As I mentioned in my recent Thailand Poomergency blog post, I was recently attacked by a relatively severe case of the Thailand trots. So what the crap happened?
Just two days prior to the 27 hour flight home I was struck (inconveniently, 2K into the run portion of the Half Ironman triathlon) by the liquid poopies from the depths of hell. Big time traveler's diarrhea.
As a matter of fact, for the first time ever during a race, things got so bad that I actually pooped my pants.
Shat my chamois.
Soiled my spandex.
Whatever you'd like to call it.
And we're not talking “tire streaks” or “liquid toots” here. I full on exploded in my pants. Like, they were full, and then spilling out onto my legs and into my shoes.
At one point, my entire lower body was covered in “mud” and I had to run back behind the house of some old Thai dude to hose myself off so I could at least cross the finish line without appearing to be a giant crap-covered Timex advertisement crossing the finish line.
For that entire day, and the two days after the race, I took things very easy and launched into my usual protocol to “clear things up”. And by usual protocol, I mean my go-to travel arsenal of activated charcoal, oil of oregano, goldenseal/echinacea tincture, high-grade probiotics and iodine. With this potent natural mix of protectants, which conveniently all fits into the standard-size, airline-friendly ziplock bag, I've never had issues before.
But it turns out that sometimes you need to try new things, and in this article, you'll find out why I use this normal travel arsenal, why it sometimes doesn't work, and the all-natural “big guns” I resorted to that had me completely repaired within 24 hours.
The Ziplock Bag Airline Travel Friendly Health Arsenal
So how does this travel arsenal (which has kept me 99% safe and traveler's diarrhea free over nearly a decade of travel) supposed to work?
-The activated charcoal soaks up toxins from any tainted meats, etc. Brands aren’t too important but the “gold standard” activated coconut carbon stuff is from the Upgraded Self website. You just pop a couple before you eat, or anytime you feel something funny coming on in your tummy, and you try to separate it from other supplements, since it does soak up “the good stuff” too.
-The oil of oregano is a portable, liquid antiseptic and antibacterial. Good for travel on planes, dumping into mouth prior to swimming in suspect waters, pouring over wounds, etc.. For preventive purposes, you simply put 5-10 drops straight into your mouth or into a glass of water a couple times a day – and you take a 20-30 drop dose if you get “exposed”. Look for 70+% carvacrol content and a laboratory certificate of analysis because most of it out there is fake or simply thyme, not oregano oil.
-Goldenseal, known by herbalists as “Hydrastis Canadensis” is a perennial herb that acts as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. It contains a high amount of what are known as “isoquinoline alkaloids”, including hydrastine, berberine, berberastine, hydrastinine, tetrahydroberberastine, canadine, and canalidine. One of those compounds, berberine, has very good antibacterial activity, and multiple bacteria and fungi, along with selected protozoa and chlamydia are susceptible to berberine. In addition to being used as a topical antimicrobial, goldenseal can be taken internally as a digestion aid. I use a goldenseal/echinacea exctract simply because the echinacea adds additional immune system support, and it's a relatively easy product to find on sites like Amazon.
-Probiotics are live microorganisms that are similar to beneficial microorganisms found naturally in your gut. The idea is that these “friendly bacteria” help fight the good fight alongside your gut-dwelling bacteria to wipe out pathogens, improve immune function and aid digestion. In some people I have seen rapid improvement of digestive distress like gas and bloating literally minutes after they have taken a high dose of probiotics (e.g. 5-10 capsules of a 10-15+ billion organism capsule). Sure, you can eat yogurt when you're traveling to get your probiotics, but unless you're able to find full-fat, sugar-free dairy from organic, grass-fed cows, it is far more safe, healthy and convenient to travel with probiotics. The only hard part is keeping probiotics from getting warm when you are traveling (heat will degrade the probiotics). So I typically keep mine in my carry-on bag and put them in my hotel mini-bar refrigerator as soon as I arrive at my final destination. If I'm in a hot area, I ask the nearest bar or coffeeshop for a few ice cubes in a plastic bag that I can put next to the capsules if necessary. My probiotic of choice is Caprobiotics Plus.
