Could Air Travel Trigger an Autoimmune Response? 4 Tips to Protect Your Health

Have you ever felt that you tend to get sick more frequently while traveling? You’re not alone. But the reasons may surprise you — it’s not simply because you’re in tight quarters with a great number of people and their germs.

Travel, particularly on a plane and across time zones, can stress the immune system and weaken your defenses against the common cold or flu.

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Gastrointestinal Flare-Ups and Air Travel

At the 2012 Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego, scientists revealed that people struggling with inflammation in the gut may be at a higher risk for inflammatory flare-ups when they fly.

Taking things further, researchers in Switzerland observed 103 individuals over the course of 30 days. Of this pool, 52 people experienced gastrointestinal flare-ups, and 51 people were in remission.1

  • Remission is a term used in medicine to describe when symptoms of a disease have disappeared, even though the disease itself has not been cured. Cancer and autoimmune disorders can go into remission.
  • Flare-up is a term used to indicate that a disease process is active and symptoms of the disease are at their worst.
According to the researchers, those with more air miles or those who frequently traveled to altitudes higher than 6,500 feet were more likely to experience a flare-up in symptoms.1

While scientists decided that it is too soon to draw any conclusions about the effects of air travel on inflammatory gut disorders, there is enough of a correlation to raise eyebrows and prompt further investigation.

4 Ways to Carry On When You Need to Fly

Many of us are affected by some degree of inflammation in the gut. While flying may provoke an inflammatory response, it clearly would be unreasonable to suggest that people eliminate air travel. But you can help counteract the effects on your body.

If you suffer from any form of inflammation in the gut, optimize your gut health by following these easy steps while flying:

1. Choose Cultured Foods!

Crohn’s disease is categorized as an autoimmune disorder. This means the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells of gastrointestinal tract. Like other inflammatory disorders of the gut, Crohn’s disease involves an immune system that lacks balance. More recent research also suggests that the inner ecology of those with Crohn’s is radically unhealthy.2,3

When it comes to the gut, research shows that those with Crohn’s disease are affected more than anyone else by air travel.

Supporting the beneficial bacteria in the gut is an excellent — and easy — way to fight inflammation. You can do this by incorporating probiotics into your diet — eat a side of cultured vegetables or drink a few ounces of a probiotic beverage like InnergyBiotic.

2. Make Sure Your Cells Get Oxygen

Hypoxia (when the body is starved of oxygen) promotes inflammation.

One of the main duties of your blood is to deliver oxygen throughout your body. When you fly, the saturation of oxygen decreases as you gain altitude.4 So, before you travel, find an herbalist or naturopathic physician that will design a formula for you — one that specifically supports the blood and its movement.

In Chinese medicine, an herb called dong quai is known as one of the most important blood tonics. Don Quai supports the production of blood in the body, and helps move blood and circulate oxygen throughout tissue; it also contains vitamin B12. Dong Quai is readily available at health food stores and many grocers.

Two western herbs that help to promote blood circulation:

  • Feverfew
  • Butcher’s broom

You can also purchase these herbs at many health food and grocery stores.

3. Keep a Stash of Digestive Enzymes

Enzymes are essential to the digestive process. Like beneficial bacteria, enzymes help to break food down into smaller pieces so that the body can use it.

When it comes to inflammatory disorders of the gut, brush border enzymes suffer the most. Produced by the microvilli that line the intestinal tract, these enzymes can help to heal inflamed and destroyed tissue.

Brush Border Enzymes:

  • Amylase
  • Cellulase
  • Invertase (Sucrase)
  • Peptidase
  • Malt Diastase (Maltase)

When the tissue of the intestinal wall is damaged from hypoxia and inflammation, it simply does not have the energy or raw materials to supply these crucial brush border enzymes as found in Assist Full Spectrum enzymes.

We can eat the best food—all organic, local, and sustainable—but if we do not have the enzymes to digest this food, we are still undernourished.


4. Rebuild with L-Glutamine

The cells of the small intestine use an amino acid called L-glutamine for fuel.

Research has found that L-glutamine actually supports the growth and repair of these small intestine cells, which are often damaged in those who have Crohn’s disease or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). L-glutamine is literally food for the cells of the small intestine!

Bone broth contains these nutrients that can help to rebuild the gut barrier.

If bone broth is not convenient or practical while traveling, we suggest using Vitality SuperGreen, which contains a covalent-bonded form of glutamine called GlutImmune. It is ten times stronger than L-glutamine.

In between flare-ups and even when symptoms of gut inflammation are at their worst, give your body extra support with L-glutamine.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Air travel is a common stressor to the immune system. Even worse, it can deprive the body of oxygen and greatly affect the health of the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, research suggests that gastrointestinal flare-ups may be directly associated with air travel, although a final conclusion has yet to be made.

Individuals that are the most vulnerable to gut inflammation caused by air travel are sufferers of irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. The reason? When the body is starved of oxygen at a high altitude, it can lead to hypoxia, which will cause inflammation and destroy healthy tissue. This aggravation can make pre-existing gut disorders even worse.

Of course, it’s not possible to avoid flying altogether. Use these helpful tips to protect your health and enjoy your trip from start to finish:

  1. Support gut health with beneficial bacteria from cultured vegetables or a few ounces of a probiotic beverage like InnergyBiotic.
  2. Rely on Assist Full Spectrum digestive enzymes to support intestinal walls that have been damaged by inflammation and hypoxia.
  3. Restore digestive health with Vitality SuperGreen to rebuild the gut barrier.


  1. Vavricka, S. R., Rogler, G., Maetzler, S., Misselwitz, B., Manser, C. N., Wojtal, K. A., & Schoepfer, A. (2012). 303 High Altitude Journeys and Flights are Associated With the Increased Risk of Flares in IBD Patients. Gastroenterology, 142(5), S-68.
  2. Campbell, J., Borody, T. and Leis, S. (2012). The many faces of Crohn’s Disease: Latest concepts in etiology. Open Journal of Internal Medicine, 2, 107-115. doi: 10.4236/ojim.2012.22020
  3. Sartor, R Balfour. (2006). Mechanisms of Disease: pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 3, 390-407.
  4. Avmed (2001) Flying into Thin Air: Understanding Hypoxia, Aviation Medicine: Aerospace Medicine http://www.avmed.in/2011/03/flying-into-thin-air-understanding-hypoxia
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