Jet lag isn't curable, but you can fight it

Jet lag, the bane of long-distance travelers everywhere, is like the common cold, the bane of people everywhere. Neither is curable.

A lot of medicines are available to treat the symptoms of the common cold, and they may make you feel better, but the cold still runs its course until your body finally defeats it.

With jet lag, you attack your own system by plucking it from one natural cycle and dropping it into another. If you land in a place where it's 8 a.m. and your body is normally set for 2 a.m., you might as well have pulled an all-nighter.

So we continue to find ways to treat the symptoms of jet lag. Some prescription drugs may work, but with limited success, and they may cause side effects. Some people take sleeping pills before they board, thinking that if they force an immediate shift in their bodily rhythm -- falling asleep hours before they normally would -- they'll arrive solidly on local time. And sometimes that works.

I know people who will drink lots of liquids and people who will avoid liquids, and still other people who try to change their cycles beginning a week before they board.

Thus it was that, with a grain of salt, I tried something fairly new on the market, a teensy over-the-counter pill called ENADAlert. It's a natural dietary supplement that has no caffeine, hormones or stimulants, and has never been shown to have side effects.

I'd read about a study using the pill, and it sounded pretty convincing. So I tried it. I can tell you, with some hesitancy, that it worked. My reluctance comes because I cheated.

The directions of ENADAlert -- which you'll find in several chain drugstores under different marketing names but always with the word ENADAlert -- tell you to take it an hour before arrival or before some important task and you'll be fine. I arrived in Paris at about 6:30 a.m., and my body was telling me it was time for bed. So after breakfast, I crashed in my hotel room.

Two hours later, I awoke, but my extended nap did not give me a leg up. In fact, my legs felt like going nowhere for another couple hours, so I popped an ENADAlert under my tongue, per the instructions. -- you take them sublingually, which is said to get them into your body more quickly -- and let it dissolve, which took several annoying minutes. About 40 minutes after that, I was up, beginning to move through Paris, and my jet lag was gone. I was living on Paris time.

But because I napped on arrival in Paris, I felt I hadn't really put ENADAlert to the test. So when my sister-in-law recently flew from her Montreal home to London, with a layover in Philadelphia, my family picked her up at her stop here for a quick Center City dinner. I handed her an ENADAlert and the directions. My sister-in-law, Judy Littman, is several things, among them a nurse and a distance traveler. She took the pill an hour before landing early the next day, London time. She had six hours of scheduled events before she would even check into her hotel.

"It would ordinarily be a nightmare for me," Judy said after returning, "but I was perfectly fine. I was energetic. I felt wide awake. When evening came, I should've felt dead, but I was ready to go out and dance. It was a great pill."

I asked Judy whether just knowing she was taking a jet-lag pill might have had a placebo effect. "We can't know," she said. "There's no way to tell that."

Because the people at Menuco Corp., who make ENADAlert, wanted to find some scientific way to tell that, they ordered up a double-blind study, meaning that some people were given ENADAlert and some were given a phony pill that does nothing, and not even the researchers working with them knew who had taken what. That's the study that first caught my eye.

Thirty-five people left San Diego, touched down for dinner in Phoenix, then flew on to Baltimore. They arrived at 6 a.m. and went through a battery of tests for vigilance, divided attention (doing two things at once), and what's called "working memory." -- carrying out instructions, for instance, that are no longer in front of you when you do a task.

"An example of working memory would be your ability to hold a phone number in your head without writing it down," and then being able to make the call, according to Gary Kay, an associate professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington and the leader of the study team.

Kay gave an example, also, of the vigilance tests: pressing a spacebar on a laptop every time a symbol flashes for a millisecond on the screen. Kay and his team found that passengers who'd taken ENADAlert had significantly better scores in the tests. "The cool thing about this is that these tests are actually predictors of how well you "fly an airplane, and the airlines use them to select pilots."

The key to ENADAlert -- in fact, the only active ingredient -- is a natural chemical found in every living cell, called NADH, which stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen. It increases cellular-energy production, and although scientists have had the ability to isolate it, NADH was always too unstable to use for anything.

"It was discovered well over 95 years ago and is in every bio-medical textbook. The dogma was it was so unstable, you could never use it therapeutically. It responded to light, heat and humidity almost instantaneously," says Octavian Pechar, vice president of marketing and sales for Menuco, which is headquartered in New York City.

In the "90s, Georg Birkmayer, an Austrian scientist who became the founder and head of Menuco Corp, discovered a way to stabilize NADH so that it did not respond to light, heat or humidity. He has 50 worldwide patents on the substance. NADH was first primarily used to test blood, but after Birkmayer's discovery, it has been used therapeutically in Alzheimer's disease research and for treating chronic fatigue syndrome. Now that it's being used for jet lag, everyone from long-distance truckers to college students will probably catch on -- and Menuco is testing for them, too.


Menuco Corp. manufactures ENADAlert and sells it to many outlets, which package it under their own names, but always using the word "ENADAlert. These include GNC, Wal-Mart, Target, Rexall and individual health stores.

Price: Suggested retail is $12.99 for eight tablets of 10 mg. each.

Duration: The effect of ENADAlert lasts about five hours.

Tip: Directions say to take an ENADAlert tablet an hour before landing or before going to an important function after you land -- "as needed." In testing, passengers took two tablets, not one. A company spokesman says Menuco believes one should do the trick, and that there is no harm in taking two if you believe that would be more effective. ENADAlert is nontoxic, with no side effects, according to the manufacturer.

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