–Iodine was originally introduced to me by Dr. Mark Sircus in the podcast episode “The Shocking Information About A Compound That Pharmaceutical Companies Really Don’t Want You to Know About.” Another natural cure expert and physician, Dr. David Derry, says “Iodine is by far the best antibiotic, antiviral and antiseptic of all time.” Though iodine kills most pathogens on the skin within 90 seconds, its use as an antibiotic/antiviral/antifungal has been completely ignored by modern medicine. But as early as June 1, 1905 an article was printed in the New York Times about the successful use of iodine for consumption/tuberculosis. Iodine exhibits activity against bacteria, molds, yeasts, protozoa, and many viruses, and is capable of killing all classes of pathogens: gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, mycobacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses and protozoa within 15 to 30 seconds of contact. The cool thing is that you can find it at just about any pharmacy worldwide. Unfortunately, if you've already been infected and are well into your sickness, iodine doesn't work too well, but if you get food poisoning and can get a serving of iodine in ASAP, it works quite well. Incidentally, when it comes to killing bacteria, the nascent iodine I use for my thyroid is inferior to the typical antiseptic iodine.
So that's it. Activated charcoal, oil of oregano, goldenseal/echinacea tincture, high-grade probiotics and iodine can all just go into a ziplock bag and in 99% of cases, your immune system will be bulletproof and your traveler's diarrhea will be…corked.
When The Travel Arsenal Might Not Be Enough
But apparently, at some point during the race in Thailand, I swallowed a mouthful of something that even the best stuff couldn't protect me from. According to the docs I visited at the medical clinic, I acquired some kind of opportunistic bacteria that was less likely from a bad batch of sticky rice and mango and more likely from the lagoon water in which we swam during the race.
And it wasn't just me that came down with this malady.
I spoke with dozens of others who were struck by the same puke-a-rama, flu-like symptoms and flaming liquid poo that makes you scream with pain, clench your teeth, grab hard onto the nearest solid object so that you don't get blown away, and wonder how you're still alive when it's all over.
Think Dumb and Dumber, but for skinny people in spandex.
My taxi driver on the way to the airport informed me (as I was curled up in a fetal position in the back of his mini-van) that all the wastewater from all the resorts in the area actually run into the lagoon that we swam in during the triathlon. So it's possible that I simply swallowed a tiny Thai turd floater that just happened to be some kind of zombie perverted ball of bacteria from the depths of hell. Whatever. Gross.
I had by this point turned down the antibiotics from the Thailand medical clinic (not much different from America in this case – they simply offered me antibiotics, some Asian version of Pedialyte, and a cheapo powdered probiotic), visited the Thanyapura Triathlon Resort for a Myer's Cocktail and high dose Vitamin C injection to try to boost my immune system and rehydrate my body, chugged a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and kept my fingers crossed that my usual protocol would fix me up in the few hours I had remaining before my flight.
It got so bad that during the flight home, they actually had to re-seat me to be next to the bathrooms on the plane to accommodate my clock-work like mid-flight poo-mergencies.
And upon my arrival at home, my stomach continued to clench in pain, cramp into the wee hours of the night, and leave me wandering into my bathroom for painful liquid squirts at 1am. And 1:17am. And 1:57am. As a matter of fact, until sunrise, the house was alive with the sound of melodic explosions from the bathroom. So much for sleeping off jetlag.
I'm afraid my trusty Squatty Potty may never survive the traumatic experience it was exposed to that night.
In the morning, when I weighed myself in at 163 pounds from my original “light” race weight of 175 pounds, I decided I need to do something different before I began to resemble Christian Bale from the Machinist (just Google image it if you don't know the look I'm talking about). I was also a bit nervous since I had just 48 hours before I hopped on another plane to go teach CreativeLIVE for 3 days in San Francisco.
