By Sheryl Kraft
It happens to me every single time I take a trip.
My stomach, usually reliable and iron-clad, acts up. I get nauseous. Bloated. Constipated.
Is it stress? Most likely.
I know I'm not alone. I have a good friend who, when he travels, does not go to the bathroom (okay, I'll say it. He doesn't move his bowels) AT ALL until he gets home. And it doesn't matter how long the trip is, either. I recently presented him, before he left for Europe with his wife, with a special going away gift; a beautifully wrapped package of…fiber take-along packs.
So, what can you do about the gurgling, bloated, uncomfortable and sometimes-embarrassing stomach woes?
To help counter constipation, get plenty of fiber and magnesium. Fiber adds bulk and helps your waste move more efficiently through your system. Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant which also attracts water (which, in turn, helps soften the stool, making it easier to pass). You can also get magnesium by eating a wide variety of things like legumes, nuts, whole grains and veggies.
Read what the NIH says about magnesium here.
Dandelion extract tea is also recommended for constipation relief.
This can certainly ruin anyone's day. Some people are sensitive if they ingest too many artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols mannitol and sorbitol, which are absorbed slowly – and incompletely – by the intestine. Stress and caffeine can also do a number on the intestines, speeding up the digestive process a bit too quickly for comfort.
Some studies say that both red wine and black tea are effective in slowing down overactive intestines and staging a fight against diarrhea-causing microbes, due to their high level of flavonoids and tannins.
When I was a kid, the tried-and-true treatment for diarrhea was the BRAT diet (I always remembered this because I was afraid my mother would think I was faking it and was a brat for spending so much time in the bathroom): Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast.
And while you're waiting for your tummy to return to the world of normal, certain foods like milk and milk products and those that have a lot of fiber or are very sweet, should be avoided. If you want something to drink (important for rehydration), reach for regular water, coconut water (an excellent source of electrolytes) or herbal tea, such as chamomile or peppermint.
Oh, I know the feeling well. I’m so prone to motion sickness that just thinking about being on a boat can send my stomach into fits. But because there are times where I can't, or don't want to, avoid water travel altogether, I find that ginger capsules take the edge off nicely (other people who benefit from ginger's properties include those undergoing chemo and pregnant women).
When I was pregnant and suffered from nausea around the clock, I kept a supply of dry crackers and pretzels handy. Even if you're not pregnant, these foods work for a bout of nausea, since the starches in them will absorb stomach acid and help soothe your stomach. Remember to eat a little something every 2 or 3 hours so your stomach has an adequate ally in sopping up its irritating acid and juices.
Burping a lot? Feeling some burning in your throat and chest? Yup. Heartburn.
A full stomach can force acid up into your esophagus, so try eating five small meals rather than three large ones to give your stomach a break. Other culprits: chocolate, caffeine, alcohol and high-fat foods (which take longer to digest and can irritate the stomach's lining). And of course, everyone's body has its own distinct reaction to certain foods. What may cause heartburn in one person does not necessarily bother another (I, for example, am particularly prone to heartburn from bananas. Go figure).
It's also a good idea, after a big meal, to avoid lying down. Food needs to flow downward for adequate digestion. If you can't resist the horizontal position, at least prop your head up on a pillow 5-6 inches. Ideally, you should not eat within 2 hours of turning in for the night.
Some things that are thought to help with heartburn include deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL (the typical dose is two 250-milligram capsules taken 20 minutes before mealtime), marshmallow root tea or capsules and slippery elm. Over-the-counter remedies like Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids or Tums may help, too.
And if you notice that when you're stressed – presto! – heartburn ensues – try relaxing with things like aromatherapy, mediation or massage.
Foods that are hard to digest (like dairy, broccoli, cabbage, onions and beans) can repeat themselves and swell your tummy in many ways. So can carbonated drinks and anything with artificial sweeteners.
What to do? Try something like Beano, an over-the-counter enzyme, to help break up and digest the causes of your embarrassing sounds. Things like Gas-X or Mylanta Gas can help, too.
Sipping on green tea or cranberry juice (they're mild diuretics and can help you rid your body of excess fluid buildup that makes you want to just unzip your jeans and breathe). Before a meal, pop a peppermint capsule, which relaxes the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, helping with gas and bloating.
This Matters> Of course, there are more serious causes of stomach woes which may require more than these remedies – among them IBS, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, food poisoning or Crohn's disease – so if your symptoms are sudden, severe or persistent, it might be time to call your health care provider.