Visitors to our lovely mountains often struggle to adjust to the lower air pressure and lower oxygen levels. Altitude sickness is very real and can make the first few days of a visit quite uncomfortable.
Altitude sickness is caused by the inability of the body to uptake enough oxygen. We compensate for a higher altitude and lower air pressure by increasing our breathing rate. This raises our oxygen levels, but not to normal levels. Symptoms arise when a person is operating for a prolonged period of time at this lower level of oxygen.
Our bodies have to adjust to this lower level of oxygen, and when they are slow in adjusting, or we don’t give ourselves enough time to adjust, we can experience signs of hypoxia, or low oxygen.
Dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and headaches, are the most common symptoms of altitude sickness. The key is to treat early. If symptoms go on for too long or become severe, going to a lower altitude is the best solution. The more severe the symptoms, the more medical interventions you will need, so pay attention, drink lots of water, and start treating yourself. There are several natural remedies that can help.
Since low oxygen is what causes the symptoms of altitude sickness, we want to use nutrients and herbs that will help to increase oxygen levels and aid in the delivery of oxygen to the tissues. Herbs like beetroot and gingko help with this. Some of the symptoms are also thought to be caused by oxidative damage, so antioxidants can be helpful as well.
Beet juice or BeetElite is used to help provide the body with Nitric Oxide. Nitric Oxide helps to dilate the blood vessels, allowing for increased blood flow and greater oxygen delivery.
Gingko Biloba, a popular herb used to improve memory, is thought to be helpful because of its ability to increase circulation of blood in the body and to the brain. It has been shown in studies to increase oxygen saturation, which is absolutely the effect we are looking for in treatment of altitude sickness. Try 120-180mg/day. Starting 5-10 days before coming to high altitude.
Antioxidants such as Vitamin C (500mg-10,000mg/day), Vitamin E (400IU/day), Alpha Lipoic Acid (150-300mg/day) can also help. While doses need to be pretty high, altitude sickness may be due to an increase in oxidative damage caused by lower oxygen saturation of the cells. Glutathione (1g/day), one of our most abundant antioxidants, quickly becomes depleted at higher elevations. Supplementing with glutathione can help protect from that depletion.
Supplemental oxygen containers and oxygen bars are available around the Vail Valley. Trying these out might be helpful as well. The idea being that giving extra oxygen will prevent the lack of oxygen in the first place.
Prevention is Key
Go ahead and try it all, knowing that ultimately, prevention is the key. If you have had altitude sickness in the past, you are likely to have it again. Take your time ascending. Spend a day or two in Denver and allow your body to adjust a bit before coming higher. Drink lots of water and abstain from activity for the first few days that you get here. Your body will adjust naturally on its own. It just might take some time.