An Alternate Route to Healthy Travels
Posted on Jan. 1, 2017
While my head and my heart loved Machu Picchu, high atop the Andes Mountains, my knees really didn’t like the steep stone stairs that crisscross the ancient site. I’d brought hiking poles, but the pain was still, well — memorable. Back in La Jolla, surgical tweaking helped, but it wasn’t until I’d completed a series of acupuncture treatments that I felt ready to hit the road again.
Once considered “alternative medicine,” acupuncture is now a key component in the suite of health modalities known as integrative medicine. Scripps Clinic became San Diego’s first mainstream source for these healthful options when cardiologist Dr. Mimi Guarneri founded Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in 1999. Since then, she’s opened Guarneri Integrative Health at Pacific Pearl in La Jolla, and UCSD has launched the UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine.
Each of these facilities and numerous private practices throughout the San Diego region offer valuable services to travelers, helping us get in shape for trips and providing portable support for maintaining our health while we’re traveling. And these days, most integrative medicine treatments are covered by health insurance policies.
This 3,000-year-old Chinese healing technique is a recognized way to successfully treat conditions ranging from musculoskeletal problems (back, neck, knee pain) to nausea, migraines, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and infertility. Acupuncture is widely available around the world and provides a safe and effective alternative to drug-based therapy. In addition to getting acupuncture “tune-ups” for my knees before every trip, I now reach out to local practitioners while I’m traveling — like the acupuncturist who got me back on my feet after I sprained an ankle walking the Queen Charlotte Track in New Zealand.
Osteopathic Medicine, Whole-Person Health Care
Until an MD at UCSD gave me a referral to see a “DO,” I had no idea what those letters meant. I now know that Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine are fully licensed physicians who can prescribe drugs and perform surgery like an MD, but their medical education is rooted in a distinctive philosophy: Osteopathy is holistic health care that takes into account the bio-psycho-social-spiritual aspects of the patient. DOs typically focus on prevention and encourage the body back to health using the least invasive measures first, instead of relying on drugs and surgery.
An osteopathic physician is educated in Western medical practices with additional training in osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT). This hands-on manual medicine technique is most commonly used to treat orthopedic pain, but also offers relief from a range of other medical problems. My mother frequently told the story about the osteopath who saved her life when he felt two masses while palpating her abdomen. Surgery for ovarian cancer was immediate, and she was with us for another three decades.
Travelers rely on osteopathic physicians to recommend vaccines and prevention for particular regions abroad. I wish I had consulted with a DO earlier in my travel journalism career and learned how to use the body’s inherent healing mechanism (instead of broad-spectrum antibiotics) to ward off common illnesses.
DOs are also important to travelers because they can use manual techniques to adjust the neuro-muscular-skeletal structure so it’s in proper alignment for long flights and active travel adventures.
Mindfulness, Meditation & MBSR
Last fall, I signed up for the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. This isn’t the only place in San Diego to take the eight-week course, but I chose Scripps because instructor Karen Sothers is considered a local MBSR rockstar.
On the first evening, class members shared their reasons for enrolling: heart attack, insomnia, migraines, anxiety — a veritable laundry list of stress-related illnesses had brought us together.
Sothers introduced us to meditation in a kind and unintimidating way. She invited us to download her guided meditations. I put them on my phone, which enables me to continue my practice anywhere we travel in the world.
In addition to meditation, we discussed positive ways to deal with stress. For example, how to respond thoughtfully to a situation rather than react quickly. (The test will be how calmly I respond the next time my flight is cancelled.) Sothers taught simple yoga postures that are easy to do at home and on the road. At the end of the two-month program, we all felt we’d made significant progress toward wellness.
Even if you can’t commit to an eight-week MBSR class, it’s possible to enjoy the benefits of mindfulness and mediation. Sothers’ course is based on research done by Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose book Full Catastrophe Living is widely available.
How popular is meditation? I recently received an email from a New York hotel with the subject line “Meditation is the new room service.” The message? They’ve just added on-demand guided meditations to their guestroom phones and placed yoga mats in every closet.
“Before starting your trip, boost your immunity. I recommend turkey tail mushrooms, which are highly researched medicinal mushrooms for improving immunity. For a boost on the night before you leave and on the day of your travel, take a combination of Echinacea, Golden Seal, and Vitamin C. Take this the first day after you land, also.” Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC
Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork
We tend to think of a relaxing massage as pure indulgence, but integrative medicine practitioners value the biochemical benefits of touching and consider massage a valuable healing tool.
“It’s a good way to lower blood pressure and control the pain of osteoarthritis,” UC San Diego’s Michael Kurisu, DO told me. “It’s also great for reducing anxiety and improving the quality of sleep. And that’s important because sleep heals.”
At UCSD, physicians also prescribe massage for patients with digestive disorders, myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, TMJ issues, and other health concerns. Treatment is coordinated with staff massage and acupressure therapists.
Happily for travelers, the vast majority of hotels and resorts around the world have on-site spas, so it’s easy to continue this therapeutic routine on the road.
“Essential oils can boost your immunity. You can apply essential oils to your skin and breathe them in. My favorites for immunity and traveling are lavender and a powerful combination called Thieves.” Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC
San Diegan Richard Louv, a Union-Tribune columnist for 24 years and the author of nine books, spoke at a recent meeting of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine. I’d read his book Last Child in the Woods, so I wasn’t surprised that his talk was focused on the importance of connecting kids to nature. “Studies show that time in nature boosts academic performance and enhances creativity,” he said, “and kids who spend time outdoors are healthier.”
But it isn’t just kids who suffer from NDD (nature deficit disorder). “The more high-tech our lives become, the more we need nature for balance,” Louv continued. “The more we are exposed to natural environments, the healthier we are, so being outdoors and playing with pets is critically important for our overall wellness.”
For travelers, this means balancing museum visits with exploring local parks and planning itineraries that include beaches, sunsets, and watching wildlife. In short, healthy travelers will spend less time in theme parks and more time in national parks and other beautiful places. Elizabeth Hansen
Outdoor yoga: Photo courtesy of Carmel Valley Ranch UC San Diego: Photo by Erik Jepsen manual medicine: Photo by Paul Tryba Integrative medicine: Photo by Red Mountain Spa Ananda Spa: Photo courtesy of ADAMS HANSEN STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY Ann Michelle Casco & Essential oils: Photo courtesy of Guarneri Integrative Health Inc. Pacific Pearl La Jolla Labyrinth: Photo courtesy of Miraval Spa Karen Sothers: Photo by Londie G. Padelsky