Often have problems clearing your bowels when you’re overseas? Doctors share three possible causes of travel constipation.
When packing your luggage for a holiday, what do you include in your travel essentials? For some people, it’s Po Chai pills because of the fear of getting diarrhoea – and more importantly, access to a doctor – because of the change in diet. But most of the time, it’s not diarrhoea you have to worry about, but constipation. The latter is a common problem among travellers, and some find that they can’t clear their bowels for a few days when they’re in a foreign country. Is it the air that they breathe in? The water that they drink? The oil used for cooking the local dishes? We speak to doctors to discover three possibilities.
According to gastroenterologist Dr Tan Chi Chiu from Gleneagles Hospital, the main cause of constipation when you’re overseas is dehydration. He says, “One gets dehydrated flying long distances in very thin, dry aeroplane air. This is made worse by consuming alcohol. Hence, it is important to keep hydrated by drinking lots of water (not beer or wine!) while flying.”
He adds, “Dehydration also occurs if the destination has hot weather. A person on-the-go may fail to realise that he or she is drying out and not drink enough water. Therefore, always drink lots of water while on holiday.”
While we’ve been taught to drink eight glasses of water per day since young, you don’t necessarily have to stick to that fixed amount of water intake – it’s all about listening to your body. An article on ActiveSG states that your body will signal you to drink once it “has lost about one to two per cent of its total water content” and by then, you’re already in the early stages of dehydration.
If drinking water doesn’t sound palatable when you’re on the plane, drinking juices and other beverages can also help to hydrate your body.
But dehydration isn’t the only reason for constipation. Dr Tan says, “Sitting unmoving for long hours on a plane is bad for bowel function, so one should try to walk around as much as possible. Some people get off planes and go straight onto tour buses or other vehicles for hours at a time. This exacerbates the lack of mobility. Hence, it is vital to keep moving.” He suggests doing intensive exercises at least once a day, be it in the hotel gym or pool.
Constipation can also be worsened by jet lag. “[It] throws the body’s diurnal rhythm and normal bowel habit out of sorts. The body may ask to move bowels at odd times, worsened when there are no easily available toilets and one may conscientiously ignore the urge.” If you’re afraid of not being able to find a public toilet to do your business, he suggests doing it before leaving the hotel room and after you’ve returned. And if you happen to feel the urge while you’re out and about, don’t ignore it – find a toilet.
Change in diet
If you’ve been drinking enough water and are not experiencing jet lag because you only took a 45-minute flight to Kuala Lumpur, but are still experiencing constipation, it could be because of your diet. Dr Tan suggests eating a lot of vegetables – cooked rather than raw, since in many countries the latter may be contaminated and cause diarrhoea – or taking regular fibre supplements while travelling.
A version of this article first appeared on www.cleo.com.sg.