Melatonin for jet lag, plus other healthy travel tips

Melatonin is a fantastic sleep aid, and I've used it occasionally to help reset circadian rhythms after staying up too late too many nights in a row (hello motherhood!). But this week, about to embark on a week-long trip to Rome, I wanted to find out the best way to take melatonin to counter the effects of hurtling through space and landing in a completely different eating ... I mean time zone. According to Cat Pantaleo, a nutritionist and herbalist based here in Boulder, Colorado, lead practitioner at the Boulder Downtown Pharmaca, the best way to melatonin to help with jet lag is as follows.

1. BEFORE: Take one 3-mg capsule one-half hour before bedtime for 2-3 nights leading up to your departure. (Doing that. Check.)

2. DURING: Take two 3-mg capsules one-half hour before bedtime for 3-4 nights upon arrival. (Plan to.) Note: "Not everyone needs to take it for this many nights," says Pantaleo. You may be fine after just two.

3. AFTER: Take one 3-mg capsule one-half hour before bedtime, as needed to readjust to home time zone. (Will see.)

What kind of melatonin works best? "Some people really like the slow-release melatonin because it releases gradually throughout the night, but any type of melatonin should work fine for jet lag," she says. I also plan to use espresso liberally.

Aside from melatonin, Pantaleo strongly suggested I take probiotics before and during my trip (look for a variety of strains) to help bolster my digestion.

And to keep from contracting airborne viruses (such as swine flu) in the airport and on the plane, Panteleo swears by antimicrobial nasal/throat spray such as Natura Throat and Gland Spray. "I took this on a long flight recently and spritzed it in my mouth and throat every half hour. Even though you're not getting a therapeutic dose, whatever viruses you’d get, you’d probably inhale; spraying your mouth and throat boosts your first line of defence. If you have antimicrobials on your mucosa then you’re less likely to get something." Plus, she says, if I start feeling sick then I can take more of it as a tincture. And it can even be used as an antiseptic for minor cuts.

Have a natural travel tip to share? Post a comment below!

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