Young woman sat on a bed clutching her stomach to represent tummy ache

Q & A: Can probiotics help traveller’s tummy?

“I’m going on holiday next month to one of the smaller Greek islands. I often get tummy troubles when travelling. Do you think taking probiotics before I set off might help?”

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, replies.

As you probably know, it’s very common to get an upset tummy when travelling, and it can happen in any country. There are many reasons for this, and ‘dodgy’ water can certainly be a factor.

However, the digestive system is packed with bacteria, often known as ‘friendly bacteria’, which are essential for a healthy gut. They also help to protect the body against unwanted organisms that contribute towards the rather common traveller’s tummy and traveller’s diarrhoea.

The term ‘probiotic’ literally means ‘for life’ and is used to describe the beneficial effects of the friendly bacteria. There are around 400 or more different species of bacteria, the most common ones being Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. Because they are known as ‘resident strains’, they are the most prevalent bacteria in the digestive system.

To avoid traveller’s diarrhoea, it’s important to get your gut bacteria in a good state at least a month before travelling. Eat plenty of foods that help feed the friendly flora including bananas, Jerusalem artichokes (delicious roasted), polenta, tempeh, miso plus broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.

Kefir, which is similar to bio-yoghurt but with even more health benefits, contains high levels of good bacteria so try to include this in your daily diet, too. Additionally, try to cut down or avoid sugary, refined foods, and alcohol.

Taking a probiotic supplement a month before a foreign trip is also a good idea. I’ve advised people to do this many times and they’ve ended up being the only one on the trip not to get sick! Look for one containing the resident strains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium with around 20 billion live bacteria. Many supplements are formulated especially for travelling and do not require refrigeration.

Continue taking probiotics throughout your trip and for a week after you return and all should be well with your tummy.

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