By Dr.Jolie Bookspan Traveller's stomach is common in visitors to tropical areas. It is uncomfortable, with abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, and nausea. Most often, people use antibiotics to treat it. But there are bugs that cannot be treated with antibiotics. Other gastrointestinal illnesses, like e. coli, can be made much worse with antibiotics. A serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant strains of infection is caused by widespread use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics also wipe out your gastrointestinal tract's "good bugs" that make healthy products in your body and keep "bad bugs" from causing illness. This is not an infrequent or trivial side effect of antibiotics, as often thought. Anti-diarrhea products, such as Imodium (loperamide), keep bad bacteria in your system for longer periods of time. The diarrhea is what speeds the bad bugs out. The common practice of using antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are drugs to prevent acid production, allows bad germs to grow in your system. Stomach acid is necessary to kill unhealthy germs and food-borne infection. A known risk factor for traveller's stomach is using PPIs like Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Zoton, Inhibitol, and others. To add to the problems, the most common side effects of PPIs are diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and nausea. It is easy to confuse this for traveller's stomach, and them take medicines that further add to problems. What can be done instead?
An effective remedy for traveller's diarrhea, long used in many societies, is eating fermented food. The use of "probiotics," which are beneficial bacteria and yeasts, dates back thousands of years. People in ancient civilizations, from Mongolian nomads to Babylonian royalty, drank soured milk, and Asiatics ate fermented beans and vegetables to stop gastrointestinal problems. Russian and Mongolian military troops campaigning across vast distances ate sauerkraut, which is fermented cabbage, for scurvy prevention, and against diarrhea that occurred with the pathogen exposure and hygiene of the travel.
Fermented vegetables are a high source of Vitamin C beside their ability to fight bad bacteria, and fully cured sauerkraut keeps for months without refrigeration or pasteurization when properly stored. Sauerkraut is a version of Kimchi (usually Korean fermented cabbage) that was brought to the Teutonics with the Mongols and other wandering tribesmen who had contact with the Orient.
In Russia, a lacto-fermented beverage called kvass has long been made from old rye bread. It tastes like beer but is not alcoholic, and can be purchased in modern supermarkets packaged just like soda. Kvass was used by peasants, military, and even the Czars. Another kvass made from beets was made during war times and taken during travel against infections and disease.
Ancient Iraqis and Egyptians made similar drinks from bread. Fungus-fermented teas have long been used throughout Russia, China, Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and Southeast Asia (called chainyi grib in Russia, kombucha in Asia, and elsewhere as teeschwamm or teewass, wunderpilz, cajnij, fungus japonicus, and hongo, which means, simply, "mushroom").
Australian aborigines lacto-fermented grains and legumes to make a bubbly, sour drink that modern Australians call "wholegrain." South American Native Indians fermented several drinks they say prevent digestive problems including diarrhea. In Africa, lacto-fermented munkoyo was made from millet or sorghum (sorghum beer) and given to babies to stop infection and diarrhea. Missionaries (and others) suppressed munkyo in favor of commercial soft drinks.
Eating fermented food to stop G.I. problems is not just "new-age" wishful thinking. The prestigious medical journal Lancet recently published a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins who concluded that probiotics effectively treat acute diarrhea and antibiotic-associated diarrhea in adults and children. The researchers urged eating probiotic-containing food when traveling, especially internationally (The Lancet Infectious Diseases June 2006, Vol. 6, No. 6: 374-382). Other major studies support that probiotics prevent and reduce duration of acute diarrhea in adults and children.
Germ Inhibiting Foods
Two top foods for promoting beneficial bacteria and inhibiting unhealthy bacteria are cabbage and onions. Fermented cabbage and onions like kimchi are nutritious in themselves, plus produce nutrients that beneficial lactobacteria need to thrive and produce antibacterial action. Broccoli sprouts have been found to specifically reduce helicobacter pylori. Seasoning food with raw crushed garlic and fresh ginger root inhibits strains of helicobacter, E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus, without harming beneficial digestive bacteria. Several spices have bacteria-inhibiting properties: garlic, allspice, and oregano have been found to have high action against "bad" bacteria, followed by thyme, cinnamon, tarragon and cumin. Capsicum, such as chilies and other hot peppers, have moderate antimicrobial action. White and black pepper, ginger, anise seed, celery seed, and lemon and lime juice follow.
Researchers at the University of Kansas found garlic, cloves, cinnamon, oregano, and sage kill E. coli. Research in Mexico has found the spice oregano to be more effective than prescription drugs against Giardia.
Beside antibacterial properties, many foods have been long used against fungal and worm infestations. The World Health Organization reports that eating crushed garlic, curry, and cloves have specific anti-worm properties, as does the lauric acid contained in the water of "green" coconuts.
What To Do - Simple and Inexpensive Food
Traveller's stomach is not usually a medical emergency. For serious cases, go to a doctor to test which bug you have and what is best to do for it. Stay healthy on the trail. Instead of soda, try kvass. Instead of antacids and antibiotics for stomach pain and ulcer, it is healthier and often as effective or more effective to use healthy food. Try cabbage, cabbage juice, and fresh sauerkraut. Use apple cider vinegar diluted in a little water. Squeeze lemons and limes on fruit and vegetables, and add to drinks and blender shakes. Add balsamic vinegar to salads. Soothe an uncomfortable stomach with fresh ginger. For the gas of traveller's stomach, season food with cardamon, coriander, fennel, and cumin. For traveller's diarrhea, try kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Use fresh-made sauerkraut, not pasteurized or canned. The packaging process deliberately removes helpful nutrients and living cultures created through fermentation so that the lids don't blow off.
There are "quick" sauerkrauts made with vinegar. The vinegar is fermented, but the cabbage isn't. To get real fermented cabbage, check the label for sauerkraut made from cabbage, water, and salt, with no vinegar.
Eat fermented vegetables like fresh pickle (fermented, not vinegar cucumbers), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), fermented chutney, tempeh, oncham, and kim-chi. Season with spices like garlic and curry. Look for fermented food with live cultures. Many products kill the cultures through heating, processing, and packaging. Although "probiotics" are often expensively packaged in supplements, you can have the benefits from inexpensive simple foods.
What To Do - Simple and Inexpensive Containers
Disinfection techniques for all the dishes and cookware used by campers and even in commercial expedition kitchens has been found to be a cause of many cases of traveller's diarrhea. One time-honored method is not to use dishes. Find or bring large leaves like banana, spinach, grape leaves, and other greens to wrap foods for cooking, and for sturdy plates and napkins. Leaves pack lighter and flatter than dishes. Return them to the earth when finished. Don't destroy living trees and keep your impact low. It is healthier for you and the environment.
Old Ways Are New
Travellers go to the great outdoors to get back to nature, then often eat no greens or whole foods, add to litter with disposable containers, and add to water pollution with disinfecting poisons for dishes and cookware. Fermented food is not only health food, but convenience food. Use healthy foods for a simpler life and healthy travel.