Updated 14 February 2013

Help for travellers' diarrhoea

For many years, doctors prescribed charcoal to travellers for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, but probiotics, or "good" bacteria, seem to be far more effective.

Over 200 000 South Africans travel abroad every year and a bad case of diarrhoea is guaranteed to make any holiday unbearable. Taking a dose of good bacteria can help send it packing and may prove to be your best travel companion.

Probiotics effective
For many years, doctors prescribed charcoal to travellers for the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, but according to Dr Malcolm Henry, head of a Travel Well Clinic, good bacteria in the form of probiotic supplements can be far more effective.

According to Henry, travellers visiting foreign destinations often come into contact with bad bacteria, mainly through food and water. As a result, they develop travellers’ diarrhoea, as the amount of foreign bad bacteria is too high for their digestive tract's natural defences. This is often called “food poisoning”.

“Probiotics consist of good bacteria that support our gut’s friendly bacteria and are proven to inhibit bad bacteria that cause traveller’s diarrhoea, antibiotic diarrhoea and yeast infections. In short, they help prevent illness and fight disease. The most clearly documented effects of probiotics on humans apply to different types of diarrhoea,” Henry says.

Recent studies have proven that the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri acts as a healing agent for diarrhoea and that it speeds recovery.

What to do
"Start taking probiotics for at least one week before your trip, and continue for at least one week afterwards," Henry advises. "Good bacteria play such a beneficial role in our health; you’ll be improving your immune response at the same time.”

Henry warns that whilst there are many probiotics on the market, only a few are hardy enough to survive in the gut and have documented health benefits. These include the Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains.

As an extra precaution, avoid water, ice and fruits. As they say, when travelling, "cook it, peel it or avoid it", Henry concludes. – (Health24)

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