Frequent Flyer? Your health could be at risk

For many businesses, the opportunity to meet with clients face to face is invaluable.

Almost 80% of business travellers say there is no substitute for being there in person, according to a survey of business travellers, published in July 2011 by the Global Business Travel Foundation, GBTA.

But being there in person is not without risk.

Psychological stress, fatigue, high alcohol consumption, injuries and accidents are more common among business travellers. (1, 2, 3, 4)

Business travellers are also more prone than holiday makers to coming down with influenza after travelling (5)

Interestingly, business travellers appear to be no more at risk than other travellers and tourists of fever, malaria and respiratory illnesses – that is to say, the incidence of these health problems are shared equally between all travellers!

It is often postulated that one of the main reasons for the high incidence of immune related health issues, such as colds and flu, experienced by business travellers, is the quality of recirculated air in the cabin, as well as the proximity for hours at a time to ‘sick’ passengers.

Indeed, on many large commercial aircraft there may be an exchange of air every 3 minutes, and it’s not surprising that people fear being ‘contaminated’ with infectious agents from recirculated air.

But could this fear be unfounded?

A recent WHO report found that there is no evidence that recirculation of this air causes transmission of infectious diseases on board.

Another study, carried out by the University of California, found that recycled air on short-term flights is no more likely to cause colds than when fresh air is used.

You may also remember the commotion in 2007 when an American lawyer, Andrew Speaker, flew from America to Europe, and back again, whilst suffering from a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis. He was acting against the advice of his Government by flying whilst infected, and the World Health Organisation have guidelines in place to trace all passengers and staff who have been in proximity with a TB infected person.

However, in an effort to establish whether TB is actually spread by simply being around an infected person for 8 hours or so, Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar conducted a study of available research(6). He analyzed 13 studies of 4300 airline passengers, and discovered that only two studies showed evidence of an infected passenger spreading TB to others.

Indeed, of the thousands of passengers who flew with TB-infected individuals, only 10 subsequent infections were diagnosed.

What could be the REAL cause of business travel sickness?

These and other reports suggest that it’s the state of your immune system, and not the bacteria or virus itself, that determines whether or not you will get sick, even if you come in contact with the germ.

Indeed, it is generally agreed among alternative health care providers that infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria only serve as triggers to cause an illness, but what is required or responsible for the actual infection is a dysfunctional immune system.

What can you do about it?

Flying doesn’t make you sick – but a weak immune system leaves you vulnerable.

Here are my top 10 tips for keeping healthy whilst flying, and travelling generally.

  1. Prepare in Advance. A healthy immune system can’t be built overnight. Try to maintain a healthy digestive system and keep stress levels in check as much as possible. Make balancing your immune system a priority two weeks before holiday travel time.
  2. Before and during your trip, get some sunshine if possible (or have a ‘safe’ sunbed session or two, or take some vitamin D3). Mid-day summer sunshine will help your body make vitamin D which keeps your immune system healthy – 15 minutes per day is plenty.
  3. It’s a good idea to take some immune boosting Colostrum, twice per day on an empty stomach (e.g. 20 minutes before breakfast, and 20 minutes before an evening meal or at bedtime).
  4. Try to get plenty of good quality sleep. Try to sleep on “red-eye” flights (i.e. flights departing late in the evening). Keep your schedule as light as possible on your arrival day.
  5. Eat as healthily as possible. Avoid junk food and processed food. Concentrate on simple fish and meat, with plenty of fresh vegetables, especially the green varieties. Eat healthy fats, such as coconut and olive oil, and avoid too many carbohydrates. Take some quality nutritional supplements, all year round.
  6. Stay hydrated at all times, by drinking plenty of bottled water before, during and after your trip. Because the typical humidity on the aircraft is only 5%–10%, you lose water every time you breathe out. Avoid excess alcohol and coffee, which will dehydrate you further.
  7. Get enough exercise. Move on the plane if possible, and take a walk (or have a swim) when you reach your hotel.
  8. Take a good quality antioxidant containing Pygnogenol*, which will help your immune system, protect against deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and reduce lower leg swelling.
  9. Sick or not, consider carrying anti-bacterial wipes and use them on tray tables, hard surfaces around your aircraft seat, handles and taps in airplane lavatories, remote controls, etc. and wash your hands every chance you get. Do the same when you get to your hotel room. Cold and flu viruses can last up to 3 days on plastic surfaces and Norovirus can survive for up to four weeks – so it’s very likely you’ll be touching a surface with some germs on it while you’re in a confined space with many other people, whether it’s on an airplane, theatre, shopping area, restaurant or any public place.
  10. Supplementing your diet with high-quality acidophilus and bifidus has been shown to increase immunity, not only in the intestine, but through the whole body. In general, I recommend taking 1-3 acidophilus before breakfast and 1-3 bifidus at bedtime. You may wish to do this every day or intermittently take a break. Always return to this schedule if you are travelling or have had a period of increased stress, an unhealthy diet or excess alcohol, or an illness. Always take extra probiotics during and after using an antibiotic.
Super Antioxidant with Pycnogenol

Super Antioxidant with Pycnogenol


*Pycnogenol, pine bark extract from the French maritime pine tree, reduces symptoms of jetlag in airline passengersby nearly 50 percent, according to a 2008 study published in the journal “Minerva Cardioangiologica.”

The two-part study, consisting of a brain CT scan and a scoring system, showed Pycnogenol lowered symptoms of jetlag such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia and brain swelling in both healthy people and hypertensive patients.

Passengers also experienced minimal lower leg swelling, a common condition associated with long flights, and pycnogenol dramatically reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis DVT.

  1. Patel D, Easmon C, Seed P, Dow C, Snashall D. Morbidity in expatriates – a prospective cohort study. Occup. Med. (Lond.) 56(5), 345–352(2006).
  2. Burkholder JD, Joines R, Cunningham-Hill M, Xu B. Health and well-being factors associated with international business travel. J. Travel Med.17(5), 329–333(2010).
  3. Richards CA, Rundle AG. Business travel and self-rated health, obesity, and cardiovascular disease risk factors. J. Occup. Environ. Med.53(4), 358–363(2011).
  4. Striker J, Luippold RS, Nagy L, Liese B, Bigelow C, Mundt KA. Risk factors for psychological stress among international business travellers. Occup. Environ. Med.56(4), 245–252(1999).
  5. Boggild AK, Castelli F, Gautret P et al.; GeoSentinel Surveillance Network. Vaccine preventable diseases in returned international travellers: results from the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network. Vaccine 28(46), 7389–7395(2010). This analysis of a large surveillance database on travelers’ illnesses found an association of influenza with business travellers.
  6. Dr Ibrahim Abubakar. Tuberculosis and air travel: a systematic review and analysis of policy. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 10, Issue 3, Pages 176 – 183, March 2010