Our jet compulsion, our chronic desire to board airplanes for fun and profit, has bodily implications far beyond the boredom of a flight or the claustrophobia of single aisles.
Any air voyage that lasts five to six hours or more can put us at risk for blood clots, and new research indicates that the problem is more common than once supposed.
At least 10 to 15 per cent of passengers on any lengthy flight will show evidence of what's called subclinical clotting if examined immediately after getting off the plane. Most of the time, the body breaks down such clumps on its own. Only a small percentage of people go on to develop a symptomatic clot.
If symptomatic clotting does happen, it's potentially dangerous - lumps in your blood can move to the heart, brain or lungs. During or after a flight, shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing blood are signals to seek medical help immediately.
Major signals of a clot include persistent pain, tenderness, warmth and redness and/or swelling in one leg - most often the left. If any one of these symptoms lasts for more than a day, get medical help.
You're at greater risk for clotting if you have cancer or an inflammatory disease, take birth control pills or HRT, have recently given birth or had surgery or trauma (especially in the legs or pelvic area), or if you have any one of a variety of hereditary conditions. Your risk goes up with age, too. A doc will be able to help determine if an upcoming long flight could be a problem. The allopathic toolkit when it comes to preventing clumping in the leg veins includes exercise, pressurized stockings and drugs. Don't spend your airport time sitting in the departure lounge; walk up and down those halls ! Once on the plane, get up as much as possible and do leg exercises in your seat - ankle circles , foot tapping and gentle self-massage all help. Some airlines even provide exercise instructions.
Holistic types add that the right diet can shift your body chemistry in a direction that makes clotting far less likely. You've heard it before, folks - fruits , veggies , whole grains and high-quality proteins are your ticket.
What the experts say
"The risk is sitting with your knees and hips at right angles for a long time. The preventive measure is to get up and move around every couple of hours, stretch your legs and do isometric exercises . Hydrate well and avoid alcohol . People who are drinking are capable of going to sleep in awkward positions and staying there. Among homeopathic or naturopathic remedies, garlic is a classic treatment. While I don't think there's any problem in taking these, there's little evidence that they protect you. Fish oil is good for arterial disease but this is venous we're talking about. Aspirin doesn't prevent venous blood clots."
ERIK YEO , MD, director of hemostasis and thrombosis, University Health Network, Toronto
"If it's only from lack of movement, why doesn't everybody get clots on a long flight? The most likely reason is a poor diet that doesn't include sufficient fruits and vegetables. We've been told to aim for five a day. That's appropriate for children. A man needs an estimated nine servings a day. There's preliminary evidence that the omega-3 fats found in whole grains, fatty fish and nuts and seeds may be helpful. Garlic and onions have powerful anti-clotting effects."
AILEEN BURFORD-MASON , PhD, immunologist/nutritionist, Toronto
"Herbs that have been well researched include dandelion root , ginger and turmeric . All these inhibit platelet aggregation, which is the very first step in blood clotting. With dandelion, use an organic tincture. A safe adult dose is 30 drops (half a teaspoon) a day in a little water. Take it for 14 days prior to the trip. With ginger and turmeric, also use liquid extracts. If you have health problems, use herbs under supervision."
NORA JANE POPE , naturopathic doctor, Health Quest, Toronto
"Homeopathy can be preventative, though one would need a constitutional treatment with a qualified homeopath. For a situation like travel,
I recommend a homeopathic product called No-Jet-Lag . It not only combats jet lag, but also the swelling of lower extremities."
DANIELLE MOLCAR , homeopath, Toronto
"Once you release yourself into a deeply relaxed state, you can be incredibly creative in terms of getting your circulation moving. I suggest taking five or ten minutes, daily - especially in the weeks before a flight - and sit or lie down, allow your eyes to close and follow your breathing. It's amazing how quiet you can become when you invest in that focus.
Imagine the walls of the veins as very vital and sturdy. If you've been diagnosed with blood clots, imagine that they are dissolving. If you don't have a clot, imagine the blood flowing freely."
LISA TABATA, master clinical hypnotherapist, Toronto