While on vacation, you decide to do as the locals do and get lunch at a local street stall. Unfortunately, that decision means you spend the next day doubled over with stomach cramps, frantically seeking a bathroom. The reason you got sick but the locals didn’t boils down to your microbiome—the bacteria, yeast, and viruses that inhabit your body and, more specifically, your gut.
Every individual’s microbiome is unique. It’s an ever-changing ecosystem affected by the medications you’ve ingested, the foods you’ve eaten, and even the places you’ve visited.
“Microbiome profiles are different in different countries, and that’s what makes traveler’s diarrhea so common,” explains Richard Lin, CEO of Thryve, a company that offers microbiome testing and personalized probiotics. “For example, people who grew up in the States and travel to India often get sick because they aren’t use to the foreign microbes. But people who grew up in India are accustomed to an environment that’s less meticulous about sanitation, and therefore their immunity is stronger.” In other words, their microbiome can handle street food no problem.
Unfortunately, the first thing most of us do when we get sick—seek a prescription for antibiotics—can actually make the situation worse. Most of these medications can’t differentiate between the good strains of bacteria that are vital to our health, and the bad guys who are making us ill. By wiping out our entire gut flora, antibiotics can set the stage for neurological, skin and metabolic issues, to name a few.
Lin and his team have researched and mapped 5,000 microbe species and indexed some 36,000 scientific studies on the subject, and their extensive research indicates that Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum are three strains which specifically help prevent traveler’s diarrhea.
If your digestive issues persist and antibiotics seem like the more sensible course of action, try requesting Rifaximin from your doctor. It’s more gentle on the microbiome, avoiding loss of diversity or the imbalance of good versus bad bacteria ratios, and has protective anti-inflammatory benefits, too.
Interestingly, Lin explains, even jet lag can have knock-on effects for your microbe, “Microbiomes shift based on your circadian cycle, so people who travel a lot actually have their microbiome go into a pro-inflammatory state.”
To counteract this, try and sync up with your new time zone. Get out in the sunlight as much as possible, eat at the appropriate times for your new location, take a melatonin supplement to help you sleep at night, and perhaps even try grounding—the practice of walking barefoot on the earth, that biohackers say works wonders.