Summertime is here. It’s time for fun and a bit of rest and relaxation, and some of us will be travelling to distant lands while others will prefer to stay close to home.

Recently I was asked whether Chinese herbs could be of help when traveling to a foreign country, primarily to prevent the dreaded “traveler’s diarrhea”, also known as “Montezuma’s revenge” that can occur in underdeveloped nations. This is an acute bout of diarrhea caused by overgrowth of bacteria, typically E. Coli strains that are not normally resident in our gut. Clean water and hygienic food handling has reduced the populations of these offensive bacteria to a minimal level here in the United States. The unfortunate downside is that when we are exposed to these “foreign” bacteria, our body’s immune system responds strongly and swiftly, with our intestines attempting to purge the foreign invaders.

Developed nations will most likely offer food safe for consumption without worry. However, underdeveloped nations have less stringent health regulations and safety may be variable. While there is no 100% reliable method of prevention, safe food handling, avoidance of ice (as it is often not made with bottled, purified water) and raw vegetables (again, probably not washed with bottled water) can shift the odds of a vacation free from “the trots” in our favor.

Unfortunately, loose bowels are not the only potential hazard while traveling to foreign lands. Spices and food different than what we are used to can raise all kind of havoc in our systems. Exposure to crowds in confined spaces can spread colds and the flu, and prolonged sitting during travel can lead to the formation of blood clots in our legs. Now, if you still want to go on vacation after reading all of this, then read on, because most of those scary things can be prevented, and you can go back to dreaming of lounging in the shade next to azure waters with your coconut drink by your side.

As prevention is often the best medicine, start by preparing your body for travel ahead of time. Ample hydration before, during and after travel will prevent dehydration from the dry airplane cabin air, help your body flush wastes, and prevent water retention and the formation of blood clots caused by sluggish blood and long periods of sitting. Adequate rest and relaxation allows the nervous system to regulate the functions of the immune system, thereby keeping you healthy during travels to foreign places. As the period leading up to travel can be particularly frantic, full of last minute details and preparations, finding the time to rest and relax may prove challenging. As you may have already experienced, just 40 minutes of acupuncture can make you feel like you just took a nice long nap, and usually leaves you feeling refreshed and centered. Finally, avoid overindulgence in greasy foods or alcohol to take the load off of your digestion and liver.

One of the best ways to prepare for foreign fare is to strengthen your gut by taking probiotic supplements before the trip. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria usually in a convenient pill form that efficiently delivers billions of the sort of bacteria our bodies love, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These micro-organisms are alive and when taken in sufficient quantity, can benefit the intrepid traveler greatly, preventing harmful bacteria from taking hold in our intestines and, with the help of these friendly bacteria, improve our digestion.

Speaking of digestion, most of us want to try the local fare at the places we visit, but sometimes the different spices, ingredients or methods of preparation can lead our tummies to a place of discontent – Indian food, for example, seems to affect my digestion no matter how small a portion I consume, and will cause heartburn and a sensation of enduring fullness that can be quite uncomfortable. In Chinese medicine, we refer to this condition as “food stagnation”. In other words, our digestive system has been either irritated or overloaded by the food we consumed.

A few common remedies for “food stagnation” include Curing Formula (widely available but frequently counterfeited and of questionable quality), Po Chai Pills (similar to Curing Formula but less counterfeited) and my personal “go to”, Stomach Harmonizing Formula – formulated and manufactured in the US by Golden Flower Herbs under strict quality control. Stomach Harmonizing Formula is available at Cotati Community Acupuncture, and after trying all the other formulas, I personally feel it is the most effective and highest quality available.

So, what if you’ve done all the above but you are still affected by mild food poisoning or diarrhea? Never fear, there are a couple of favorite remedies that are inexpensive and particularly effective. Seirogan is a modern Japanese remedy that was formulated in the late 1800’s and uses wood creosote as a main ingredient along with other herbs that kill bacteria and stop diarrhea, heartburn, and food poisoning. Now, when most of us hear the word creosote we think of sooty deposits that are carcinogenic, but rest assured, wood creosote is safe and well tolerated by the body. Coal creosote, on the other hand, is definitely something not to be taken internally, as it is indeed carcinogenic.

Another great anti-diarrheal is a simple product known as Huang Lian Su. These are small, inexpensive yellow pills that come in a little vial and are comprised of an extract created from the rhizomes of the Coptis plant. One of the active ingredients is berberine, which has a strong action against intestinal infection. Huang Lian is an extremely bitter substance that exerts antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effects to help your digestive system to fight infections.

Finally, Yin Qiao or Yin Chiao pills are an effective herbal remedy used to combat the common cold and flu. Taken with warm water at the first sign of a head cold, this mighty formula often will eliminate the emerging symptoms of cough, stuffy nose or sore throat within a few hours to a day. Yin Qiao was the first Chinese herbal formula I was exposed to at the tender age of seventeen by my high school sweetheart’s mother, who was from Hong Kong. It effect on fighting colds (often shortening a full-blown cold to just 3 days) was so pronounced, I was amazed and intrigued by Chinese medicine, thus setting the course of a future career as an acupuncturist / herbalist. Thanks, Mrs. Chen!

Empowered with the above knowledge, CCA wishes safe and enjoyable travels for everyone! If you have difficulty finding any of the above mentioned remedies, talk with me (Marc) at CCA or email me at for more information. Happy trails!