So I made a phone call of desperation to a guy who knows Asia pretty well, and who also spoke at my Become Superhuman conference: Dr. Toby Hallowitz. Within 90 minutes I was sitting in Dr. Toby's office.
Perhaps he never thought someone might say this about him, but when it comes to strange pooping diseases from the Orient, this dude really knows his stuff. Heck, someone should make him a t-shirt that says, “Asian Pooping Disease? I Got This.”
Because within 24 hours I was right as rain and doing heavy barbell squats at the gym, with nary a hint of a spinchter spasm or colonic cramp.
The Big Guns For Traveler's Diarrhea
So what did Dr. Toby do that got me fixed within 24 hours? I'll give it all to you right here. There are four components.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, diarrhea and dysentery overlap, and organs involved in these two conditions include the spleen, stomach and intestines. The spleen is responsible for the transformation of the liquids and foods, the stomach is responsible for holding the pure energy, the small intestines separate “clear from turbid”, and the large intestines eliminate wastes. All of these processes involve energy and a rhythmic flow, provided by the liver, which disperses qi in all directions.
As Acupuncture Today describes it:
“Damp and heat create qi and blood stagnation, affecting the collaterals and zang-fu organs. The accumulation within the middle jiao creates turbid obstruction in the intestines, affecting the ascending and descending functions of the spleen and stomach. After the initial onset, the athlete is susceptible to damp cold, based on environmental conditions. The spleen and stomach qi are deficient, enabling exogenous cold or summer dampness to invade, leading to damp cold accumulation. This is detrimental to any athlete and/or vacationer. Traveler's diarrhea falls under the acute condition as damp heat, damp cold or food retention.”
So the first thing Dr. Toby did was about 30 minutes of acupuncture to hit the specific spots that freed up qi for my spleen, stomach and intestines. He combined this with moxibustion, which uses flame and heat to warm regions and acupuncture points, with the intention of stimulating circulation through the acupuncture points and induce a smoother flow of blood and qi.
I did one treatment.
2. Berberine from highly concentrated Chinese herbs
Dr. Toby then mixed me a custom formulation with two main herbs high in berberine: Huang qin and Huang Lian. For any of you Chinese herbologist nerds out there, the base formula was Shao Yao Tang modified. A couple other herbs added included: ma chi xian, Qian shi, Lian Zi, Bai Tou Weng.
OK, I know that is a mouthful. If you want, you could just print that list and bring it to your local Chinese medical practitioner and they could probably replicate you. But here's the deal: remember that goldenseal/echinacea extract that I mentioned earlier, which is high in berberine?
Those are like the running Tokyo businessmen and this is like Godzilla. It eats extracts for breakfast. And yes, you can tell by the taste. Prepare to just plug your nose and chug it down because it tastes like something that could definitely kill bacteria. Those poor little bad bacteria guys didn't know what hit them until it was too late.
I took 5 scoops, 3 times a day.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a tropical strain of yeast that is usually found in the probiotic section of most health food stores. You don't find this unique strain in most probiotic mixes, and you may not win a spelling bee if this bacteria were ever assigned to you, but it's particularly potent at plugging up traveler's diarrhea and restoring the bacteria that tend to get wiped out by either antibiotics or by the bacterial infection itself. It also prevents the bacteria from attaching to the brush border in your gut, so the bacteria is then eliminated from the body during your next bowel movement. Bye-bye boys.
Multiple studies have found significant and immediate reduction in all the symptoms of acute gastroenteritis (AKA the screaming shits) literally within minutes of taking s. boulardii. Dr. Toby sold me what had at his office (Designs For Health version, which is a great brand) but Jarrow Formulas has a really good Saccharomyces boulardii on Amazon.
I took 1 capsule, twice a day.
