6 Things to know about travel-related ailments and complementary health approaches

People planning to travel internationally are often interested in complementary or integrative health approaches for travel-related illnesses and conditions. Some of these approaches for travel-related health problems are promoted widely in advertising or marketed on the Internet. However, little of this information is supported by research evidence, and some of it is misleading or false. Here are 6 things to know if you are considering using herbal remedies, dietary supplements, or other complementary health approaches for travel-related ailments and hazards.

  1. Malaria. Although some Web sites and news stories have claimed that using the herb artemisia alone may prevent malaria, studies show it does not. The World Health Organization recommends against using artemisia plant material in any form (including tea) for treating or preventing malaria. Additionally, travelers should not attempt to use quinine (from the cinchona tree) to self-treat or prevent malaria.
  2. Zika virus. There is no evidence that any herbs or other products, such as activated charcoal or diatomaceous earth, will protect against or treat the Zika virus.
  3. Probiotics. Research on the use of probiotics in treating acute infectious diarrhea is generally positive. Results from studies on preventing travelers’ diarrhea are mixed but encouraging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any health claims for probiotics.
  4. Jet lag. Melatonin supplements may help with sleep problems caused by jet lag. Relaxation techniques, such as progressive relaxation and mindfulness-based stress reduction, may help with insomnia, but it has not been established whether they are effective for jet lag.
  5. Insect protection. Laboratory studies found that botanicals, including citronella products, worked for shorter periods than products containing DEET. For people who prefer to use botanicals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), such as the products Repel and Off! Botanicals.
  6. 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.
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