Flying Considerations: Effects of Air Cabin Pressure on Digestion

Flying can be particularly stressful on the body; I know in my experience that when I fly I’d often feel pretty out of whack for at least 24hours after landing and often my digestion felt awful for days. Even if you take your own clean, non-airplane food you can still feel pretty awful, why is this?

The effects on digestion

One of the main contributors is the change in air pressure. Whilst the cabins are pressurised it is said that the pressure you are exposed to when flying is still equivalent to an altitude of 6000-8000ft. Of course with minimal activity on a plane this is barely noticeable, that is until you consider our ability to be able to digest food at that altitude.

When you take a deep look into the effects of increased altitude on digestion you find that the body preferentially supports essential bodily functions, shutting off non-essential functions such as digestion efficiency and increasing cardiopulmonary function. Of course our body can adjust to these altitudes given time, however altitude acclimatisation can take days and even weeks. and it is unnatural for our body to change air pressures in such short peroids of time.

The Solution

When flying I recommend fasting or modified fasting for those that have a hard time fasting. Ideally eat 2-3 hours before you are due to take off, then consume water, herbal teas and black coffee’s only during the flight. Once you have landed you can then find somewhere to eat some clean, healthy food.

If you have a hard time fasting then taking with you a broad spectrum amino acid powder to add to your water and possibly some Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil. Why amino’s and MCT’s?

Amino’s are already fully broken down into their usable/absorbable form, meaning little or no digestion is required. MCT’s on the other hand offer a source of fats very different to other fats as they are diffused from the gut to the portal system without requirement for modification. MCT’s also do not require bile salts for digestion, making them easy to digest, absorb and utilise.

Word of warning – MCT oil has the capacity to induce some pretty explosive diarrhea. MCT’s are generally best tolerated in very small dosages, usually 1tsp-1tbsp at a time, so regular small dosages are best but check your tolerance before flying to avoid a very embarrassing situation.

Personally I think a total fast with no amino’s or MCT is the preferred nutritional approach to flying.

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