... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Last year I travelled to India and managed to avoid sickness. Packing again for Vietnam, I intend to arm myself with the same bag of ointments, pills, herbs and supplements.
As a Naturopath= with a knowledge of natural remedies and diseases, I was reasonably equipped to do this. For those interested in natural medicine, I share here some ideas of what you can pack for yourself to try to avoid or reduce the common sicknesses that can take the shine out of a trip away.
Potential health risks vary from country to country, but in most cases can be summed up as bacteria, viruses and diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. Other health perils likely to plague you while away include the usual digestive upsets, headaches, infections and respiratory issues that are part and parcel of the human condition.
Entry and exit to and from some countries (such as Africa), may require you get vaccinations. In some countries, they are highly recommended, but not an essential requirement. A travel doctor is the best person to help you here.
For myself, I submitted only to the Hepatitis A vaccine and relied upon cautious measures for the rest. As many of the diseases you can potentially acquire in some parts of the world can be severely debilitating, if not life-threatening - I am not suggesting you avoid vaccination. The ingredients and potions suggested here can supplement any vaccinations you might choose to have.
Natural precautions you can take to avoid mosquitoes, bacteria and viruses include:
mosquito nets frequent application of insect repellent (suggested recipe below) clothing that covers the body from bites
- frequent hand-washing
-avoiding the local water supply (use bottled water instead)
- caution with food, ice, fruit washed in tap water
- avoidance of meats that may be unrefrigerated
- in close contact with people, avoid being coughed or sneezed upon.
-Avoid dark clothes – mossies are initially attracted by these as well as dark plants or dark areas.
Apart from natural medicines, I do recommend you take painkillers, anti-spasmodics and anti-nausea medications in case of extreme pain, vomiting or diarrhoea. There are times when herbs won't cut it.
Key Ingredients for a Natural Medicine Travel Kit
With nothing worse than your time and money being thrown away by sickness, the suggestions here, will suit not only international travel but domestic forays as well. Unfortunately, the potential for sickness is everywhere and anywhere.
There are more than 60 different tea trees native to Australia, but only one of these, the Melaleuca alternifolia, yields the tea tree oil of fame. The oil effectively kills bacteria and fungi.
A year long trial by orthopaedic surgeon, Eugene Sherry which was reported on the ABC found a combination of eucalyptus and tea tree oils cured two thirds of infected wounds of the patients in the trial and healed where traditional antibiotics had failed.
Keep this hoarded to use externally on cuts or fungal infections. A GP I once consulted, advised me that the chances of Tetanus (a bacteria) are reduced if a wound is cleaned out well and an anti-bacterial agent applied.
These are worth packing because of the high risk of succumbing to diarrhoea and stomach bugs in much of the third world. The herb Barberry (Berberis vulgaris), with its action against a wide variety of bacteria, is probably one of the the best. Other anti-bacterial herbs include garlic, goldenseal, olive leaf, pau d'arco and a range of others.
Barberry has inhibitory action against a wide variety of bacteria including E. Coli, Staphylococcus, S. typhi (responsible for Typhoid Fever), Vibrio cholerae (responsible for cholera) and Shigella boydii (responsible for bacillary dysentery).
You can source Barberry from your health food store or Naturopath. Best to get it in the liquid herbal extract form as opposed to tablets. Unfortunately, it tastes absolutely disgusting. At the first sign of a troubled tummy, take 5ml's of the herbal extract four times a day. Add to that, vitamin C and zinc (they both enhance the immune system and assist your body in fighting infections).
The herb of choice for nausea. Nausea is a common symptom for those affected by stomach bugs or travel related sickness. You can choose from those candied ginger pieces, make ginger tea from the fresh or dried root, administer the herbal extract or use the essential oil. While essential oils are not consumed orally in Australia, they are in Europe. Never take a large dose of essential oil. A drop or two or three is all you would take orally. You can also rub it on your stomach in a larger quantity.
The antibiotic effects of garlic are well known and this herb has a long history of use as an infection fighter from diseases such as tuberculosis to typhoid. Because of its antibiotic properties, garlic was used to treat wounds and infections and to prevent gangrene during world war 1. It is the active ingredient allicin that contains the antibiotic properties - it exerts an antibacterial effect estimated to be equivalent to 1 percent of that of penicillin. Cooking the garlic destroys allicin, so I'm sorry, but raw is where it's at. For this reason, I'm not big on the tablet form.
The humble peppermint was first included in the after dinner mint as an anti-indigestion aid. Pack some tea or purchase the herb in herbal extract form from the health food store or your naturopath. As for ginger, you can also use the essential herb.
Peppermint is an excellent anti-spasmodic and its most specific indication is for use in digestive pains of the lower bowel. It can also be of minor use in menstrual cramps. If you have digestive cramps including diarrhoea, it's a great help.
Probably the most important immune system supplement. While you might get 40 or so grams of Vitamin C from an orange (although with long cold storage times there's no guarantee), swallowing 2 grams of vitamin C in one mouthful will pack a whole lot more punch. When sick, take up to about 5 grams a day in divided doses.
Be aware that large doses of vitamin C can cause mild diarrhoea. If this happens to you, reduce the dose. As Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin you can't overdose on it. Excess not used by the body will be excreted via the urine.
You can also take a reduced maintenance dose if you like – of say, 1 gram a day taken twice a day.
Vitamin C is destroyed by hot temperatures. If you're travelling to somewhere hot, leave it in your room in the fridge.
Zinc is your best immune system mineral. Take about 30mg daily if you are sick. The tablets are easy to get hold of in the supermarket or health food store. Try to get a high dose tablet so there is less swallowing of pills. Popping tons of pills is rarely pleasant when one is sick.
Whenever you are sick with an infecting agent (that is a bacteria, virus or protozoa or other micro-organism), take the vitamin C and zinc to assist your immune system in its' fight. Examples of infections range from the common cold (infection with virus or bacteria) to more severe conditions such as Malaria (caused by protists, a type of microorganism, of the genus Plasmodium).
Natural Mossie repellent.
After looking at the ingredients in a few natural insect repellents in the shops, I made up my own, based on the following:
For the emollient or carrier gel, try using either aloe vera gel or coconut oil. You can purchase these easily from health food stores and often from supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths. Look in the health food section though.
Experiment with the consistency and smell, but remember in order to repel those pests it needs to smell strongly.
Pennyroyal oil is an excellent insect repellent but smells vile, which means so will you. It isn't as readily obtainable as the other ingredients, but you can get hold of it in some health food stores, or order it in. Garlic oil is also great as a repellent, if you dare.
Citrus seed extract.
This is an expensive product and is often used by travellers for using in water that might be suspect. It is said to kill bacteria effectively.
Citrus seed extract can be purchased from your health food store.
Natural Hand-washing Gel
Scrupulous hand-washing is one of the main keys to avoiding contagion. Buy a natural Tea-Tree based hand wash gel from a chemist or use the towelletes that are readily available in supermarkets. As you will be on the run, the latter are easier.
Wash (or rather wipe) your hands after touching anything, but particularly things in public areas.
Other Items of Use
Other items you should consider bringing include a natural sunscreen (zinc based), aloe vera gel (for sunburns) and anything else that is specific to your own health weaknesses.
Happy travels and may you stay disease and sickness free!
Disclaimer: For information about possible health risks and required and recommended vaccinations, please see your Travel Doctor. If ill, consult a medical practitioner. For information about how to use herbal medicines and supplements including dosages, consult a naturopath.