We are fortunate to live in an era where international air travel is cheap, fast and easily accessible. With non-stop flights reaching 18 hours, we can get from one corner to the world to the other in a day.
Long haul airline travel is a marvellous advancement for business, trade and holiday makers, but their is a down side. The downside is the toll it takes on the human body.
Airline travel, especially long duration travel, exposures the body to an array of stressors. Stressors that I have outlined in detail below.
Before you think this is an article designed to scare you from ever leaving your home again, think again. I personally love travelling and frequently fly on routes well over 10 hours in length. But am I well aware of the toll these flights take on my body, and that is my intention with this article - to educate you on what the health consequences are when travelling.
Also, I have listed various solutions and strategies to protect your body from these dangers. From supplements to seat selection, these tips and tricks will help you minimise the stress load on your body, while increasing recovery and resilience.
If you don't want to read the entire article, you can download a free copy of these action points by clicking HERE.
Non-native electromagnetic fields (nnEMF) are emitted from devices such as Wifi routers, cell phones, bluetooth speakers, electrical wiring, radio transmitters and pretty much any electrical device.
Though a rather controversial topic, high levels of nnEMF exposure on the human body (or any living body, human or not for that matter) are shown to be damaging to cell health - including:
For more on nnEMF and the dangers on our health I recommend reading the following books:
As technology - and more specifically wireless technology - use grows exponentially, our bodies are exposed to greater and greater amounts of nnEMF. There are numerous things we can do to protect ourselves from these fields, some of which I will cover below.
"Wifi in the sky" they announce with joy ✈️📡 "Connect with friends and family while 40,000ft in the air" says the Announcer on the packed a380 as we fly home to Auckland... What's better - "it's free for all 500 people on board!" "Yay! 🙌🏽" 498 people think... meanwhile my partner and I look at each other with concern...😬 Sure, wifi in the sky has some perks - I can share this image with the world for instance - but when 500 people all turn their devices wifi on, connecting to a central transmitter, while flying in a thin atmosphere already exposed to higher levels of natural radiation, all while sitting packed liked sardines in a metal tube... it turns your environment into a nnEMF Hell Hole 📡😱 Don't believe me? I brought my emf electrosmog meter onboard to test our exposure... (yes I'm a geek 🤓) and take a look what happened... the reading hit 'OVERLOAD'. Oh the joy 😑 I always knew travel was stressful on the body, but this is another level! Thankfully, I also packed some Coq10 which provides a little bit of stress mitigation 💊👍🏼 Anyway, rant over, back to my book 📔
You have no doubt connected the dots already - being encased in a metal tube, surrounded by electronics, transmitters, tv screens, portable devices and onboard wifi increases the exposure of nnEMF fields on the body.
With increased exposure comes an increased stress load on the body and negative biological effects.
Flying is one of the most unnatural things humans can do, flying surrounded by technology only makes things worse from a health point of view.
Fortunately there are ways to minimise this damage:
Note - you can find all these tips in one simple checklist that you can print out for free HERE
Anyone who has traversed across multiple time zones will know how horrible jet lag is.
You're tired, lethargic, spaced out and all you want is sleep... but your sleep cycles are so missed up that sleep is hard to come by.
Your bodies natural cycles are all off. You may be craving food yet it's the middle of the night in your new environment for example.
Many simply view jet lag as a consequent of travel. But their are far more damaging health consequences of jet lag.
A disruption of your bodies cycles (broken circadian rhyhm cycles) has been linked to:
Jet Lag can make you sick and fat (11).
Not only that, but studies have found that Jet Lag disrupts your gut health (12). The researchers remarked 'We saw that in the presence of jet lag, their microbes were completely messed up. We could very nicely see that transferring the gut microbes from the point where jet lag was at its highest induced much more obesity and glucose intolerance,” (13).
