How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge
I know….this is NOT a sexy post title!! But if you’re headed to Mexico, it may save your digestive system MAJOR grief, & help you avoid Montezuma’s Revenge. I’m in Cozumel as I write this, just getting over Montezuma’s (aka “Traveler’s Diarrhea.”) For four days, I was curled up in the fetal position, wanting to shoot myself! Forget swimming. Forget scuba diving. Forget eating. The only time I left my room was to visit the nearest Oxxo for bottled water.
Believe me: you DON’T want this to be YOU!!!
So, What is Montezuma’s Revenge?
Montezuma’s Revenge = Diarrhea or sickness experienced by travelers, especially when visiting Mexico or developing countries. It’s 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 (particularly in towns like Sayulita), it’s important to travel prepared.
**Author’s Note: Article updated as of December 2022.
What Does it Feel Like?
Montezuma’s Revenge feels like a near-constant need to evacuate ~ you never know when you’re gonna need to “go.” It may involve diarrhea and/or vomiting. I never left my room for long, lest I shit my shorts in public! My appetite reduced, & I felt weak, nauseous, & worn out ~ with zero energy. If you’re in a beautiful, tropical location such as Mexico ~ it goes without saying that you’ll want to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge at all costs.
Unless you enjoy sleeping in a dark room on your vacation.
So, How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge?
Three supplements will help you AVOID Montezuma’s Revenge. They are: 1) Probiotics, 2) Hydrochloric Acid (HCL), & 3) Activated Charcoal. Note: These supplements help to prevent Montezuma’s Revenge. If you already have it, try Step #3 ~ activated charcoal, to help pull out toxins. 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 part of your daily routine, add them in 1-2 weeks prior to your trip. Why? Two major reasons: 1) Between 70-80% of your immune system lives in your gut. Thus, a healthy gut = a healthy immune system; & 2) With Montezuma’s Revenge, bad bacteria are attacking your intestines ~ probiotics insure that you have good bacteria in there to fight back.
Best Products: Green Vibrance. This is my favorite probiotic & overall immune booster. It’s a green powder filled with 25 BILLION probiotics. It has virtually every vitamin & “green food” imaginable, & will strengthen your immune system.
If you don’t like powders, & prefer taking a pill, try Jarrow Probiotics ~ they have pills meant for travelers, that don’t require refrigeration (most do). Jarrow is a highly-effective brand, with much higher quality than drugstore probiotic brands.
Step #2 – Take Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)
I learned of this supplement from my naturopath, & on her advice, brought HCL pills to Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador for a three-month trip. I ate food from roadside stands & 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, & why do you need it? HCL is something you actually already have: hydrochloric acid & pepsin are the stomach acids responsible for digesting & breaking down your food. They also kill harmful bacteria & toxins ~ which is why they’re so crucial for the traveler.
If we already have HCL ~ why take more? As we age, particularly when entering our 30’s & 40’s, the amount of natural acids in our stomach decreases. Foods you used to eat with no trouble ~ may now give you indigestion. Modern medicine’s response is antacids (anti-acid). But, we actually need MORE acid in our stomach to digest our food ~ not less! Having HCL in your travel arsenal gives your digestive system an extra advantage. It creates a more acidic stomach environment, which is the perfect environment to kill toxins. Some people are afraid of the word “acidic.” But remember: your stomach is supposed to be an acidic environment. Otherwise, you couldn’t break down food. This is why many people take Apple Cider Vinegar before meals ~ vinegar is highly acidic, & helps your body digest more efficiently.
Best Product: NOW Betaine HCL with Pepsin. NOW is a trusted brand, & this particular formulation contains pepsin too, making it even more potent. Take HCL before your meal(s).
Step #3 – Bring Activated Charcoal to Rid Body of Toxins
Charcoal is having its moment right now ~ it’s “trendy!” But why is it important for the traveler? Activated charcoal is one of the most effective emergency decontaminants, & it works directly in the stomach & intestine, to remove toxins. It binds with toxins to expedite them out of your system.
Charcoal has a very personal reference for me, because, once upon a time….my little black lab, Dylan, accidentally ate 50+ Advils. The doctor told me he was going to die ~ that he’d have too much brain, liver, & kidney damage to survive. But ~ the one thing they could try, was to give him charcoal: because of its ability to bind with toxins ~ in this case, Advil.
And it ended up working. Because it saved his life, to me, charcoal is a miracle-worker.
After my fourth day of feeling terrible in Mexico, I found some charcoal pills. Twenty-four hours later, I felt better. Your poop may look a little funny (it will be darker & blacker), but you will feel SO much better.
Best Product: Nature’s Way Activated Charcoal. Nature’s Way is one of the only brands on the market that produces activated charcoal. It’s about $6 for 100 capsules. Only take after a “questionable” meal. NEVER take charcoal with ANY other medication or supplement, because it will bind with that supplement too ~ entirely wasting your money. Wait 2-3 hours before taking any other supplement.
