by guest blogger Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrative medicine pioneer
As summer hits full swing, many people are packing bags and getting ready for long-awaited vacations. If you’re off to a far-away place, however, it’s important to take measures against certain health hazards that come with long-distance travel. In particular, we need to take extra care of our circulation, which is often at risk anyway during the summer season. Blood flow and circulatory health can often be hindered by hot weather, swelling, and inflammation. And when you’re sitting for extended periods, this combination can be deadly.
Researchers report that long-distance travel can raise your risk of a life-threatening venous thromboembolism (VTE) as much as threefold. In addition, risk increases relative to the duration of your trip—by a whopping 26 percent for every two hours of air travel and by 18 percent for every two hours of any other kind of travel—even if you are otherwise healthy.
What is VTE and why is it so risky?
VTE comprises deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. DVT is marked by abnormal clot formation(s) in the deepest veins in your body, including those in your legs or pelvis. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot becomes dislodged and travels to your lungs, blocking the pulmonary artery and resulting in difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate and, sometimes, sudden death.
Long-distance travelers are at higher risk for these serious events, so it’s critical to take every measure to protect yourself. One thing that can help if you are traveling far is to stay well hydrated. Also, make sure you take the time to move around and stretch your legs whenever you get the chance; both of these simple precautions can help to reduce your risk of VTE. Remember to breathe deeply and avoid excessive alcohol intake.
High-quality botanical and nutritional supplements can also help protect you, particularly if your clotting risk is higher than normal due to cancer, stroke, birth control, surgery or other risk factors. In my clinical practice, I recommend a Tibetan herbal formula that has been clinically studied for decades. Published studies show it significantly reduces abnormal clotting factors and boosts circulation in patients with peripheral artery disease. Other helpful nutraceutical ingredients include the enzyme nattokinase from natto, a fermented soy product and traditional food from Japan. Hawthorn berry omega-3 fats are also helpful for promoting circulation and cardiovascular health.
Symptoms of VTE
Perhaps the most important precaution you can take is familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of VTE. This knowledge can save your life. Pain, swelling, redness and warmth in your legs are emergency signs that a blood clot may have formed—and sudden shortness of breath, chest pain and a bloody cough are all signs that it may have traveled to your lungs.
Air travel can pose other risks as well. Exposure to cosmic radiation from frequent flying, especially long distances at high altitudes, can increase risks of cancer and other conditions related to increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and cellular and DNA damage. People who fly frequently can benefit from measures such as maintaining an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich diet, as well as taking supplements that help to block the effects of radiation, reduce inflammation and detoxify the body.
During travel to unfamiliar places, especially on crowded means of transportation, immunity and digestive health can be at higher risk for harmful invaders. Medicinal mushrooms and digestive-support formulas, including high-quality probiotics and enzymes, can also help protect and maintain the health of our essential defense systems.
If you suspect VTE during or after your next long trip, be sure to seek medical attention immediately. Quick intervention and proper prevention can help ensure that you enjoy many more trips for years to come.
Safe and happy travels!
Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc, integrates Western medicine with his extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, homeopathic, and complementary medical systems. With more than 25 years of clinical experience and research, Dr. Eliaz has a unique holistic approach to the relationship between health and disease, immune enhancement, detoxification, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more health and wellness information, visit dreliaz.org.