4. Ultra InflamX PLUS 360
Ultra InflamX PLUS 360 is something I had never heard of before. For all I knew, it was just a fancy space-age butt plug designed to help stop the flow of poo. But it turns out, this stuff is pretty magical when it comes to shutting down the inflammation that traveler's diarrhea and foreign bacteria throws into your gut. Here's the spiel from their website:
“UltraInflamX® PLUS 360° is a medical food formulated to provide specialized nutritional support—including reduced iso-alpha acids (RIAA, from hops), L-glutamine, and easily digestible rice protein—for patients with inflammatory bowel disease. This advanced formula features selective kinase response modulators (SKRMs) in the form of RIAA, which has been shown to beneficially influence the function of enzymes involved in inflammatory processes. Provided in a low-allergenic-potential rice protein base, this formula is also enhanced with L-glutamine to support intestinal mucosal cells and a special phytonutrient blend of ginger, rosemary, and turmeric.”
Basically, it is a blend of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, bioflavonoids, and the phytonutrients rutin, curcuminoids, and quercetin – all of which are meant to lower inflammation in the intestinal tract. If you can't keep food down (or in my case, the food slips through you in about 30 seconds flat) and are losing muscle mass fast, this formula also supplies a low-allergenic protein base in the form of rice protein concentrate.
And it actually doesn't taste too bad. I got the mango flavor. All it was missing was the sticky rice.
I took two scoops, twice a day, mixed into water.
And that's it. Acupuncture + berberine + s. boulardii + UltraInflamX. Just like that, within 24 hours, I was pumping iron instead of pumping toilet handles. So while my minimalist travel aresenal will cover your bases in most cases, those are the big guns I recommend you go out of your way to find if you need to get your traveler's diarrhea fixed fast.
So will I end up throwing in a few extras to help heal my gut faster? Or doing any testing to see exactly what may still be living inside me?
You betcha, since it now probably looks like World War II down there inside my poor tummy. In my article “The Art of Using Antibiotics – How To Limit the Damage“, I talk about my recommended approach of not just fixing a problem, but also doing post-damage cleanup so your insides don't wind up as one big massive scar. I'll use a similar approach in this case.
For example, I grabbed a big jug of gut-soothing aloe vera juice from the grocery store, and have been guzzling down a couple glasses a day. Think about how your skin feels when you put soothing aloe vera on a sunburn. When you drink aloe vera, you feel just like that, but on the inside.
I'm also drinking gut-healing bone broth every day, and when I hop on a plane to San Francisco, I'll be packing the next best thing to bone broth – a ziplock bag full of powdered Great Lakes collagen hydrosylate.
Finally, just to cover my bases and ensure I completely clear everything out and “wipe the slate clean” so to speak, as soon as I return from California next week I'll be using a Gut Fix Pack for 30 days. This pack is comprised of oil of oregano, colostrum, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and (especially nice in case I do indeed have a parasite) a gut cleansing formula. I had planned on doing a cleanse anyways to clean myself out at the beginning of the year, but now I'm simply starting it early.
This may seem like a lot of shit to worry about taking – literally – but the way I see it, you've only got one gut. For the rest of your life. And traveler's diarrhea sucks enough to where I'll go to pretty great measures to get rid of something like that.
As far as testing goes, I'm going to go with a fancy little gut panel from a wholesale test company called DirectLabs. It's called a “CDSA 2.0 w/Parasitology-Genova KIT” and is a relatively comprehensive test that checks digestion, absorption, gut flora (tiny microorganisms that live in the stomach), immune system of the stomach, metabolic and microbiological markers, several bacterial strains, and the colon environment.
This is a good test for pretty much all gastrointestinal problems, for severe bowel pattern changes, and for many universal diseases, and provides a sensitivity panel for treating disease causing microorganisms. You'll poop into a collection bowl for three days straight, spoon little bits of your poop into a tube, refrigerate it, send it all out in a pre-paid labeled bag and within a few days, get your results emailed to you. It's just like Christmas, except for your slimy insides.
Leave your questions, comments, and feedback about traveler's diarrhea below, as well as any personal experiences or tips of your own you'd like to share! I hope this helps any of you who are struggling with this issue, or who ever wind up needing this advice.
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Also published on Medium.