What can you do to protect yourself from the dangers of Jet Lag? Read on:
Spot the bio hacker 😝 Rocking the Blue Light Blocker glasses on my 11 hour overnight flight 😎😴 If you're wondering why I'm wearing orange glasses in the plane, it goes like this: ➖artificial light (in particular blue light) suppresses melatonin and raises cortisol. ➖The eye is the most sensitive to this light. ➖If you filter the blue light from reaching your eye you can assist with sleep 👍🏼 So yes, I'm the weirdo wearing orange glasses on the plane ✈️ 🤓 At least I'll sleep well 😋
Given the high altitude that aircraft fly at, there is a need to circulate air within the aircraft. This brings about numerous health issues as the air supply is limited and there are hundreds of passengers onboard, sometimes for up to 18 hours a time.
It is well known that air quality onboard commercial airlines is far from 'fresh' (15).
The health issues around poor air quality when travelling include:
All of which can lead to sinus problems, headaches, nosebleeds, dehydration and increased toxin burden on the body (which is linked to fat gain as covered HERE).
Fortunately, airlines are aware of these air quality issues and new versions of commercial airlines have higher humidity levels, improved cabin pressures and advanced air filtration and circulation systems. I review the Boeing Dreamliner that has these systems on board in THIS article.
In my article 'Why You Need To Do Less To Lose Fat' I look at how stress not only makes us fat, but makes us sick as well.
The body can only handle so much stress at a given point, fortunately we are able to increase our stress resilience and utilise tools and techniques to help lower the impact of stress on our body.
So far in this article we have looked at how flying can be damaging to our health. But it's not just what happens in the air that makes travel a burden on our body, it's also what happens on the ground before and after our flight.
Airports are a rather stressful place. Lots of people, announcements, security, people in a hurry, foreign languages, heavy luggage, flight delays etc etc.
All of these things increase the stress load on the body.
Remember, our stress response is a survival mechanism - ideally it is activated in a life or death situation, providing us with a short term solution to ensure we overcome the stressor.
Stress brought on by long lines, heavy bags, and angry security staff may not be a life or death situation, but we don't interpret it that way. When we see the 'Last call' label next to our flight our stress system is activated for example.
The hormonal effects of chronically activated stress response cause all sorts of health issues such as insulin and leptin resistance and high blood pressure (16).
Given you are about to embark on a long, stress inducing flight, it's important that you minimise the stress load whilst going through the airport.
We have already looked at the high nnEMF exposure while on the plan, but there is another significant amount of radiation exposure that occurs prior to boarding the plane.
This happens when we past through those full body security scanners. The ones that we're told are safe, and are necessary to protect ourselves from 'terrorists'.
If you look at the findings of Jason Prall, you will soon see that these scanners are from safe on our bodies.
In the article 'Yes, Airport Millimeter Wave Scanners Alter DNA' Jason shares how:
- These devices produce microwaves with wavelengths that fall exactly bin the microwave spectrum.
- The power density of millimeter wave scanners fall between 10-8 and 10-7 W/cm2, which seems pretty insignificant...
- ...until you read this paper which shows that millimeter waves at power densities as low as 10-11 W/cm2 have an effect on DNA, RNA, & proteins.
- Which concluded "Statistically significant changes in CCS (chromatin conformational state aka DNA, RNA, and proteins) were induced by millimeter waves at 10-9 W/cm2.”
In his article, Jason concludes:
In light of this clear evidence out of the Russian research literature, it would be very wise to “opt out” of the scanning devices until our government health organizations recognize the negative health impacts and remove such devices from US airports.
So what can you do to avoid these DNA altering scanners?
There are two main downsides to 'opting out' and getting the manual do over.
1) It's inconvenient. You will have to wait (in LAX I had to wait 20minutes before an officer came to do the pat down, I wasn't worried as I had 5 hours before my flight was leaving. I think they left me waiting hoping I would simply give up and go through the scanner instead).
2) It's invasive. You don't have to strip down, but you will get a full pat down, including close to and around private parts. You get an officer of the same sex and they do use the back of their hand.
Whether you decide to opt out or not is entirely up to you and how much you value your health and freedom.
Insecticide spraying used to be the norm for airline passengers many years ago. Fortunately it's not as common place today, but it still occurs.
