How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge!
I know, I know….this is NOT a sexy post title!!! But if you ever plan a trip to Mexico, it just may save you and your digestive system some MAJOR grief. I’m in Cozumel as I write this, just getting over the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge (also known as “Traveler’s Diarrhea.”) Like I said: NOT sexy. For four days, I couldn’t eat, and was basically curled up in the fetal position in bed, or near the toilet. Forget swimming. Forget scuba diving. Forget dancing to sexy Latin music. The only time I left my room was to head down the street to the nearest Oxxo for bottled water.
I don’t know how many ways I can say this, but believe me: you DON’T want this to be YOU!!!
Which is exactly why I’m writing this post: I’m trying to save you the grief I experienced. Three supplements in particular will help you AVOID Montezuma’s Revenge during your travels. They are: 1) Probiotics, 2) Hydrochloric Acid (HCL), and 3) Activated Charcoal. Normally, I travel with ALL three of these remedies, as a defense to any sort of food-borne illness. Unfortunately, at the time I experienced Montezuma’s Revenge, I did not have ANY of them with me.
Apparently, Charlotte from “Sex and the City,” didn’t have any of these remedies either…
So, What is Montezuma’s Revenge?
Montezuma’s Revenge = Also known as “Traveler’s Diarrhea,” Montezuma’s Revenge is diarrhea experienced by travelers, especially while traveling to Mexico or developing countries. It is often caused by a contaminated water supply, poor sewage systems, and/or poor food handling techniques. Because the tap water in Mexico is especially unsafe, if any of it has found its way near your food, or even to a food handler’s hands, you may fall victim to Montezuma’s Revenge, which means that toxins and bacteria have now found their way into your digestive tract.
What Does Montezuma’s Revenge Feel Like?
Montezuma’s Revenge feels like an almost constant need for your system to evacuate itself ~ you never know when you’re gonna need to “go.” Therefore, I really didn’t want to leave the room for too long, lest I shit my shorts in public! Seriously though, I also got food poisoning around the same time, and thus, experienced sharp, stabbing pains in my lower abdomen. As I said, none of this was fun!
My appetite drastically reduced; I didn’t want to eat anything. The only thing that sounded remotely good were Goldfish crackers (probably my body’s attempt to replenish salt). So for four days, I ate nothing but Goldfish crackers and drank only water. I mean, this is one way to go on a diet ; ) But with the lack of food and balmy air of Cozumel, I felt weak, nauseous, and worn out ~ I had zero energy.
It goes without saying, but if you’re in a beautiful, tropical location ~ which Mexico offers in spades, you do NOT want Montezuma’s Revenge! Anything you can do to avoid getting Montezuma’s Revenge will be well worth doing, unless you’d like to sleep in a dark room on your vacation.
So, How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge??
I have a three-step plan for you to avoid getting Montezuma’s Revenge. Note: this is to PREVENT getting it in the first place. If you already have it, try Step #3 ~ charcoal pills. They will help pull out and remove the toxins. However, if you’re sick for more than a day or two, visit a local doctor.
Step #1 – Strengthen Gut Health with Probiotics
If probiotics aren’t already part of your daily routine, add them in one to two weeks prior to your trip. Why? Two major reasons: 1) Up to 80% of your immune system lives in your gut/intestinal tract. Therefore, a healthy gut = a healthy immune system (especially important for travelers), and 2) For Montezuma’s Revenge specifically, since it’s attacking your intestine with bad bacteria ~ the probiotics will insure that you have plentiful good bacteria in there to fight back.
Best Products: 1) Green Vibrance. My favorite probiotic and overall immune booster is hands-down Green Vibrance. It’s a green powder filled with 25 billion ~ yes, BILLION, probiotics. It also has virtually every other vitamin imaginable, and will strengthen your immune system like no other. It’s basically like taking a powerful multi-vitamin, plus tons of greens (which can be hard to find while traveling), in addition to adding billions of “good bacteria” into your gut.
2) Jarrow Probiotics. If you don’t like powders, and prefer taking a pill, try Jarrow Probiotics ~ they have pills especially meant for travelers, meaning they don’t need to be refrigerated (most probiotics DO need to be refrigerated). Jarrow is an effective and reliable brand, and has numerous probiotic formulas. Highly recommended.
Step #2 – Take Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) to Kill Bad Bacteria & Toxins
I learned this trick from my naturopath, and on her advice, brought HCL pills to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador for a three-month trip. I ate food from roadside stands and raw fish (ceviche) throughout the trip, with ZERO problems. My American friend, on the other hand, came home with a two-week stomach bug after eating something questionable in Peru.
What is HCL, and why do you need it? HCL is something you actually already have: hydrochloric acid and pepsin are the stomach acids responsible for digesting and breaking down your food. They also kill harmful bacteria and toxins ~ which is why they are so important for the traveler. HCL and pepsin are especially important for digesting protein (which requires a strongly acidic stomach environment). Without an acidic environment, food is not properly digested. This helps explain why HCL is SO important.
So if we already have HCL ~ why take more? As we age, particularly when we enter our 30’s and 40’s, the amount of natural acids in our stomach decreases. This explains why we used to be able to eat certain foods with no trouble ~ and then all of a sudden, as we get older, we start to get indigestion from eating the very same foods. Modern medicine’s response is to take an antacid (anti-acid). The problem is, we actually need MORE acid in our stomach to digest our food ~ not less! So, people suffering from GERD, acid reflux, and other digestive ailments, who pop antacids like candy ~ may actually be doing more harm than good. They need MORE acid ~ not less ~ to help break down their food! Antacids are actually making the problem worse by decreasing the amount of acid in their stomach.
