Jet Lag & Medication

The recently postponed decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Nuvigil for the treatment of jet lag is a cross roads in the race by Big Pharma to cure jet lag.

Approval of Nuvigil would in essence come close to re-defining jet lag as an illness rather than an inconvenience. Cephalon, the makers of Nuvigil applied for approval from the FDA by labelling jet lag as a disorder. This may seem to be of little significance but the change in definition allows it to be grouped with diseases and therefore treatable with drugs.

The redefining of jet lag in this manner is where the real problems begin. To define jet lag as a disorder treatable with drugs is the narrow end of the wedge leading to an over dependency on prescription drugs and potentially an addiction to drugs for airline travellers. (Having recently been on a plane from London to Sao Paulo where we had to divert because a passenger mixed drugs with alcohol I can tell you the dangers of drugs and flying are very real). The alternative is to take a fresh look at jet lag before choosing methods of treatment to escape its ill effects. This article will present the other side of the argument, namely that the disorder label is a grave mistake, and that the current view of what jet lag is needs rethinking in order to arrive at real solutions for the inconvenience it causes.

To start with how do you define jet lag? The medical establishment would have you believe it is simply the disturbance of the human body clock, therefore correct the symptoms of this disturbance and jet lag is cured. This narrow definition is appealing but the truth is not quite so simple, the thinking behind the problem is as important as how to tackle the problem successfully. This is a classical case of a symptom based approach to the problem. The same trusty model orthodox medicine always uses. To really look at this problem anew we have to start with a more specific definition of what jet lag is.

Jet lag is a systemic challenge to the entire body’s systems caused by the bringing about of a change in environments which upset the body’s references, homeostasis and equilibrium. To restore these references and equilibrium is to restore balance and cure jet lag”.

The emphasis here is on the changes in environments and balance. Airline travel is unhealthy and unbalancing primarily because of the atmosphere in which it takes place and the environment it perpetuates within us. This atmosphere is dry, positively charged and oxygen deficient. The oxygen deficient environment is a causative factor in the excess acidity and dehydration in the body. This in turn causes us to function less efficiently which includes(but is not limited to) the disruption of the body’s time keeping mechanisms.

Taking this new definition to the proposed use of pharmaceutical drugs to cure jet lag raises some questions.

  • How can you advocate the use of prescription drugs that contribute to an acidifying internal environment which supports jet lag?

  • If drugs are supposed to make you better how can you resign people to their use forever for something which is a temporary inconvenience?

  • Why are answers still being sought from a symptom based philosophy when this thinking is shown to be less than effective?

The use of drugs at best is a containment measure. While their use may be the best solution in certain illnesses and diseases it does not apply to jet lag which is neither a disease illness or disorder. Moreover using drugs in this instance neither represents the restoration of balance in anyway shape or form. Reliance on a prescription drug solution makes way for dependency, addictions and the dangers of drug interactions. Drugs also upset the body at the biochemical level in terms of homoeostatic balance (they contribute to the body’s acid ash when metabolised). This acidifying nature of prescription drugs adds to the problem and is an important point to note.

Tied into the homoeostatic balance is the pH balance of the blood and the various organs and systems of the body. The pH scale is a scale from 0 – 14 measuring the power of hydrogen in the body which determines the charge and other properties of functioning of fluids and organs in the body. The pH balance breaks down into acidity or alkalinity. Various organs and tissue in the body have an optimum range within the pH scale for functioning. The blood for instance has an optimum functioning range of 7.35 which is slightly alkaline, deviation from this optimum can ultimately lead to death. In fact the body’s intelligence guards this closely by taking alkaline minerals from other parts of the body whenever it looks like the pH level is heading out of balance. Using drugs to get a short term fix at the expense of upsetting the pH balance and continually draining the body’s reserves of alkaline minerals to restore balance is the short road to vitality suicide.

The symptom based approach to curing jet lag is selling us all short. Of the gamut of symptoms airline travellers can manifest it would seem that body clock disorders shout the loudest and therefore get the most attention. Other symptoms just don’t get a look in. Did you know for instance that the most common complaint of airline travellers is constipation. Because this complaint is something people live with anyway it is ignored in favour of a more pressing pain. The point is, as all attention is focused solely on body clock manipulation and melatonin other aspects of the problem are ignored.

What we need is an inclusive perspective instead of an exclusive one. If all symptoms were taken into consideration there would come a point when an integrated approach would lead to the discovery of a root cause. A holistic approach to the problem is a more skilled way to treat the challenges of jet lag than any other to date. This goes without saying when you consider the interdependency of the systems which make up our health.

Such a perspective would look at all environments involved, that of the plane, the body and the atmosphere the plane is flying through. You would have to factor in the types of people flying by biochemical make up and what unique changes the flying experience causes their body’s to go through. As diverse as people are so are their lifestyles and influences, these also need to be taken into consideration. The dictum to “look at the patient who has the disease rather than the disease the patient has” holds true here. The number of considerations to ponder in order to come to a health supporting solution to jet lag can be as specific as the individual under consideration. In broad terms a good starting place would be

  • How to protect oneself from the effects of ionizing radiation

  • How to prevent dehydration

  • How to acclimatize on any travel schedule

  • How to control and enhance any internal and external environments

  • The current fitness and wellness commitments of the traveller involved.

The good news is that in order to achieve mastery in these outlined points there isn’t a prescription drug in sight. The bad news is because there isn’t a prescription drug in sight and therefore no potential income streams for Big Pharma these methods of controlling and eliminating jet lag are not often spoken of or of any interest to the medical establishment.

The consequences of the impending FDA ruling (due the end of March) carry added weight as to the direction this argument will take. The choices are stark with regards to the final destination we end up at. Do we stem the mad rush to drug every possible inconvenience and create a mass of zombie-fied travellers hooked on the likes of Nuvigil for all their flying days. Or seize a real opportunity to start afresh and innovate solutions which serve us in the short and long term by keeping us healthy when we travel. The FDA will make a decision one way or another, but the most important decision to be made is the one we make individually with reference to how we choose to deal with the challenges of air travel. Whatever the decision and whatever the choices we make there can be no lasting solution without understanding the challenges jet lag presents and as yet this seems to be the the biggest hurdle we face in the quest for a lasting solution.

Wherever You Go P.H.A.R.E. well

Christopher Babayode.

www.jet-stress.com

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