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The Jet-Lag Diet

What you eat and drink in the three days before a flight can help to beat jet lag. Jetlag is the most common ailment of long-haul travellers. About 90 per cent of passengers on flights lasting more than three hours have some symptoms which include extreme fatigue, insomnia, irritability, stomach problems and general aches and pains which can ruin the start of a holiday or business trip. But there are ways to minimize its effects.

The key factor in jet lag is the number of time zones crossed during a flight. Changing the schedule of daylight and darkness confuses the pineal gland in the brain, which produces sleep hormones such as melatonin. Until the gland catches up with alterations to the circadian rhythm - which sometimes takes several days - people can feel sleepy when awake or find it impossible to sleep.

Most travellers find that jet lag is worse when travelling east, as the days get shorter. ?They seem to adjust more easily to a lengthening day when flying west,? says Farrol Kahn, director of the Aviation Health Institute (AHI) charity.

He adds that as well as these disruptions to the body clock, a lack of oxygen in pressurized cabins (20-25 per cent less than at sea level) compounds feelings of tiredness.

Changing your watch to destination time as soon as you board the plane, and getting as much natural light as possible on arrival, can help to synchronize the biological clock. But what you eat and drink will also have an effect.

Researchers at the University of Chicago Argonne National Laboratory who developed the anti-jet-lag diet have shown that travellers following their three-day programme of ?feasting and fasting? are seven times less likely to suffer jet lag when travelling east, and 16 times less likely in journeys west.

Results of a study confirming the diet's benefits were published recently in the medical journal Military Medicine. The US Army and the Canadian swimming team are among those who swear by it.

Based on the theory that meals are ?times cues? for your body, the diet involves rescheduling the amount and type of foods eaten in the three days before a long-haul flight. On days one and three you eat high-protein meals of dairy products and meat for breakfast and lunch. This, say the Chicago scientists, ?helps the body to produce chemicals normally produced when it is waking up?. A high-carbohydrate evening meal triggers production of serotonin, a hormone which promotes sleepiness. Day two is a ?fasting? day with an intake of 700 calories or less, which is repeated on flight day - but with lots of coffee in the evening to trigger earlier waking the next morning. On arrival, the advice is to ?eat a high-protein meal at local breakfast time? and to ?keep as active as possible?.

The principles of the diet appear sound, says Kahn, though he adds: ?It seems a bit extreme and you could probably get similar benefits from skipping meals during the flight so that you arrive feeling hungry. Bananas are a great stopgap if you need an energy boost when you get there.?

Avoiding alcohol but drinking water, to reduce the increased risk of dehydration when flying, will also help.

Meanwhile, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology has confirmed that caffeine can help to ward off jet lag. Subjects took either a 300mg dose of caffeine or 5mg of melatonin (available as a food supplement in the US, though not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration) the morning before a flight. Both drugs taken separately prevented many of jet lag's adverse effects.

Most jet-lag ?cures? sold in airport shops have only a placebo effect, says Kahn, although AHI tests on product called Jetskins, a moulded compression garment worn on the lower body for long-haul flights, showed that it can reduce muscle soreness and improve co-ordination (it costs ?59).

Whichever approach you choose, do not take a nap when you arrive says Kahn, as this will reset your body clock to ?home time? and undo the good work. ?Simple, old-fashioned methods involving time cues, stress-free flying and sensible eating are still the best,? he says. ?Jet lag is half psychological - if you think you are going to suffer, you will.?

By Peta Bee
Extracted from The Times, 5 May 2004
05-05-2004

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