Changes in diet and time zone, unfamiliar foods, contamination of food or beverages, gastroenteritis and parasites can all wreak havoc on your gut.
Our research shows that diet is a crucial way in which we can improve our gut bacteria and our overall health. A diet that's rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fish oils, fibre and complex carbohydrate is best to sustain a diverse and balanced microbiota. Mind your microbes and they will mind you!
Practising good hygiene and eating a nutritional-balanced diet are always wise. However, when travelling, or on holidays, you may need to take additional precautions to remain healthy. This particularly applies if you are travelling to warmer countries where the standards of hygiene and styles of food may be different to those you're used to.
If travelling to more exotic locations ask your doctor about appropriate vaccinations well in advance of your travel date. Some foodborne infections (such as Hepatitis A or typhoid fever) can be prevented through vaccination.
Some probiotics have been shown to be beneficial in treating gastroenteritis, reducing both the duration of illness and the frequency of stools, especially in children. They may also hasten recovery after diarrhoea. Probiotics are "live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host". They are usually bacteria such as Bifidobacteria or Lactobacilli and are often consumed in yoghurts, which have many other nutritional benefits.
Q During travel make sure you drink plenty of water as air travel, in particular can be very dehydrating.
Q When you arrive make sure you have adequate sleep and recover from any jetlag before you begin your holiday adventures.
Q always wash your hands before eating or cooking and after visiting the bathroom using soap or a sanitizer.
Q Make sure your drinking water is safe and drink bottled water if you are unsure of the local supply.
Q Avoid ice as this is likely to be made from tap water - drink chilled bottled or canned drinks instead.
Q Avoid raw fruit and vegetables unless you wash and peel it yourself.
Q At buffets ensure hot food is piping hot and salads are chilled.
Q At barbeques make sure meat is well-done and juices run clear - pink meat in chicken, burgers and sausages should not be consumed as it may contain harmful pathogens.
Q If you do have tummy
troubles, make sure you are hydrated by drinking lots of clean water. If you are very dehydrated take a rehydration solution.
Q If you have a fever or don't improve within a few days, you may need to seek medical attention.
Dr Catherine Buckley is Communications & Outreach Manager at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork http://apc.ucc.ie