Are nutritional supplements useful for business travellers? Frequent business travel can be stressful and tiring, but can also be bad for our health.
A plethora of nutritional supplements are available with claims to ease our suffering and enhance our performance. Some seem tempting, but is there sufficient evidence to support their use?
What Effects Are Supplements Aiming To Achieve?
Immune system boosters/antimicrobials
Products claiming to enhance our ability to fight infection include oregano oil and antioxidant preparations such as elderberry extract. Elderberries contain a cyanide type chemical so although high in vitamin C, the raw berries are best avoided.
Zinc preparations are also advertised as immune system boosters. Zinc with vitamin C is present in many remedies for the common cold where the evidence is strong but is not recommended for long-term use. A diet with plenty of fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds will contain all the antioxidants we need.
Herbalists have coined the term adaptogens, to refer to herbal products with possible energy boosting properties such as Ashwagandha. There is a lack of well designed, large-scale human studies available to verify the claims made about these products.
The pharmacological processes look promising but more research is needed, particularly on dosage and the effects of long-term use.
An attractive idea but the evidence is slim. Magnesium supplements are a popular product advertised to improve sleep and reduce stress, however it is the main ingredient in many laxatives, so large doses should be avoided. Magnesium is plentiful in a reasonably healthy diet, only on a very poor highly processed diet could our intake be low. If Magnesium is lacking in the diet, then the intake of other micro-nutrients is also likely to be sub-optimal and a multivitamin/mineral supplement might be more beneficial.
The only way to truly reduce stress is to remove the source of strain. Look at your travel schedule and deadlines, rather than at taking supplements.
We know that our gut flora is intricately involved in our immune, hormonal and digestive systems and that a diverse bacteria population is beneficial to our health. But this doesn’t mean that we need to routinely take a supplement. A healthy diet with fruit, vegetables, seeds and pulses provides the substrate ‘friendly’ bacteria need to thrive.
A poor diet, high in salt, sugar and saturated fats will provide a different substrate and a less desirable bacterial flora will be established. Contaminated food can overpopulate our gut with pathogenic bacteria and a course of antibiotics can destroy not only the pathogens but also many desirable species. If the normal bacteria population has been compromised, a probiotic supplement, with a variety of lactobacillus and bifido species, can help restore a healthy intestinal flora.
It is a compelling notion that nutritional supplements can prevent or fix our travel health issues, but a few simple strategies are likely to be more advantageous to our health:
Be scrupulous about hygiene.
Plan for a good night’s sleep.
Try to include a little exercise (check out the tips from Julie!)
Remove strain from your travel itinerary and work schedule.