Avoid Getting Sick on Vacation

“Vacations not only expose you to a number of new experiences, but also to a number of new bacteria, viruses, and protozoa,” says Toronto Naturopath Dr. Holmberg

The promise of vacation also brings the promise of upset stomachs, painful sunburns and poor digestion if you’re not prepared. To help people avoid getting sick, we spoke to Dr. Courtney Holmberg, a Toronto Naturopath. She helps patients create individual treatment plans, and says there are natural items you need to pack before you head for some fun in the sun.

Six Important Health Items To Pack:

  1. MELATONIN: If you’re trying to assimilate to a new time zone, melatonin can help, says Holmberg. “Melatonin is great for those travelling long distances and need help sleeping on the plane, or in adjusting to one’s circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural regulator of sleep and wake patterns, to your new time zone.” Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland – a small gland located in the brain.
  2. ELECTROLYTE PACKETS: If you’re heading somewhere hot, chances are you’ll be spending long hours under the sun. To avoid dehydration, Holmberg says packing electrolyte packs to mix into bottled water is a good idea. “Your body is likely in for a big temperature change, and you’ll be spending longer hours in direct sun than you’re currently used to,” she says. “Furthermore, should you get struck with travellers diarrhea, dehydration is a serious complication that could lead to a more than just a few days in the bathroom.”
    The Toronto naturopath recommends Ener-C packets. “They’re a full spectrum electrolyte and have no added sugar, the formula is sweetened with stevia,” she explains.
  3. NATURAL SUNSCREEN: Strong UV rays are dangerous so in addition to your favourite sun hat or shawl, Holmberg says a natural sunscreen is a must. “The problem with most consumer brand sunscreens is that they’re loaded with chemicals that leach directly into your largest organ system, your skin.”
    According to Dr. Holmberg, the Environmental Working Group, an American environmental organization that helps consumers make informed decisions about the products they buy, can help you find a chemical-free sunscreen that works. “I prefer natural sunscreens that use zinc oxide as the UV protectant,” she says. “My personal favourite is the Natural Mineral Sunscreen Spray 27 sunscreen by The Green Beaver Company. It’s easy to apply and doesn’t leave a greasy or thick white film. Holmberg reminds us that most natural sunscreens are not waterproof so users must re-apply after swimming and sweating, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
  4. SHELF STABLE PROBIOTIC: A shelf stable probiotic, a probiotic that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, might be the thing that saves you from days spent on the toilet instead of at the beach, explains Holmberg. “Most commonly a result of enterotoxigenic bacteria, traveller’s diarrhea is acquired by consuming contaminated food and water in a foreign country.” While there are vaccinations to help reduce the chance of transmission, Holmberg says many people report similar symptoms from the vaccine itself.
    To prevent any unwanted washroom visits and traveller’s diarrhea, the naturopath says taking Saccharomyces Boulardii, a yeast-like probiotic, three to five days before travel and continued for up to three to five days post-vacation, will make a big difference. “S. boulardii has many beneficial mechanisms of action to prevent infection, like the inhibition of bacterial toxins, the stimulation of protective gut enzymes, and immunomodulatory effects…doses should be maintained around 20 billion colony forming units (CFU) per day.’’
  5. ARSENICUM ALBUM 200 C: Arsenicum Album 200C is a homeopathic remedy used to treat a range of ailments like food poisoning and traveller’s diarrhea, explains Holmberg. “The remedy can be used daily to prevent infection and can be taken every 30 mins to an hour at the onset of symptoms.”
    Arsenicum album is derived from the metallic element arsenic. In its crude form, arsenic is poisonous, but arsenicum album 200 C is not. This homeopathic remedy is prepared by separating arsenic from iron, cobalt, and nickel when the minerals are baked at high temperatures. The powder is then ground and diluted with milk sugar.
  6. MAGNESIUM CITRATE: If you feel a little backed-up during your vacation, the Toronto naturopath says you should take Magnesium Citrate. “Constipation is common when people are out of routine,” she says. “Magnesium citrate functions as an osmotic laxative by helping to maintain water in the stools and increasing the urge and ability to pass healthy & complete bowel movements.” Holmberg says most people benefit from a daily dose 200-500 mg of magnesium citrate; taking too much of this remedy can result in diarrhea.
    The last thing you want to do is get sick before your vacation to prevent this, our expert recommends that you take a broad spectrum probiotic with the following strains: L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus and B. infantis. “These particular strains of probiotics have been clinically proven to promote immune function and reduce the onset of viral infections by up to 73 percent,” she says.

The pre-vacay workload or last minute errands can be stressful, and since stress weakens the immune system, the Toronto naturopath recommends taking the herb Ashwagandha to help manage stress and avoid getting sick before your vacation.

What about when you come back?“Vacations not only expose you to a number of new experiences, but also to a number of new bacteria, viruses, and protozoa,” Holmberg says. For post-vacation she recommends following up with a doctor or naturopath like herself, especially if you do feel sick.

Dr. Holmberg says one of the most common conditions that travellers develop after a vacation is IBS. “People develop dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance, from exposure to new bacteria in their gastrointestinal tract which often never heals.

According to the naturopath, the root to IBS symptoms has been linked back to cases of infectious colitis, or traveller’s diarrhea. “These are all great reasons to see a Naturopath after travelling,” Holmberg says. There’s nothing worse than getting sick on vacation, so before you leave consider these six health products and enjoy your time abroad.


Dr. Courtney Holmberg is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor, speaker, entrepreneur, writer, and yoga enthusiast practicing in downtown Toronto, ON.

5 Comments

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  1. Jeanie
    March 12, 14:26 Jeanie

    Great post! It’s so important to think about your health before you pack in those bikinis and sunhats. I always take a broad spectrum probiotic when I go away and I’ve never had any tummy troubles!

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  2. Karla
    March 12, 20:58 Karla

    Thank you for the tips! We’re planning to travel this year and I really want to avoid being sick while traveling. Great post!

    Reply this comment
  3. Camila Lopez
    March 12, 21:50 Camila Lopez

    Do natural sunscreens actually work?!?! I feel a little hesitant wearing one. Also, I love the idea of electrolyte packets so important, especially in hot, hot climates.

    Reply this comment
  4. Jen @ Jenron-Designs
    March 12, 22:46 Jen @ Jenron-Designs

    These are the best tips for healthy travel I have seen. I would not have thought to pack a electrolyte packet, but I can absolutely see where it would come in handy. My husband got very dehydrate in a higher elevation and we ended up purchasing some on the fly.

    Reply this comment
  5. Sarah
    March 12, 22:46 Sarah

    I also use natural sunscreen and find it to be much better for my skin. I’m interested in the idea of using melatonin on vacation. I think I’d have to start it ahead of time to get my body used to it, but a great option to try!

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