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7 Things To Know About Travel-Related Ailments and Complementary Health Approaches

Feeling ill while you’re traveling can interrupt or ruin your trip. Some people turn to complementary health approaches to try to prevent or manage travel-related health problems. Here are 7 things to know about complementary approaches for illnesses and hazards associated with travel.

  1. Malaria prevention and treatment. Many consumer websites promote “natural” ways to prevent or treat malaria, which may involve dietary changes or herbal products. However, travelers should follow official recommendations and not rely on unproven “natural” approaches in an attempt to prevent or treat such a serious disease.

  2. Jet lag and sleep problems. Some evidence suggests that melatonin supplements may help with sleep problems caused by jet lag in people traveling either east or west. Relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation and mindfulness-based stress reduction, may help with insomnia, but it’s unclear whether they’re helpful for jet lag.

  3. Travelers’ diarrhea. It’s uncertain whether probiotics can reduce the risk of travelers’ diarrhea; studies on this topic have had conflicting results. Goldenseal, activated charcoal, and grapefruit seed extract have not been shown to be effective.  

  4. Insect protection. For people who prefer to use botanical insect repellents rather than synthetic products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE). The evidence doesn’t support the use of neem oil as a mosquito repellent or any natural products as bed bug repellents.

  5. Sun protection. Many “natural” sunscreen products and recipes for making your own sunscreen are promoted online. However, studies have not proven that any herbal product or dietary supplement reduces the risk of skin cancer or sun damage.

  6. Motion sickness. No complementary health approaches have been shown to be effective for motion sickness.

  7. Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use. Together, you can make shared, well-informed decisions.