Most expats do their fair share of travel, whether for business, adventure or trips home. Travel can be demanding on the body. Here are a few of the most common problems brought on by the rigours of travel and some advice on how to stay healthy.

Jet Lag

Humans have biological rhythms (circadian rhythms) which are controlled by a biological clock, daily routines and exposure to light and dark. These affect body temperature, alertness, appetite, hormone secretion and more, as well as sleep timing. Desynchronosis, also known as jet lag, results from disruption of these rhythms when traveling across time zones. When you’re out of sync with your new time zone, you might experience sleeping problems, fatigue, difficulty focusing, irritability and even digestive issues. The body will naturally realign itself. However, this takes time (experts suggest one day for each hour difference), making trips across multiple time zones especially challenging.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can help speed up this process by assisting your body to rebalance its Qi (essential energy flow). Acupuncture is an effective aid in decreasing symptoms. Schedule appointments before travelling; you should come in for your first treatment soon after arrival. A TCM doctor can also put together an herbal decoction based on your body’s condition and symptoms.

Here are some other tips for managing jet lag:

  • Try to reset your schedule to your new time zone. Expose yourself to the natural light so your body starts to realign. Try to avoid napping; when fatigue hits during the day, try to go for a walk or do something active.
  • Eat small, light meals. Heavy meals will only worsen digestion and disrupt your body’s adjustment.
  • Skip alcohol (on your flights, choose water instead to stay hydrated).
  • Schedule some time to adjust. Try to give yourself a little extra time or minimise heavy activities during the first day or two.

Tummy Trouble

A lot of expats have experienced ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year between 20%-50% of international travellers, an estimated 10 million people, develop diarrhoea. Others experience constipation, indigestion or upset stomach when traveling, due to jet lag, stress, and unfamiliar foods and eating patterns. Practise caution with street foods and unusual foods, and refrain from overindulging or drastic diet changes. If problems strike, a TCM doctor can offer herbal remedies, such as the following very effective solutions:

  • Xiang Lian Pian (four pills three times a day) for diarrhoea
  • Ma Ren Wan (ten pills or two capsules each evening; for severe cases it can be taken both evening and morning) for constipation
  • Xiang Sha Yeng Wei Wen (six pills three times a day after meals) for general poor digestion


The strain of travel and exposure to large crowds makes us more susceptible to viruses when traveling. For expats in China, this may be compounded by pollution, stress and changing climates. You’ll be much less vulnerable if you get sufficient rest, exercise and eat well. There are two excellent herbal remedies for common maladies. If you take them when you first feel symptoms, you can often avoid a lengthy, severe illness.

  • Colds: Shuang Huang Lian Kou Fu Ye (one ampule three times a day)
  • Flu: Kang Bing Du Kou Fu Ye (one ampule three times a day)

Enjoy your travels and stay healthy!

Doris Rathgeber is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She founded Body & Soul – Medical Clinics in Shanghai in 2003. Body & Soul has grown to multiple locations across Shanghai, with an interdisciplinary team of TCM and Western medicine practitioners.

Shanghai | Body and Soul | Expat Essentials

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