Flight Check: Stay Healthy on the Plane

Dear Health Conscious Reader,

Have you ever wondered why planes seem to make people sick? Why you can board perfectly healthy and a few hours later feel like crap?

I just returned from a two-week research expedition in Brazil. During the flight, I noticed people all around me beginning to cough and sneeze. This is pretty normal on any flight, but it was even more noticeable in light of the recent swine flu outbreak. (If you missed my special alert on swine flu, get it here.)

Here’s what happens …

Today’s planes operate on systems that bring in 50% fresh air while supposedly cleaning and filtering 50% of the old, stale air.1

This means any lack of maintenance to the air filtration system could let germs, bacteria and disease from the other coughing, sneezing and sweating passenger’s right back into the air you breathe.

What’s worse is how this recycled air gets back into the cabin. Part of it comes through those little overhead air nozzles. Open those and you could be spraying this toxic mixture straight into your eyes, mouth and nose.

That’s why every time I board a plane, I follow the same “pre flight health checklist” I’ve followed for years. It kept me energized and ready to go when I went to Jamaica and Peru earlier this year. And it worked again when I landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Here’s my quick and easy pre-flight plan to make sure you get off the plane as healthy as you got on.

Step 1. Make sure to keep your immune system in tiptop shape before you ever get on the plane:

  • Follow a healthy eating plan including good fats and protein found in grass fed beef and buffalo. And avoiding simple carbs found in bread and pasta in favor of complex ones found in fruits and vegetables.
  • Plus, make sure you’re regularly doing immune system boosting exercise, like the ones found in my PACE program, at least 3 times a week.

Step 2. Boost your immune system at least an hour before boarding with these supplements:

  • Get Plenty of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antihistamine that reduces the severity of colds. A 2005 study showed that Vitamin C before extreme physical stress reduced symptoms of the common cold by 50%.2 Before a flight, make sure you mega dose (about 5,000 mg) of vitamin C.
  • Go Ginkgo Biloba. The Association of Flight Attendants has reported their members experiencing, “headaches, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. We’ve had reports of heart failure in flight, fainting and breathing problems.” Take 350 mg of ginkgo biloba. This best-selling brain enhancer has been shown in numerous studies to increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain by increasing nitric oxide levels.
  • Supplement with CoQ10 and a few cloves of garlic. Deep vein thrombosis is caused when blood thickens and clumps together, and you’re at particular risk for it when you’re sitting in cramped spaces like on a long flight. A 2003 report by the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia3 suggests eating garlic to thin the blood. CoQ10 has the same effect. Take 100 mg of ubiquinol CoQ10 and eat 2-4 grams of fresh minced garlic (and it doesn’t hurt to get up and walk around a bit during the flight).

Step 3. If you’re travelling across time zones and jet lag is a problem, consider melatonin. This has been a long established jet lag fighter. In 1986 a study reported in the British Medical Journal showed a 100% effectiveness when subjects took melatonin vs. a placebo controlled group.4 Take 500 mcg of melatonin to help regain your sleep cycle. Look for a melatonin spray.

Step 4. While a little bit of alcohol isn’t a big deal (and is sometimes good for you), drinking on an airplane practically opens the door for disease to enter your body. Here’s why.

Alcohol causes dehydration and that enlarges the tiny, inside-the-nostril pores… making it even easier for the bacteria and virus filled air to get into your system and make you sick.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

  1. “Commercial Airplanes,” Boeing http://www.boeing.com/commercial/cabinair/index.html accessed 4/22/09
  2. “Vitamin C for Preventing and Treating the Common,” Plos Medicine http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020168 6/28/2005
  3. “Nutrition for Older Adults Health,” NOAH http://www.fcs.uga.edu/noahnet/lp/fv/fv6garlicandonions.pdf accessed 4/30/09
  4. “Alleviation of Jet Lag by Melatonin,” British Medical Journal http://www.bmj.com/cgi/pdf_extract/292/6529/1170 5/3/1986