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One sick Gringa [moved from Mexico board]

How do you do it? How do you stay well while eating in Mexico? All I gotta say is that Cipro just ain't cutting it. It doesn't matter if I'm eating at the latest in Polanco, on the street, or cena prepared by abuela and an army of tias, I just can't do it. Does anyone have a trick or two to share?

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  1. Colleen, sorry to hear you have such problems. I just returned from 10 days in Mexico and I was really and truly off the beaten track for several days of the trip. For what ever reason I don't seem to ever have too much difficulty with the food, and I eat street food, market food and home cooked food. Since I do make rather frequent trips to Mexico it may be that my body is, or has, developed some immunity/compatibility with the native and local flora, fauna and bacteria. I'll share some of the things I do, but I can't guarantee they'll work for you

    1) I eat yogurt, a lot of yogurt, on both sides of the border. Plus I make it a point to continue eating yogurt while in Mexico. In the States I find yogurts with live cultures. The yogurt with the live cultures adds good bacteria to the gut. The theory is that the increased numbers of good bacteria in the gut aids in digestion and prevention of food related issues.

    2) In lieu of yogurt, I drink Yakult. I love this stuff. It's basically a small bottle (about 1/4 cup) of mixed live lactobacillius cultures. It is dairy based and tastes a little like lemon yogurt. It's a big concentrated hit of good bacteria. Yakult originated in Japan many years ago. An enterprising Mexican of Japanese descent introduced it to Mexico where it has had documented (and documentable) success in reducing gastrointestinal problems. Yakult is readily available Mexico and in the U.S., you can find it in larger U.S. grocery stores in the dairy case by the yogurt. I've even seen it in some Mexican farmacias that have coolers or beverage cases in them.

    3) I wash my hands frequently and before all meals.

    4) In the absence of hand washing capabilities - like in very rural places - I'll use Purell or a Wet Wipe.

    5) If the food is supposed to be hot, it needs to be served hot, hot enough to almost burn my mouth or tongue.

    6) I drink a lot of fluids to push things through the system.

    7) I use fresh lime juice pretty liberally as well as chiles. Neither of these will inhibit or prevent problems, but they can reduce the potential discomfort

    8) Eating too much fruit (because it's fully ripe and tastes like it should) has been known to cause some intestinal distress.

    I do know several people for whom Cipro was not effective. It may be that the chemical properties of Cipro are not compatible/effective against some food borne bacteria. Good luck, I hope you can find some things to help. The food in Mexico is so good, it's a shame you can't enjoy it more.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DiningDiva

      "I use fresh lime juice pretty liberally as well as chiles. Neither of these will inhibit or prevent problems, but they can reduce the potential discomfort".
      Lime juice, OK. Slightly acidic..
      Chiles: How's that?? Do I read this correctly? If I've got diarrhea I'm sure not gonna want hot stuff irritating my lower GI, not to mention my anus. I need this explained.....

    2. I'm of the opposite school of Dining Diva, but each person has a different set of pipes! I try to expose myself to as much local bacteria, flora, and fauna as possible.I brush my teeth with the tap water, eat the tap water ice, eat street oysters, and dine at any and all establishments.If it's good, I don't hesitate.

      I take no measures to avoid sickness, and never use anti-bacterial anything, here in the US, Mexico, or in any country. I do believe these things weaken the immune system, but maybe I just have a strong system.After so many years of travel in Mexico and other places eating at the most suspect of street stands I've had no problems. I'm very selective about quality which does mean fresh ingredients due to turnover and cleanliness attributable to the chefs care in the serving of his/her food.Avoid the unkept, stale, and low traffic stands.Of course, you should be aware of when that stand has traffic.Certain foods have specific times for eating, so a great stand be slow because it's not their time of day to be busy.This knowledge comes with a little experience.

      I don't know if this helps, but it works for me, and is a real method I give some thought to.Oh, and lots of tequila.

      1 Reply
      1. re: streetgourmetla

        I'm with streetgourmetla. I've had a problem only twice in the 43 years I've been traveling in Mexico. In San Blas in the mid '60s I got a nasty case of food poisoning but that was because there was a terrible storm and the electricity was out for a couple of days. Restaurants continued to serve "fresh" fish that was not refrigerated (no electricity) and I was foolish enough to eat the fish. BAD idea. I also got a very minor case of the turistas once in P√°tzcuaro (in the early '70s). But that's it.

