Every year thousands of us look forward to our precious two weeks of holiday, only to have some time spoilt by common problems such as stomach upsets and sunburn or heatstroke.

Fortunately there are lots of ways to reduce your risk of these frequent health hazards, so you can enjoy your time away.

A healthy immune system is essential, not only during your holiday when it will be protecting you against unfamiliar foods, foreign bacteria and a different climate, but also before you go away.

How many of us run around madly trying to get the ‘in-tray’ cleared or even just packed and ready to go, to end up stressed and exhausted and vulnerable to infection?

So what should we be doing to support our body’s natural defences so we can make the most of our time away? We all want to come back home feeling truly relaxed and not feeling like we need another holiday to get over that one!

Help your immune system help you

The digestive system is one of our first lines of defence against bacteria and viruses. When we travel somewhere different our digestive system is more likely to be exposed to unfamiliar food and water which increases our risk of tummy upsets.

Before going on holiday, give your immune system a boost by ensuring that your levels of good bacteria are enough to help you fight any bugs. Start by eating foods that offer ‘live’ bacteria, such as plain cow’s, goat or soya yoghurts. You can also help by eating foods called ‘prebiotics’ that ‘feed’ the friendly bacteria: onions, garlic, leeks, bananas and rye are all good sources.

A course of probiotics (available from health food shops) can increase the friendly bacteria and help digestion. Start taking a couple of weeks before you go away and continue during your holiday. Probiotics usually need to be kept in the fridge, so if you are camping or do not have access to a fridge, look for products that do not need to be kept refrigerated.

If you are unlucky enough to be struck down with a tummy upset follow these simple rules to help a speedy recovery.

  • Drink plenty of fluid – plain filtered water is best to keep you from becoming dehydrated.
  • Weak, black tea can help reduce diarrhoea: the tannins in tea act as an astringent in the gut.
  • Think BART! Your stomach will be quite sensitive after a bug so for the first couple of days stick to Bananas, Apples (preferably stewed), Rice (plain, boiled white) and Toast (plain, white bread toast). All these foods are gentle on the gut.
  • If you have severe vomiting or diarrhoea always seek medical advice. Stomach upsets can cause severe dehydration, a serious condition that can lead to hospitalization. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.
  • Be kind to your skin

Whilst it is lovely to come back from your holidays with a glowing tan, dermatologists agree that skin cancer, wrinkles and liver spots could all be drastically reduced if excessive sun exposure is avoided. It is believed that the sun’s rays alter the DNA of skin causing cancerous cells to from. Ultraviolet light also suppresses the immune system allowing cancerous cells to proliferate. Some ultraviolet rays penetrate even deeper damaging the elastin and collagen fibres – that give skin its youthful, plump appearance – which results in wrinkles.

So be sensible in the sun and follow this advice:

  • Don’t sunbathe between the hours of 11.00am and 3.00pm when the sun’s rays are at their most damaging.
  • Don’t let your skin burn.
  • Do use a sunscreen that is suitable for your skin type.
  • A big floppy hat will protect your face and shoulders (and your hair too!).
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Research has shown that sun damage contributes to cataracts later on in life.

So whatever you do this summer, eat well to get the best out of your well-deserved time off!