Flying and Frying

Many people on Saipan and the neighboring islands comment that one of the things they love about living out here is the ability to travel quickly to other countries and explore.  I myself just returned from a long flight to the states for a nutrition conference.

I love travel, and have found ways to be quite content on these 28-hour trips, but whenever you fly, you are being bombarded by microbes, dehydration, and dangerous radiation!, dehydration, and dangerous radiation! No, this isn’t some SciFi plot or crazy takeover. This is something everyone faces during their flights.

Airplane Exposure to Dangers

When one gets on a plane, one is preparing to assault the body with many dangers. I’m not talking about potential dangers of malfunctions; I’m talking about the constant dangers of germs, dehydration, and radiation.

Most of us are already aware that plane flights can be a breeding ground for disease – many people crammed close together for long periods of time, limited air circulation, and not the healthiest of snack options! So I often plan about a week ahead to start boosting my immune systems with extra sleep, water, and vitamin C. (Lemon water first thing in the morning is a great way to start!)

Dehydration was an issue for me on previous plane rides. First off, they swipe your water at the check in, so you have to try to find new water on the other side.  Take bottles that you can refill, and always ask for water from the stewards.  Delta tweetedDrink water. Then drink more. You can lose nearly 1.5 liters of water during a 3-hour flight.”  That’s about 6 cups every 3 hours!  So if you’re one of my Saipan compatriates, and you’re making a trip back to the states… you do the math.  Drink up!

And the one danger that most people are NOT aware of – when you hop on a plane, you are going to be flying at heights that are affected by various forms of radiation.


from nasa.gov


While we are constantly getting a “steady drizzle of rain” of radiation from space, the Environmental Protection Agency states “The atmosphere shields us from cosmic radiation, and the more air that is between us and outer space, the more shielding we have. The closer we get to outer space, the more we are exposed to cosmic radiation. This holds true when we live at high altitudes or fly.”

The Federal Aviation Administration put out this report for Aircrews, entitled “What Aircrews Should Know About Their Occupational Exposure to Ionizing Radiation.” In it, they state “Ionizing radiation consists of subatomic particles that, on interacting with an atom, can cause the atom to lose one or more orbital electrons or even break apart its nucleus. Such events occurring in body tissues may lead to health problems. For aircrews, and their children irradiated in utero, the principal health concern is a small increase in the lifetime risk of fatal cancer. For both of these groups, exposure to ionizing radiation also leads to a risk of genetic defects in future generations. The FAA recommends limits for aircrews in their occupational exposure to ionizing radiation and provides computer software for estimating the amount of galactic cosmic radiation received on a flight.”

Now, I’m not saying one long flight is going to necessarily have fatal effects, but low doses over time can add up. And we’re exposed to these forms of radiation on a daily basis already, it is just increased during a flight. If they have to warn crew to limit their exposure, maybe it’s something to take seriously.

Looking out the plane window, over the Pacific

So what can you do? The EPA’s opinion is, “There are no practical ways to shield yourself from cosmic radiation during a flight. You can reduce your exposure while flying by taking shorter flights at lower altitudes. This is often not practical, and the risks from cosmic radiation do not warrant changing your travel plans to reduce your exposure.”

But for those of us who fly more often, on long trips?  Eat naturally, and keep yourself healthy! Load up on antioxidants that help stabilize those molecules in your body and prevent dangerous oxidation from radiation.

How to Handle These Damaging Assaults

Start your morning with a big glass of lemon water to get a last little kick of vitamin C, then get some good antioxidants in, to help protect your cells (berries, leafy greens, produce, ect.)

Keep foods light and easily digestible – don’t bog down your body with digestive needs when you want to reserve some energy for fighting off germs and damage.  Processed, heavy meals that do little to help keep your system running at its ideal level.  Ideas: raw pecans or almonds; trail mix; apples travel well; baby carrots and celery sticks or bell peppers; a treat of dark chocolate with over 70% cacao.

Boost your immune system early; keep water on hand; eat antioxidant-rich foods but eat light. And make sure you get up and stretch to keep your blood flowing and moving all those nutrients around!

Published by Kate Cline, RD

Registered Dietitian with a focus on Gut Health, Inflammation, and Functional Nutrition. Personal Trainer with a focus on corrective exercise. Yoga teacher, traveler, empowerment coach.

Leave a Reply