Jet lag can affect more than just your energy levels – research suggests your gut can also be affected by long-haul travel too.
You’ve stepped off the plane, arrived at the hotel of your dreams, arranged all your specially-chosen outfits for your well-deserved holiday and prepared an itinerary to explore a new part of the world, only to find you’re battling with bloating and stomach cramps.
While far-flung holidays are dreamy, the impact of a long-haul flight on your body can be far from it. If you’ve ever been on holiday and found your gut slower and not as regular as usual, you could be suffering from a phenomenon known as ‘gut lag’.
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While we’re all familiar with how jet lag can make us feel lethargic and groggy in a new time zone, experts now believe the effect of crossing time zones goes further than just our sleep.
It’s all to do with the fact that our guts are deeply connected to our circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour internal clock, which helps us carry out essential functions and processes.
One of the most well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle and, thanks to the fact that our gut microbiome (GM) produces melatonin, a natural hormone that controls our sleep-wake habits, the two are interlinked.
“When we travel long distances the switch in sunlight patterns and the timing of when we wat can affect our digestion patterns slightly as our circadian clock is regulated in part by sunlight and when we eat,” explains Charlotte Turner, registered nutritionist and founder of Health Nutritionist. “If we are flying long distances this can mess up our gut habits, causing ‘gut lag’.”
“So if your digestive system is a bit slower or not as regular on holiday as it usually is, it could be sign your body clock is catching up to a new time zone.”
So, how can we beat the effects of gut lag and stop it from ruining our holiday?
Alter meal times before you travel
If you often travel between different time zones for work, or you’re doing a lot of travelling in one stint (lucky you), it could be helpful to change up your mealtimes in anticipation of arriving in a new time zone so your gut can adjust more easily.
“Some people find it helpful to alter when they may eat their meals before they travel,” says Turner. “By pre-empting when you want to eat your dinner and breakfast a few days before you travel, it can help alleviate digestive issues before you reach your destination.”
Get a dose of morning sunlight
One of the best things you can do to reset your body clock when you arrive in a new part of the world is to get out into natural light in the morning. This kick starts your sleep-wake cycle and has a huge impact on your gut’s routine, too.
“As soon as we are in a new place we want our bodies to run like normal, and unfortunately, some of these cycles, such as the sleep-wake cycle, are inbuilt into our physiology and there’s not much we can do to reset it apart from getting up first thing in the morning and trying to hack it that way,” says Turner.
“As soon as you’re in a new destination try and get out on the sun at the hour you want to wake up so that you can reset your circadian rhythm and adjust it to the new time zone. When we land, jetlag can take over and we just want to sleep straight away, but if we bear with it and get out into natural light it will get our body processes in check.”
Stay hydrated and eat fibre
Our guts are very receptive to water intake and fibrous foods. If you find your digestive system is running slower than usual, keep your fluid levels up and eat foods that are high in fibre to help get things moving again.
“Emerging research been conducted in animals has found links with eating plenty of non-digestive fibre which produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) can help their circadian rhythms,” says Turner.
“SCFAs are produced in our gut when we digest non-digestible fibre such as whole grains, wheat bran, beans and nuts. This means the more plant-based or fibre rich our diets are, the better for our gut health.”
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Eat well on the plane
Even before you get to your destination, what you eat during a flight can have an impact on your holiday gut health. The air pressure in aeroplanes also affects our gut which can cause some people to feel bloated.
If you find you often get bloated on long flights, Turner suggests keeping an eye on what you eating during the journey. “A lot of people, especially women, find they get really bloated on flights. So it’s best to avoid having a big heavy meal before you fly and to cut down on fruits before and during the flight because certain fruits and vegetables, like cauliflower, cabbage, or garlic, can make bloating worse.
“Chewing gum and some of the sweeteners in sugar-free sweets can also hit the gut and cause more bloating as well.”
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