Hackpacking: Grapefruit Seed Extract

| November 18, 2010 | 15 Comments
grapefruit Hackpacking: Grapefruit Seed Extract

Grapefruit Seed Extract: Panacea or Hype?

Occasionally, Kathryn and I come across some great travel ‘hacks’—tips and shortcuts that help backpackers, vagabonds and long-term travellers get things done smarter, cheaper and more efficiently. So, with no further ado, here’s an inexpensive solution that might be deserving of a place in (or on) your backpack.


Travellers gastro, or diarrhoea, is the most common ailment of backpackers travelling abroad, particularly to developing countries. And, as travellers, we’re generally well-versed in the three-rule guide to preventing gastro problems—boil, bottle and peel.

But in the last few years, a new weapon has been added to the backpacker’s arsenal—grapefruit seed extract (GSE).

In the years since its discovery, GSE has become more widely applied to help fight against gastrointestinal illness, including problems of a bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral nature. In fact, some backpackers believe GSE drops are a great way to prevent parasites.

According to some, in fact, GSE has proven to be effective as an emergency water purifier, as well. They maintain that it can be used to purify water instantly if you are camping out or traveling in areas where the quality of drinking water is questionable.

GSE is often touted as a ‘natural’ product, and your local health food store sells it in a capsule as an antifungal supplement. However, GSE is not derived from juice, nor is it an essential oil and it is most certainly not a herbal tincture. It is derived from grapefruit pulp through an intensive chemical process. And while the active ingredient of grapefruit seed extract is non-toxic, a number of chemical catalysts are used in its manufacture. It’s decidedly not organic—but it’s marketed that way.

But is it effective? The jury’s still out. In our opinion, it’s likely a good alternative to broad spectrum antibiotics that are usually preventatively prescribed to travellers for gastrointestinal problems. That being said, GSE acts as an antibiotic in the truest sense—antibiotic means anti-life. While it is believed that GSE has no harmful effect on beneficial bacteria, if given internally in excessive doses over a long-term period it can kill off ‘good’ bacteria much as regular antibiotics do, with the same adverse effects.

According to its advocates, the rule of thumb is to use one drop of liquid concentrate per 10 pounds (5kg) of weight. Moreover, you can make your own organic disinfectant by adding one or two drops per ounce of distilled water. This can also be used to rinse vegetables and fruits—or for a more thorough treatment, soak them for fifteen minutes and rinse thoroughly.

While Kathryn and I have used GSE for its anti-microbial properties, we generally don’t ingest it. Instead, we use 5–6 drops of GSE to clean our toothbrushes, 30 drops in a sink to wash our fruits and veggies and and about 15–30 drops to wash your dishes and utensils. As far as purifying water, we’ll stick with iodine, thanks. It might taste terrible—but it’s a better, safer alternative.

That being said, GSE is an elegant, somewhat cheap and generally available alternative to commercial anti-microbials—so it’s found a place in our backpack!

Have your own creative backpacking hacks to share—tips which may help someone to overcome a problem or limitation quickly and cheaply? Leave ‘em here. Or sound off in the comments below! Check out our collection of travel hacks by clicking here.


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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (15)

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  1. ayngelina says:


    I swear by eating yogurt every day. I’ve been eating street food in Latin America for 7 months now and (knock on wood) not even a grumble in my stomach yet.

    For water I also use a steripen. It’s a bit pricey at $100 but it saves the world from plastic bottles and the water tastes fine.

    • Daniel says:


      I’ve heard a lot about the Steripen — time to bite the bullet and pick one up. Will be good for a review, too! Thanks Ayngelina—good to hear that you’re seven months in and haven’t had any food-related issues.


    • We eat bacterial yoghurt everyday too, so far we’ve had no problems at all!
      I’m thinking of buying a steripen too, it could really be worth it!

  2. Bryan says:


    I think it’s important to note to anyone interested in taking GSE that there are some “warnings” out there if you ingest it. GSE can make you overdose on most medications that you are taking. Basically it amplifies the side effects and can cause bad reactions in a lot of people when combined with other medications.

    Also, GSE is an extreme diuretic. Do not take it if you are dehydrated or at risk of being dehydrated. And if you do, drink lots of water for many days after taking it.

    And I swear by the yogurt thing, too!

  3. Phil says:


    I love this hackpacking series. I had often wondered about GSE and I’m glad you presented it in a very objective manner. I’m in Morocco now, but in most of West Africa I’m used to having my intestines annihilated on a somewhat consistent basis. Thanks for shedding some light on this!! B well, Phil


  4. This intrigues me – the massive chemical process just to get the extract is a bit disturbing, but I like the idea of using it occasionally as an alternative to antibiotics!

    Like Ayngelina, I use a SteriPEN – I reviewed the $100 one last year, and it worked great but had battery issues. They have a $50 one that’s much more budget that I have and will review in a couple of weeks if you’re interested! :)


  5. GSE is great but the other effects on other drugs is not so good.


  6. Seems interesting, and cheap! I wouldn’t trust it to purify water, but I would definitely consider using it to rinse vegetables and fruits.

  7. Jen Laceda says:


    Hmmm. from Steripen to GSE. Lots of good, solid information here. Thanks! Hey Daniel, when are you guys going on your RTW trip? Is it soon? Have you started?

  8. K.J. says:


    I’d turn to the GSE — heavily diluted in bottled water before Cipro or any other antibiotic any day. I’ve lived in Sierra Leone for three years and pretty much swear by it. All vegetables are soaked in it, as well as raw meats before cooking.

    But even in the US, I’ve used a few drops of GSE to get rid of gastrointestinal problems. My doctor told me to avoid Cipro at all cost because it can weaken your tendons and I’ve already had two knee surgeries. Ingested, it works quickly, almost like magic. A small price to pay for the bitter taste.

    I wouldn’t gulp down GSE all day, as I’m sure that’s not a good idea, but it’s been a lifesaver for us.


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