked for you! Happy travels!