Read More about HCL: Click Here
Now that you’ve gotten a bit of education about HCL, why should travelers especially keep it in their travel arsenal? Because it will give your digestive system an extra advantage ~ in case you eat anything questionable. That extra HCL creates a more acidic stomach environment, which is the perfect environment to kill any bad bacteria, toxins, or yeast that may have entered your system. Some people are afraid of the word “acidic” ~ but remember: your stomach is supposed to be an acidic environment. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to break down your food. This is why many people take Apple Cider Vinegar prior to meals ~ vinegar is highly acidic, and helps your body digest the meal better.
Directions for Taking HCL: Before any high-protein or “questionable” meal while abroad, I personally take one HCL capsule (650 mg or less). This works well for me, with no adverse side effects ~ but consult your doctor to determine the correct dosage for you. If you are currently taking prescription medication, even Ibuprofen or Advil ~ do not take HCL without consulting your physician. Certain drugs affect the health of your stomach lining, and you do not want HCL to interfere with that or potentially make it worse. You also don’t need HCL before every meal, particularly a meal without protein. Consult your physician for proper dosage.
Best Products: NOW Betaine HCL with Pepsin. NOW is a trusted brand, and this particular formulation contains pepsin as well (your other stomach acid), which makes it even more potent. Follow the instructions on the bottle, and consult your physician or naturopath prior to your trip, to determine the best dosage for you, and with which meals to take the HCL.
Step #3 – Bring Activated Charcoal to Rid Body of Toxins
After my dog (a black Labrador Retriever) accidentally swallowed upwards of 50 Ibuprofen pills, the emergency vet basically told me he was a goner. There was no way his system could recover from so much damage.
BUT ~ the one thing they could try, she said, was to use charcoal to try and bind with and pull out the Ibuprofen. At that point, I’d never heard of charcoal. Now, I’ll never forget it ~ because it ended up saving my dog’s life.
And of course, charcoal is having its moment right now; it’s become “trendy.” It’s in everything from face masks, to shampoos, to supplements. But why is it important for the traveler? For the same reason it was important for my dog: activated charcoal is one of the single-most effective emergency decontaminants in existence, and it works directly in the stomach and intestine, to remove toxins (even Advil).
So for the traveler wishing to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge, or any stomach bug ~ here’s where charcoal is a life-saver: let’s say I’ve eaten some suspicious ceviche, and notice my stomach feeling queasy a few hours later. If I’d had charcoal with me, I would’ve taken it immediately, so that it could bind with any toxins and carry them out of my system ~ just as it bound with all the Ibuprofen in my dog’s little body, saving him from permanent damage. Because it saved his life, to me, charcoal is a miracle-worker.
While in Mexico, after my fourth day of feeling terrible, I managed to find some charcoal pills from a local naturopath for about $4. Twenty-four hours later, I felt better. Your poop may look a little funny (it will be darker and blacker), but you won’t care, because you will feel SO much better. People who have a lot of gas, as well, benefit tremendously from charcoal, as it binds with gas and carries it out of the system.
Best Product: Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal. Nature’s Way is a great brand, and they’re one of the only brands on the market who produce activated charcoal. And it’s super cheap! About $6 for 100 capsules. This is powerful stuff, and you certainly do not need to take it all the time ~ only after a “questionable” meal, when you’re feeling gassy, etc. I personally take two capsules after a meal, BY THEMSELVES. NEVER take charcoal with ANY other medication or supplement. Why not? It will bind with that supplement too, and carry it out of your system, entirely wasting your money. I wait two hours before or after taking charcoal, before taking any other supplement.
No Mas Montezuma’s Revenge!
That concludes my thoughts on prevention for Montezuma’s Revenge. I hope you’re feeling better equipped at this point to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge on your next trip. Remember though: I’m NOT a doctor! The conclusions I have reached in this article all come from my personal experience, and have been helpful to me and others. I would never recommend anything that I have not personally tried or used myself. Everything recommended in this article, I would recommend to my family and close friends.
So though I’m not a doctor or an “expert,” I have worked in the health and fitness industry since 2011 (as owner of Adventure Bootcamp in Lake Oswego, OR), and I’ve spent the better part of the last fifteen years researching and self-experimenting with remedies for common ailments, such as Montezuma’s Revenge. Finding remedies and natural ways that do not involve prescription drugs, for living a vibrant, full life is a HUGE passion of mine. As such, I take making any recommendations concerning health very seriously.
But I’m not an expert! I firmly believe that the only expert on YOUR body is YOU. A good doctor and their guidance is invaluable, but ultimately you need to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. That said, take the recommendations made in this article as a jumping off point ~ and if you have any questions or concerns, please consult your doctor.
A Word on Links to Products
In this article, I have created direct links to specific products I recommend for preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea. These links will take you directly to Amazon, and if you purchase via that link, you will be supporting the work I do with this blog. Most articles I write do not include advertising links; they are written for the sheer benefit and knowledge of the reader. I appreciate your support if you choose to support my work by purchasing through these links.