In fact, a big reason why I'm writing this article today is because of my recent encounter with insecticide spraying while onboard an airplane.
My wife and I were had just landed in Auckland, New Zealand after a 9 hour flight with Hawaiin Airlines from Honolulu. We had returned home from our honeymoon.
Upon landing we were told that we were to remain seated with our seat belts securely fastened as staff were going to go through the cabin spraying insecticide.
The announcement concluded that 'the World Health Organisation has stated that the chemicals used are safe for human exposure'
Knowing that the WHO is far from being the most trust worthy source for health information I looked at my wife in horror. She shared the same look and stopped the flight attendant as she walked past her seat.
Fortunately she was able to get us off the aircraft while spraying occurred. Unfortunatley our bags had to remain on the aircraft and we had to wait until everyone was offloaded before a staff member could go and collect them (we weren't allowed back on).
I decided to do a little bit of research into this insecticide spraying procedure and see exactly what was being sprayed on this poor folk sitting inside a sealed tube. Here is what I discovered:
As for the safety issues from disinsection spraying:
"Flight attendants on commercial aircrafts disinsected with pyrethroid insecticides are exposed to pesticides at levels that result in elevated body burden and internal accumulation comparable to pesticide applicators, exceeding levels in the general U.S. population. It is expected that flying public would be similarly exposed to pesticides on those flights." (19)
For more info on this topic, including what airlines spray I recommend reading Should fliers worry about pesticide spraying on planes? at USAtoday.com
Pretty scary right?
Hopefully by now you're seeing why international travel can be so damaging to your health.
As for the action steps to protect your health, it can be a bit tricky, especially if they spray during the flight, or if they spray prior to boarding (whereby you're exposed to the residues).
If they spray upon landing heres what I would do:
Remember to download my FREE How To Protect Your Health From The Damages Of Travel Checklist by clicking HERE
I have written about the dangers of Flame Retardants in my article Are You Being Exposed To Dangerous Flame Retardants?
In this article I explain how:
And most relevant to this article:
In fact a 2013 paper titled 'Exposure to flame retardant chemicals on commercial airplanes' concluded:
"Our findings indicate that flame retardants are widely used in many airplane components and all airplane types, as expected. Most flame retardants, including TDCPP, were detected in 100% of dust samples collected from the airplanes. The concentrations of BDE 209 were elevated by orders of magnitude relative to residential and office environments." (21).
The research also found that flight attendants have some of the highest levels of flame retardant contamination in their bodies (This would be a result of a high concentration of flame retardant laden foam fabrics and seats in a small air that make their way into the circulated air onboard aircraft).
Unfortunatley there is not a lot you can do to minimise your exposure to flame retardants when flying, instead you have to focus on eliminating these toxins:
How can such a small amount of food (14g / 0.5oz) contain such a large number of horrible ingredients?! 😳😱🤢 These snacks were handed out on a recent @hawaiianairlines flight I was on ✈️ one quick look at the ingredients list and I knew this was not real food #fakefood Here are some of the worst offenders: ➖GMO soybean oil ➖yellow 5 ➖ yellow 6 (this requires specific health labeling of used in the EU!) ➖maltodextrin (from GMO corn) ➖ artificial flavors.. (always a concern) ➖disodium inosinate (GMO flavor enhancer linked to kidney damage) ➖disodium guanylate (Another flavor enhancer) And this is why I bring my own snacks when travelling 😬
Anyone who has spent a bit of time on airplanes understands that the food quality is far from great (unless of course you're fortunate to travel on a premium airline in first class!).
And even if you are fortunate enough to receive a meal that looks half decent (and even tastes OK) it's safe to assume that the meal contains:
You're not going to be eating organic, grass fed, natural food on your long haul flight (unless you bring your own!)
So what can you do about this?
Trying to sleep on a cramped air plane seat is rather difficult. Combine the tight sleeping space with passenger disturbance, and less than optimal flight times and you have a recipe for lack of sleep.
Unfortunatley acute sleep deprivation is a proven way to do a fair amount of health damage. Lack of sleep causes:
Given that the body is already under an increased stress load when travelling, it's a rather crucial time for quality sleep.
