Monday, 23 July 2012

Jet Lag: Why A Magic Pill Is Not the Answer

This article is subtitled "Pharmaceuticals Are Not An Option For Frequent Business Fliers" for good reason. If you look back to my previous article I make the assertion that when the challenge is great looking to extremes for a solution will provide the greatest benefit. Heavy duty frequent business travellers are an extreme. Moreover business fliers requirement for successful outcomes has made pharmaceutical drugs a convenient choice for many. This article takes a closer look at some of the challenges of using pharmaceuticals to beat jet lag and offers hope to those looking for a better alternative.

Drug companies want a slice of the jet lag market.

The discussion about pharmaceuticals and jet lag would be incomplete without a mention of the sleight-of-hand the drug company Cephalon tried to deal the traveling public in 2009/2010. Cephalon* applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the right to prescribe its drug Nuvigil as an off label prescription drug for jet lag. Ultimately the application failed on the basis of insufficient proof. Cephalon had in effect tried to re-categorise jet lag as a disease rather than an inconvenience. Although Cephalon failed in one respect it did succeed in another. It fanned the flames of the argument that jet lag is treatable with pharmaceutical drugs. It is an application and extension of the maxim "better living through chemistry".
Up till now better living through chemistry has applied to a consistent environment (the human body and being at sea level). Frequent fliers with the constantly changing environments of the plane, their biochemistry and a cacophony of hormonal changes face some limitations in this respect.

Aviation Medicine sheds light on the environment.

The practice of Aviation Medicine* at altitude is a testament to the differences and limitations regular drugs can have at altitude. Aviation Medicine acknowledges the efficiency and efficacy of drugs used at altitude may differ due to factors at altitude which are not present on the ground. While human biochemistry does have an element of adaptability to cope with this it is not inexhaustible. This is important to note because tapping this adaptability too often is vitality sapping and stress inducing. This ought to give champions of a drug led approach pause for thought.

How are you defining Jet Lag?

For the sake of brevity the pharmaceutical and scientific communities like to define jet lag purely as a problem of the body-clock and the ability to stay awake or asleep when you want to. This definition has utility but it also shortchanges the discussion. A more precise definition for our purposes is

Jet Lag is a challenge to the body's normal mode of functioning in a compromised environment which upsets the patterns, reference points, energy and equilibrium of our being.

This definition underlines the fact that jet lag is not a singular problem of the body-clock. It acknowledges the body-clock but also acknowledges references which are not specifically to do with or controlled by the body-clock. Looking at jet lag in this manner means if it is not a singular problem there is no need to use a magic pill to find a singular solution.

Side effects and Practicalities.

Besides the scientific and pharmaceutical communities narrow description of what jet lag is and isn't there is the issue of the side-effects of using pharmaceutical drugs in any instance. As with any drug there is the issue of tolerance. How much of any said drug can your body tolerate before it develops its own resistance. Typically, in time a greater dose is needed to get the same effect as when you started taking it.
Another challenge of relying on drugs for your jet lag cure is the impracticality of drugs as a solution. Jet lag is not about how you travel but about how you arrive, after all the journey is incidental to your outcome. As a businessperson you cannot afford to turn up at a meeting drugged and groggy. The frequency of most heavy duty business travellers in today's world means they are on and off planes several times a week. If they were to rely on drugs they would not have enough time to recover before having to take more to counteract the jet lag of the next or previous flights - eventually it would all catch up to them. Simply put a short term fix for a long-term problem is not sustainable and this is what a pharmaceutical approach to jet lag offers.

Finally, in a world where Globalisation* and the Digital Age make the world smaller, when nothing beat being there yourself, presence is what it comes down to. No serious frequent flier would jeopardise his or her presence - that ability to hit the ground running and be fully functional for a pharmaceutical high that won't last the duration.
Healthy alternatives to a pharmaceutical approach do exist but they are fragmented in application because different fliers experience jet lag differently, piecing together the success these fliers have had will ultimately provide answers all fliers can benefit from.


- Regulators reject Cephalon's bid
Aviation Medicine
- The World Is Flat - Thomas Friedman
- Christopher Babayode

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