        I don't think of myself as having a very efficient/effective immune system, but I eat anything and everything in Mexico and I take no particular hygiene precautions. I could be lucky or have acquired some immunity to Mexican bacteria, but I don't think so. In my experience, I believe most tourists who get gastrointestinal problems in Mexico are suffering from mild or severe food poisoning as the result of eating spoiled food or food that has not been properly cooked or food that has not been refrigerated or food that should be served hot and has been unheated for many hours before being warmed up and served, etc.--essentially what streetgourmetla is talking about.

        With regard to food preparers: If they don't practice good hygiene when handling food I would worry more about getting Hep A than the turistas. Seems to me everyone should be immunized against Hep A. Take a 2-shot series of the vaccine and you're immune for the rest of your life.

        I'm sure this post doesn't really help you, but it's all I have to offer. I'd encourage you to keep trying Mexican food, but if you continue to get sick you may have to travel elsewhere. And speaking of that, do you have the same problems when you eat the food in other foreign countries (Central/South America, Mediterranean countries, Asia or Africa, etc.)?

      2. I tend to get sick as well- I just expect it. Like you, it doesn't matter where in the country I am or what I have eaten; even with all precautions I get ill. I expect it- I do have a weak immune system. You might want to change antibiotics. I do know I get really good relief from Pepto Bismol. My last trip at the onset of illness I started taking it three times a day and it really
        helped (not the bacteria, of course, just the symptoms). I felt pretty much normal.

        1. Cipro is a broad spectrum anibiotic, and may actually be causing your problems, not Mexico! According to drugstore.com: "SIDE EFFECTS that may occur while taking this medicine include stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, headache, vision changes or dizziness during the first few days as your body adjusts to this medicine."

          You're probably much much better off not trying anything that exotic as a prophylactic. Just washing your hands and making sure you are drinking plenty of clean water, then carrying a good supply of across-the-counter Immodium-D is a better plan.

          Good luck!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Caroline1

            I'm with you Caroline1; I've been in and out of 2nd, 3rd and 4th world countries a LOT and seldom have any problems. But I do pack Imodium every time. I do practice my own good hygiene, and I try to observe the food prep of any place I want to eat to see whether the 30 Second Rule or the 30 Minute Rule is being applied!

          2. Pepto Bismol as a preventative measure.

            Take it with every meal (tablets are more convenient to carry than the liquid). There's something in Pepto Bismol that kills some of the bad bacteria that causes travelers illness.
            My mother travels a lot told me she does it and heard it from her pharmacist and I asked my pharmacist and he said the same thing.

            2 Replies
            1. re: monku

              Don't see how it can be selective.

              1. re: Scargod

                I don't think its an old wives tale. I was skeptical when my mother told me.


                Google "Pepto Bismol as a preventive measure "

            2. Just got back from a trip to mexico a few weeks ago and I feel your pain - not sure what I ate/touched, but I was miserable on and off for over a week. Only thing I can recommend is immodium, though honestly I felt better without it - some things shouldn't be kept inside. I was reasonably careful - no street stand food, no tap water - but sometimes these things happen. Antibiotics can kill good intestinal bacteria and cause digestive problems, so you may want to try laying off the Cipro and eating some live-culture yogurt to recharge your gut.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Emmmily

                I also take acidophilus (when I remember) - don't know if it helps or not, but I stay pretty healthy. I spent about a year traveling in Africa some years ago - we made it a point to eat yogurt and drink beer every day, somehow figuring that it would promote the growth of good stuff and inhibit the growth of the bad! Of course, if you drink enough beer you don't really notice or care.

                1. re: janeh

                  Well, I was going to say that booze is a great germ killer. Maybe the OP isn't drinking enough?

                  1. re: janeh

                    My husband, my parents and I took a trip to Turks and Caicos quite a few years ago - my mother had been taking acidophilus for a few weeks before we went. Well, about the 2nd or 3rd day there we all got VERY sick except for my mom. She was absolutely fine. We all ate the same things, and my dad has always been known for having a cast iron stomach and no issues whatsoever with his immune system whereas my mom has always had a more sensitive stomach (which is why she took the acidophilus in the first place.) I have not traveled in recent years any place where this kind of thig is usually considered an issue, but if I do in the future I will definitely go the acidophilus route and hope for the best.

                2. On 4 trips to mexico, i've tried different things. The first two trips I wasn maniacal about pepto and mylanta and the like. And i was pretty sick each time. The last two times, i decided to forget the antibiotics and let things happen as they may. I fared much better this way. I still was sick but not as bad as when i was ingesting as much pepto as possible. I think less is more. let your body adapt and it will function as needed for the best.