How to Avoid Montezuma’s Revenge
I hope you’re feeling better equipped to avoid Montezuma’s Revenge on your next trip. But remember: I’m NOT a doctor! Conclusions I’ve reached in this article all come from personal experience. I’ve used ALL supplements recommended in this article, & recommend them to my family & friends. If you have any questions, by all means, discuss with your doctor.
Read Next: Why NOT to Swim with Dolphins in Mexico
Thanks for the article! I just returned from 3 months in South America (Peru, Brazil, Colombia), & had been very worried about getting stomach issues on the trip. I started taking the Jarrow Probiotics about two weeks before the trip (& continued during), & took one HCL pill before any “questionable” meal (ceviche, lettuce, etc.). I also brought the charcoal pills as my “just in case” ~ but never ended up using them. And I just wanted to report: I had no stomach issues at all! Thanks for the advice & I’ll definitely be using these on my next trip!
Hannah ~ good to know! Thanks for the feedback! All these items have been recommended by my own doctor, & work well for me ~ but I love hearing that they work well for others too. That’s great reinforcement! Thanks so much for your comment.
Solid recommendation with the charcoal & probiotic combo. My girlfriend & I just got back from Mexico, & both ate or drank something “off” the same night. We’d been taking probiotics before the trip, & but took charcoal pills after the meal that made us queasy. The next day, we were back to normal. Thanks for the solid advice.
Love Jarrow Probiotics. I take them regularly, and before every trip. Never have any stomach issues, but the Activated Charcoal is a good backup. Keep up the good work.
Thanks, Dan! Jarrow is a great brand. Thanks for writing!
So, a friend and I just returned from Peru (most delicious food EVER, btw)!! We had both read this article, but my friend thought the HCL pills sounded a little weird, so she wasn’t down to take them. We both took probiotics prior to the trip, and brought charcoal as an “in case.” I would pop the HCL pill before grabbing fruit from an outdoor market, or even ceviche – just to be on the safe side. Welllll, here’s the report card: my friend and I ate virtually the same food the entire trip, and about 3/4 through the trip, she got a horrible stomach bug (this is nothing against Peruvian food – I think it’s more to do with the fact that our bodies are not immunized against certain “bugs” like Peruvians are). Long story short: we actually ended up taking her to an urgent care in Lima, and some antibiotics finally knocked it out. But the thing is – I never had any issues! My friend was so sick, she actually missed hiking to Rainbow Mountain (another article of yours we read), and it’s one of her huge regrets of our trip. Moral of the story: she’s bringing HCL next time!!! Thank you!
Holy CRAP!! What a story, Laura. This sounds so reminiscent of me & my friend in Peru ~ the same thing happened to her (though she didn’t go to urgent care in Peru). I love hearing that the HCL pills have helped other people; it’s great to get that feedback. Thanks for taking the time to write! xoxo Noelia
HCL & charcoal are my two go-to’s now for ALL my trips. Never heard of either until I read this post, but my digestive system (which is usually a mess when I travel), is now in top shape. Thank you.
You’re so welcome, Melissa! Going from an unhappy digestive system to a happy one is indeed a game-changer. Cheers! Noelia
Thanks for the information. How many grams of the activated charcoal do you recommend if feeling queasy after a meal?
Hi Jake, thanks for your question! Since I’m not a doctor, I cannot diagnose how many grams of charcoal you should take. But in my experience, I’ve taken MAX 1-2 pills (they are VERY potent), & that did the trick. Also, consult the directions on whichever charcoal you choose & that should give you an accurate dosage. Good luck!
To clarify, you take HCL prior to each meal, and only the charcoal after if you don’t feel well, or after every meal?
Correct, that’s exactly right. Lauren Zima…are you the girl who cover “The Bachelor??” xoxo Noelia
Hi, I really appreciate your post. We are leaving in about a week for vacation to Turks and Caicos. I have been reading a lot of reviews from travelers complaining about food poisoning and other stomach issues so I want to be prepared. I just want to make sure I got this correct. We should start taking the Jarrow Probiotics a week prior (does one a day do the trick?) and then the HCL before each meal while on vacation? Can teens take this too? And finally the charcoal if we feel sick after a meal. Thank you very much!
Hi Rachel! I’ve heard nothing but great things about Turks & Caicos ~ should be a great trip!
You’ve got it: probiotics prior to the trip to enhance immunity/gut health (go with the recommendations on the box for dosage); HCL BEFORE meals for prevention of foodborne illness (in my opinion, this is probably THE most important step if you want to avoid digestive issues); & finally, activated charcoal to be used IF you feel you’ve eaten or drank something toxic. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t see any issue with teens taking these supplements; probiotics are quite safe & ubiquitous (my dog even takes them!), & our bodies produce HCL already ~ so the supplement is simply enhancing your body’s own production of it.
If you think about it, I’d love for you to report back after your trip & let me know how your family fared stomach-wise in Turks & Caicos! It’s always great to get more anecdotal evidence for these supplements : ) Have a great time! xoxo Noelia
Thank you very much Noelia! I will def give you an update after we return!
Great ~ thank you, Rachel! I’d really appreciate it : ) Have a great time!!