Traveling outside the US is always an adventure—and depending on where you go and what you eat and drink, it sometimes can be a bit more of an adventure than you hope.
I'm talking, of course, about intestinal upset and diarrhea. Every country has a different name for it; in Mexico, for example, it is usually referred to as "turista" or "Montezuma’s revenge."
Many factors contribute to turista, including the climate, the water, cooking oils and methods, spices, and even overindulgence. Basically, our digestive and immune systems get acclimated to certain types of bacteria and the introduction of unfamiliar strains can cause the dreaded illness associated with traveling.
The best method to prevent problems is to make sure to keep your body and anything you put in it clean, regardless of the country you travel to. In Mexico, in particular, don’t drink the tap water! Instead use only purified bottle water. (And don’t forget—using ice or drinks made with tap water, brushing your teeth with tap water, or eating raw peeled fruits or vegetables rinsed in tap water can cause problems as well.) Be careful about any food you eat in countries that use little refrigeration. Drink plenty of purified water daily to avoid dehydration. And if you’re in a situation where you must use tap water, boil it for at least 10 minutes.
Many travelers swear by the drugs Lomotil or Bactrim. Lomotil is taken when diarrhea starts and it will stop diarrhea; however, when the bowels stop, the bacteria or irritant will not be washed out and the diarrhea will most likely recur. Lomotil also has side effects and may be linked to glaucoma. Bactrim is an antibiotic and is said to be 100 percent effective in preventing traveler’s diarrhea, but it is not for long-term use and using it for even short periods of time may upset the beneficial bacteria levels in your system. Bactrim can also make you more sensitive to the sun.
If you prefer not to take medication, you still have several natural options available.
The most natural of all solutions would be to do nothing, especially if you are going to stay in a foreign country for a long period of time. You can eat and drink pretty much as the locals do and usually within four or five days to a couple of weeks, you should become adjusted to the new surroundings. For shorter stays, I would consider taking a digestive enzyme, chlorophyll, or garlic capsules with each meal, to neutralize any foreign bacteria. If you get turista, you must first drink lots of clean water; the more water you drink the faster you’ll recover. Avoid mango, chilies, and any greasy foods. Eat lots of bananas and papayas. As with all diarrhea problems, be sure to massage the reflex points for the ileocecal valve.
A few of these remedies native to Mexico may suffice if you are stuck in primitive surroundings:
- Drink 12 ounces of either ginger ale or 7-UP mixed with the juice of one lime and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. (From personal experience, I can vouch for this remedy.)
- Drink the juice of one coconut and two limes mixed together.
- Grind and eat the seeds of the papaya
Traveler’s diarrhea is usually not serious, just horribly uncomfortable. Cleanliness and moderation will usually prevent it. If it shows no improvement in three or four days, consult a doctor.
If it’s any consolation, people visiting the US from foreign countries are also afflicted with traveler’s diarrhea.