                  1. One of my doctors told me that whenever I go to a foreign country that I should make a point of drinking locally brewed beer. His theory was that the local water had all of the creepy crawlies in it which would be killed by the brewing process and the alcohol, creating a sort of vaccination.

                    I have taken his advice to heart (really, it took very little convincing), and it seems to work, though I also bring immodium for "situations", and only buy food from street vendors that are busy. I'm also a yoghurt fan, and tend to eat or drink it wherever I go, so that could have an impact as well.

                    1. yes, beer becomes a staple on foreign trips. You can't make beer without proper sanitization. also to this effect be sure to steer clear of mixed drinks. The ice they use in those margaritas come from the same place as the tap water.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

                        Most hotels - and especially those in tourist zones or with substantial non-national occupancy - have water filtration systems. That generally would include any ice machines the hotel has. The water is probably far safer than most realize.

                        I have drunk my share (perhaps even more than my share <lol>) of margaritas both on the rocks and blended, and not once have I ever gotten sick from one, nor have I ever gotten sick from a soda or agua fresca with ice. I also routinely brush my teeth with the water out of the tap (in private homes and hotels) and I don't feel any need to clamp my mouth shut when showering. Maybe I've been luck, though I tend to think not, but water in the tap and ice have been pretty safe.

                        Now, this is not to say that the water in every hotel and restaurant in Mexico is perfectly safe to drink, it isn't. But it's also probably not as bad as everyone wants to think it is. Most hotels in Mexico provide in-room bottled water. Not only so that guests can feel secure about it, but also for hydration. And hydration is an issue that no one has really mentioned so far. Mexico City is at altitude and hydration is important in order to maintain adequate body functions. For some people the altitude causes no problems, some need only a day or so to adjust and others have a lot of problems with it. Altitude could also be playing a role in some of the seemingly food related illnesses people report in cities like D.F.

                        It might not be the ice in a maragrita that's the problem. The body works harder at altitude. It could be just a combination of a little too much alcohol (even if it's the same amount as you drink at home at sea level) and the stress of the altitude and the body having to work harder to function and find it's equilibrium. Just a thought...

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          Although we've been back for some time now, I thought I'd report on our last trip to Mexico. We were in Queretaro, DF, and Huatulco and I DIDN'T GET SICK EVEN ONCE! I ditched the Cipro, ate lots or yogurt, and stuck to beer. It was amazing. Looking back on it, I think the altitude in DF plays havoc on my system. Thanks, DiningDiva--never thought of it before. i did make my own ice cubes from the "jug water" once and had no ill effects...who knew?

                          Thanks for all the advice, Chowhounds--disaster averted.

                          1. re: colleend

                            Glad your recent trip went so much better. When I lived in Polanco in the 90's, the altitude and the foul air had me wondering whether my daily run in Chapultepec Park was helping or hurting and initially I had headaches. But the restaurants were soooo good.
                            Indiscriminate use of antibiotics we know is not a good idea. They kill off some of the "bad guys", but also the "good guys", and Cipro is a strong one. Tenga cuidado.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              :Altitude" is a key word here for nausia and such. Especially for the first week or so that you're there. When my son went to Olympic Training Camp in Colorado Springs, with an elevation even higher than Denver many of the other guys who came from much lower altitudes were dog sick for the first three days. One of the worst possiblle things anyone can do is go from living at a low altitude to a place with much higher altitued and keep on drinking carbonated beverages. The gas released inside you from the carbonation tries to turn you into a Macy's Thanksgiving Parade balloon! The stomach cannot handle it. Despite warnings from the sports medicine team, young athletes tend "not to hear," especially when all you can eat or drink is free. And they paid the price. Sooo... colleend, if you go back to visit high altitude places in Mexico, unless you're coming from a similar altitude, it's a good idea to avoild anything caarbonated, including beer, for at least the first three days you're there, then test your system very cautiously!

                      2. I lived in Guadalajara for six months in 2008. I'm a vegetarian (so no street meat for me!) but on the flip side I ate a lot of fruit salad, fruit smoothies, aguas frescas and salads... and I had a really bad addiction to shaved iced doused with vanilla syrup (okay, and Kahlua). I only had stomach problems once, and that was after a meal at a popular Italian restaurant recommended in my guidebook. That was the first and only time in my life I've had heartburn and indigestion... I thought I was going to DIE. It was a bit "Carrie"esque- I had no idea what was wrong with me! I think I was okay because I definitely ate TONS of yogurt, kept my hands super-clean and, for the most part, bought street food from busy(ish) stands. I'm known for having a super-sensitive stomach, so I was really surprised by how well I did in Mexico.