With the holiday season fully upon us, we’re all travelling a whole lot more than we normally do. We’re all jetting off to see relatives, hopping on trains to go skiing and driving long distances to spend a few peaceful days revelling in the glories of nature outside of the city. And while it’s great fun to see new places and old, familiar faces, there’s something we rarely talk about but all often experience: gut-lag.
You’ve heard of jet-lag, we’re sure, but what about gut-lag? Even if you haven’t heard about it, we’re pretty positive you’ve encountered that heavy, slow feeling in your gut when you travel. Whether you’re changing time zones or not, the disruption to our healthy, daily routines that travel causes can really affect our guts. And not in a nice way.
So, what causes this unpleasant situation? Circadian biology, for one. Our circadian rhythm – essentially our biological clocks that are in line with the earth – affects many biological processes within our bodies. It’s tied to behaviour, our immune systems and, most importantly here, our metabolism.
Studies have shown that depending on whether we’re awake or asleep, our gut microbiomes are involved in different processes. When we’re sleeping, our microbiomes are focused on metabolism, DNA repair and cell growth. When we’re awake, however, our microbiomes are involved in environmental sensing and detoxification. In addition to being engaged in different processes, the research has shown that having regular timing of food intake can actually affect how our microbiomes function in an unhealthy way, causing dysbiosis. So even if you’re not speeding through time zones, a disrupted eating schedule will have negative effects on your microbiome.
In short, frequent travel is damaging to the gut. In fact, everything from weight gain to diabetes to glucose intolerance to cardiovascular disease can all arise from a gut microbiome that is in distress. Yikes, right?!
Now that we’ve scared you, you’re probably wondering what you can do about it. Luckily, there are a few things that will help you avoid the unpleasantness that is gut-lag. The first and easiest thing you can do is to start adjusting your schedule before you travel, if you’ll be crossing time zones. Slowly shift your eating times a week before you plan to leave so that your gut will already be on a new schedule when you arrive at your destination.
Additionally, upping your fibre intake and incorporating prebiotics and probiotics can really help to keep your gut in check. Prebiotic fibre supplements support healthy microbes in the gut and can heal and reverse dysbiosis. Fibre-rich foods can also aid in nourishing those microbes. Though boredom whilst traveling often leads us to snack mindlessly, water fasting when you travel is actually a great way to help your gut. It lets your body reset so you have a fresh start upon arrival.
And, lastly, getting outside and getting your body moving are great ways to set a new rhythm for your microbiome. A bit of light exercise and a re-anchoring of your circadian rhythm will help you banish that unsettled, sluggish gut that’s all too common this time of year.