Travel Tips – How to manage the effects of long-haul flights

Summer holidays are here again and sometimes that means long distance travel. Here are some tips to help you through the effects of long-haul flights.

Combating the effects of long haul flights 

Long periods of time spent cramped into a tiny space with little physical activity and in the pressurised environment of a plane cabin will adversely affect circulation in the blood vessels and the lymphatic system. These systems are responsible for removing waste products and toxins from the body’s tissues and a lack of circulation often leads to swollen legs, ankles, feet etc and a feeling of physical and mental sluggishness after several hours spent on board an aeroplane. More severe effects include deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This is when a blood clot develops in one of the deep veins of the legs – partly due to long periods of prolonged inactivity. If the clot breaks off from the wall of the vein and travels through the bloodstream it can result in damage being done to major organs or even prove fatal if a blockage occurs.

Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, sugar and nicotine all have a stimulating effect thereby increasing adrenalin which in turn constricts blood vessels, leading to more circulatory difficulties. It is worth avoiding these substances for several hours prior to flying, as well as during the flight.

The herb Gingko Biloba is a useful supplement to take. Gingko is well proven for improving circulation and in particular its abilities to dilate capillaries in the extremities. Pycnogenol has a similar effect in that it strengthens capillaries and enhances blood flow. Before you go on your trip make sure your circulatory systems are in good condition by taking omega-3 oils and Vitamin E.

Essential oils of Lavender, Geranium and Rosemary are also beneficial for improving circulation and reducing swelling. They can be applied in compress form, or as a cream / lotion / gel applied with long gentle massage strokes up the legs away from the feet and ankles.

Obviously the more you can physically move the better it is for your circulation. Consider wearing flight socks. These reduce water retention in your legs and help blood flow against gravity. A recent study showed that flight socks reduced the risks of DVT by 90%. Wear clothing that is loose around the legs and waist.

To minimise or avoid digestive sluggishness, constipation or indigestion try the following:

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Eat only enough to avoid hunger
  • Try to choose low salt, low fat, low sugar foods and go for high fibre foods instead
  • Drink plenty of water

If you are prone to indigestion or bloating following meals then try using a digestive enzyme supplement to help things along.


Long haul plane travel can be stressful to the body. Jet lag is a common feature, as the body’s biological clock becomes altered due to the crossing of several time zones in a short space of time. The sleep-wake cycle is modulated by melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland. Melatonin can be usefully employed to reset the sleep phase of this cycle and also to treat insomnia. Unfortunately melatonin cannot be bought in the UK, although it can be purchased in other countries such as the USA. However there are some alternatives which also work very well. These include Asphalia and 5-HTP.  Asphalia is a  food supplement which provides a natural form of melatonin. 5-HTPis a supplement which enhances serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin in turn, produces melatonin. If you suffer with jet lag then either of these supplements would be worth trying.

If you arrive during the day try and keep going until the evening. Once bedtime arrives  you can use essential oils of chamomile and lavender to help prepare you for bed and promote a good night’s sleep. In the morning you can use oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus to wake you up. These oils can be applied in massage oil or as a few drops in the bath.