My prescription for jet lag

Early-morning landing at Heathrow
Early-morning landing at Heathrow

A new article on the BBC website, ‘Molecular basis’ for jet lag found, caught my eye today: researchers believe they’ve finally found the mechanism in our bodies that triggers jet lag in some people when we cross numerous time zones. There’s a protein they’ve called SIK1 which prevents us from responding to light cues in a new location, stalling our ability to adjust our body’s internal clock to the new time zone.

Why would such a protein exist in the first place, if it’s detrimental in our modern jet-set world? Researchers speculate that it was originally designed, genetically speaking, to keep our internal clocks from being reset in error, by things like moonlight.

Studies like this are worthwhile if they either offer insight into a possible treatment, or a route for prevention. Another article on BBC mentioned a study on insomnia that deduced that, among other things, insomniacs’ brains function differently during the day than those who have sleep — no duh!

The medical community responded to the jet lag study in a typical way to the results of this study: “it is a very drugable target and I would suspect there are lots of potential  drugs already developed”.

Why is it that Western medicine immediately wants to give us a pill? Because it’s an easy fix for them, and most humans tend to like easy fixes, so that makes it a ‘win-win’ for both sides, theoretically. But putting a lot of artificially-created substances in our bodies catches up with us eventually, so we need to think twice about what we’re willing to take.

Don’t get me wrong — there are many medications that save our lives. I worked as a pharmacy assistant for many years and have seen firsthand the value of quite a few prescription drugs. I’ve also seen medications that are over-prescribed either because the doctor has been lazy or the patient demanding, medications that have been abused because the physician wasn’t being diligent, and a growing number of new medications that have such a complex artificial production process that they cause an increasing amount of strange side effects.

Western medicine has a history of treating symptoms instead of looking for the underlying cause. I suffered from chronic migraines when I was in my 30s, to the point where I was getting them every single day. I saw every conceivable type of doctor — neurologists, occupational physicians, allergists… After several years of going through this route with no success, I was frustrated and depressed. In the midst of this, Mike and I went on a 15th-anniversary trip to Southeast Asia. We spent 3 weeks in very hot, humid weather — in Thailand, we had to wash our clothes every day — and by the time we got to Singapore Mike’s tooth abscess had flared up out of control and I had a fever. Singapore was our last good ‘medical outpost’, so we made a beeline for a doctor there. Dr. Lee was a delightful man who teased my hubby for not having had a root canal done sooner, but he gave him a specific antibiotic that cleared up the infection for the balance of the trip.

My fever luckily turned out to be nothing more than the result of a cold from going between sweltering heat outside and air-conditioning inside, but in the process Dr. Lee discovered my chronic migraine problem and asked if I’d ever tried Gingko. At that time this simple plant-based remedy wasn’t available at all back home, but in Asia it had been in use for over 20 years on prescription to treat all types of circulation-related problems, from strokes to migraines, with no side effects. He gave me 30 of them to try out, which I did after we returned home, and they worked! Unfortunately I couldn’t get such a pure source here for many years afterwards.

In the meantime, though, after having some mild improvement with homeopathic treatments, I bought a book on how to do an Elimination Diet. I’d very carefully eliminated all the standard migraine triggers that every resource listed, so I reasoned that I had to be eating something so common that I didn’t even think twice about it. All the doctors told me to keep a food diary, but that’s such an imprecise way to find out what a trigger is — in even a basic meal, you might consume 20+ different ingredients!

The elimination diet took 28 days, and it wasn’t an easy process to go through, but the results were more than worth it: my biggest triggers were wheat (which I was eating multiple times every day), flax (so much for the 12-grain cereals that were supposed to be good for me) and food additives. After over 1,000 days straight of throbbing migraines, the first day that I didn’t have one felt like a miracle! I was eventually able to cut back the migraines by about 60%, substantially reduce the number of strong medications I’d had to take, and return to work.

So, back to the jet lag. I’ll tell you right off the bat that Mike and I don’t get jet lag — ever. Neither have the friends and family we’ve taken on trips with us. How do we manage it? We immediately immerse ourselves in the new time zone and don’t look back — literally. It’s a mindset: you set your watch to the new time zone, and once you arrive you behave as the new time dictates — you don’t have a nap as soon as you land, you DON’T try and figure out what time it is back home.

This works really well with night flights — get as much sleep as possible on the flight (I use long-acting dimenhydrinate that helps prevent airsickness and makes me drowsy enough to nod off, but if that doesn’t work for you, you might try an all-natural herbal product I really like called Relax & Sleep by Jamieson), have the breakfast they serve on the plane, ditch your luggage at your hotel and go out exploring all day. By the end of the first day you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, and you wake up the next morning refreshed and acclimatized.

Good luck, fellow travellers — let me know how you make out!

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I started Lion Tail Magic as a way to help people recapture the adventurous spirit of their childhood -- exploration, curiosity about everything, and a belief that anything is possible if you want it and are willing to work towards it. I am a travel coach, professional speaker, writer and endlessly curious world traveller.

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