By best guess, around 690,000 passengers are in the air on an airplane at any given time during the day. This is about the population of Detroit or Boston on an airplane at any point during the day. That’s a lot of people.
July also happens to be the busiest air travel month of the year and 13 of the 15 busiest air travel days of the year, also fall in the summer months. Even though the average flight only lasts about two hours in duration, what can you do to keep yourself healthy on a long distant flight?
Some of the most common health concerns with airline flights include:
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Jet lag
- Respiratory infections
- Air rage
Deep Vein Thrombosis (or DVT for short) occurs when a thrombus or “clot” forms in the deep vein of the leg. Sitting or standing for long periods of time in cramped conditions can also contribute to passengers developing on-flight swollen ankles or occasionally a DVT. This is not exclusive to airline travel, but any activity in which an individual’s movement is limited for long periods of time – like long car rides or long train and bus rides.
Those at an increased risk of developing DVTs are individuals with varicose veins, recent surgery or injury, pregnancy or those on HRT or oral contraceptives, to name a few.
Some preventative measures for DVT risk include:
- Regular flight stretching
- Drinking sufficient fluids
- Compression stockings
- Low dose aspirin (75mg)
Some natural health alternatives that can be used as part of a daily supplement regime to aid in the reduction in risk of DVT due to their anticoagulant properties include:
If you suffer from varicose veins, some natural options to consider include:
Jet lag, medically referred to as desynchronosis, happens when the bodies circadian rhythms are altered to due rapid long distance travel and can last several days.
Options commonly used to aid with jet lag include:
- Medications – like nonbenzodiazepines and benzodiazepines
- Light Therapy
Although there is no evidence to prove that sitting on a plane in re-circulated air increases the spread and risk of infection, being in close quarters with others who may have the common cold can increase the risk of transmission.
Melatonin is commonly used as the body treats it like a darkness signal. Experts suggest to help reset your body clock with melatonin, it’s best to use at different times dependent on which direction you travel. If you are trying to adjust to an earlier time, such as after flying eastwards, take melatonin in the evening. If you are trying to adjust to a later time, such as after flying westwards, take melatonin the morning. Dosage can vary with as little as 0.5mg being effective, but higher dosages such as 5mg or higher being more effective in helping sleep promotion.
If you are susceptible to catching “colds” from individuals you might want to try certain natural health ingredients to support your immune system in such a case.
Some great options for immune support include:
• Ensure you get proper amounts of vitamin D
• Ensure you get proper amounts of zinc (also great if you are feeling sick)
• Astragalus (may take 6-8 weeks to work)
• Ginseng (should you feel sick)
Air rage is an odd one for this list, but thought it should be included as being cramped in close quarters, especially for those who travel quite often on long haul flights. There have been several instances where airplanes have had to land prematurely due to disruptive passengers and legal action has been undertaken.
This can be caused by numerous things, such as delayed flights, exhaustion, excessive use of alcohol, but a commonly recognized cause includes nicotine withdrawal.
Since anxiety and irritability are important characteristics of nicotine withdrawal, it is important to focus on these for the short term, for those individuals who are travelling on a long haul flight where smoking is not permitted.
Some natural options for those who get anxious or irritable due to airline travel may include (note: none of these have been researched for nicotine withdrawal):
• L-Theanine – a naturally occurring amino acid in Green Tea and has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier in as little as 45 minutes
• Ashwagandha – No acute research, but has been shown to be helpful in anxiety scores within two months and reduce serum cortisol levels
• GABA – GABA is a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and counterbalances the excitatory neurotransmitter. Many agents primarily target GABA due to its potential role in anxiety
If you fly long haul flights quite regular, speak with your qualified health care provider for options of how to deal with any of the above conditions or whether you may be at risk for any of the above conditions.