Our addiction to flying isn’t going away any time soon – despite its devastating environmental impact. In 2019 the total number of commercial flights is forecast to hit its highest ever level: 39.4 million.
While short haul flights (those lasting under three hours) make up the vast majority of all air travel, long haul journeys are taxing on the body. Humidity in cabins (of less than 20 per cent) can lead to dehydration, a lack of movement can increase the chance of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and changing timezones impacts the body’s circadian rhythm. The result of flying for hours trapped inside a aluminium tube? Jet lag.
A new startup is now trying to combat some of the impact of jet lag with a series of drinks based on sports science. Based in Denmark, ERW is the combination of chef Hannah Grant and sports scientist Stacy Sims. The pair met after working for professional cycling teams.
“The jet lag part was a massive problem for for the riders, the team and the staff,” Grant, who used to work at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, says. “We’ve designed a physiologically tailored three-step hydration solution that will combat the effects of travel fatigue, jet lag, and dehydration.” Grant and Sims, a senior research fellow at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, say that while their ‘My Flight Pack’ drinks were borne out of creating products for elite athletes, they will also help people traveling long haul for business or holidays.
The drinks are made up of three individual powder sachets. The first, Prep, is designed to be drunk before boarding a flight and the second two, Rest and Wake, are intended to be consumed while on the flight or after landing. (The order can vary depending on whether the flight arrives at its destination in the morning or evening). All three powders are designed to be mixed with 500ml of water.
The Prep drink was made to prepare a person to enter the dry, pressurised environment of a plane, Grant says. While the Rest drink is meant to help people adjust to flying. “It calms your nervous system and helps you with natural melatonin content,” she adds. “We help you trigger your own melatonin production so that you basically fall asleep.” The third supplement, Wake, is a protein-based drink that has been created to help the body recover from the stress of flying – it contains 21g of protein. Sports recovery drinks usually include protein to repair muscle damage after activity.
The company says both the Rest and Wake drinks use adaptogens – non-toxic plants that may have some beneficial impact on human health – to stimulate hormone production. These include herbs such as Ginseng. The term adaptogen was first introduced in the 1940s but scientific research on their impact on the human body has been limited. Experiments on animals have shown some adaptogens can regulate the impact of stress on the body.
ERW’s drinks are largely designed to deal with the dehydration and fatigue that comes with flying long haul – but jet lag as a concept is difficult to completely define. There’s little a drink can do to fully help the body get around changes to its circadian rhythm. “‘Jet lag’ refers to the desynchronisation of circadian rhythm and local (clock) time,” says Kevin Morgan, an emeritus professor of psychology at Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences.
“Since all of the important things that constitute our experience of “us” are ‘scheduled’ by our circadian rhythm (e.g. appetite, sleep, mental alertness, body temperature, pee-frequency, bowel movements, activity level, etc. etc.), then most of us experience jet lag as an unwelcome – but temporary – disruption in the smooth-running of those functions when nothing seems to work as it should – or when it should,” Morgan says.
During ERW’s creation of the products, it ran controlled simulations of how the body responded to the drink. In the test 20 male runners were locked in an pressurised chamber, with the simulated conditions of an airline cabin, for seven hours. The participants were then given the ERW drink or a placebo and allowed to read, sleep, watch movies or work on a computer. They could only move out of their seats twice during the entire time and only for short walking breaks.
“No symptoms of fatigue and headaches was reported in the subjects using the ERW system,” the company says. “The hydrated subjects have reduced blood coagulation and smaller risk of deep-vein thrombosis.” A subsequent cognition test says those who took the drinks did not demonstrate any drops in lethargy or decreased reaction times compared to those using the placebo.
Morgan, who has looked at the results of the simulations, said the work appeared to show the results that the company suggested. (The simulation has not been published in a scientific journal or peer reviewed). However he questioned the drinks’ direct impact on jet lag. Morgan says that generally people don’t experience jet lag as a shift in their fluid balance or DVT risk.
“What most people tend to think is that jet lag is only caused by the circadian rhythm,” Grant says. “If you speak to people that travel from South Africa and up to Europe, there’s no time difference, but you’re still completely destroyed.”
While the drink may reduce dehydration and some fatigue in people in controlled environments, there’s one thing that it can’t help with: getting drunk on a plane. Extra fluid will help to rehydrate the body but it can’t mitigate the effects of free booze. “If you’re having one or two drinks, we will actually make you feel better because of our products,” Grant says. “However, if you’re getting, as you say, in Britain, or in the States: ‘shit faced’, we can’t fix that problem.”
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