So what can you do about it?
We already looked at the impact of nnEMF on the body when flying in reason number 1. But that focused more on EMF fields generated from within the aircraft itself.
Here we look at the radiation from the environment when flying.
Our earth is bombarded with solar and cosmic radiation on a daily basis. Fortunatley our suns' magnetic field, the earths' magnetic field, and the earths' atmosphere does a great job protecting us from this harmful radiation.
But when we are travelling kilometers above the earths surface, there is less atmosphere to protect us. Cosmic and solar radiation levels are much stronger the higher we go.
And if you think the planes fuselage will protect you, think again.
It has been well documented that humans flying at altitude are exposed to much higher levels of radiation (22, 23, 24).
How damaging is that radiation?
We know that ionising radiation is harmful on living cells, but as the saying goes 'the poison is in the dose'. The bigger question is - is airline travel exposing us to levels of radiation that could be harmful?
A lot of research has been done looking into this question. While most findings state that the levels passengers are exposed to is safe (25, 26) flight crew, and pregnant passengers should be cautious of regular exposure.
Along with this, pilots & flight crew have a higher incidence of skin cancer (26) (attributed to the higher radiation their bodies are exposed to), brain cancer (27) and breast cancer (28).
Researchers have hypothesised that flight attendants who suffer from miscarriage may be connected to high levels of galactic radiation exposure (29).
If you are a frequent traveller, cosmic and solar radiation exposure should be a bigger concern than if you travel infrequently.
Though anyone who is serious about their health and wellbeing should keep radiation exposure from flying in mind.
Dehydration is a common side effect of airline travel.
This is a result of the low cabin humidity levels, and often the poor choices of beverages consumed when flying (alcohol and coffee).
Fortunatley, it is easily remedied and generally the effects are not long lasting.
But still, dehydration does negatively impact our health.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), is the formation of a blood clot in a vein deep in the body - generally within the legs.
There are various causes behind DVT, but risk increases when flying. This is because of the prolonged periods of inactivity when in a airline seat.
The WHO issues a report on air travel and DVT, they found that the risk of DVT doubles after a flight of 4 hours or more (30).
The risk of DVT in healthy passengers for a long haul flight (4 hours or more) is 1 in 6000.
Movement is the key when it comes to DVT prevention. So remember to get up and move about when flying.
There you have it! 12 reasons why long distance travel can damage your health. I hope that this article doesn't come across as fear mongering.
I simply wanted to share the facts around long distance travel and the impact it has on our health.
If you are like me, you are passionate about health and wellbeing, and want to know what impacts your body and health. And in turn you can then make informed decisions about your health.
This article is meant to serve that purpose. As I mentioned in the introduction, I do a lot of travel myself. I am aware of the health impact if may have on my body, but at the same time I utilise the strategies outlined above to help mitigate this risk.
I hope my 'travel solutions' provided help provide a counter to the potential health impact travelling may cause. Please don't run out and cancel your 12 hour long haul flight after reading this piece! Instead invest in some quality supplements and download my free travel solution report HERE to help you help yourself!
Finally, if you are scoffing at this article and wondering 'what is is wrong with this guy, travelling is fun, it's an adventure, stop being a negative nancy', then I recommend you read my favourite article on this site (it will hopefully connect a few dots and provide some context to where I am coming from and why I share content such as this) - Why We Need To Be Weirdos To Be Healthy.
Otherwise please leave your comments and feedback below and be sure to subscribe to my email list for more great content!
This blog post was written by Alex Fergus. Alex is a ISSN Sports Nutrition Specialist, Fitness Professional and certified Superhuman Coach who continues to expand his knowledge base and help people across the world with their health and wellness. Alex is recognized as the National Record Holder in Powerlifting and Indoor Rowing and has earned the title of the Australian National Natural Bodybuilding Champion. Having worked as a health coach and personal trainer for over a decade, Alex now researches all things health and wellness and shares his findings on this blog. Learn more about Alex's Credentials HERE.
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