Hackpacking: Grapefruit Seed Extract

| November 18, 2010 | 17 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. His latest book, The Physics of Flocking, gathers his favourite writing featured over the past two years on Two Go Round-The-World in columns like 'Looking Back' and 'The Whole Picture'—along with new reflections.