The change in oxygen levels present in the air is the primary cause of symptoms associated with altitude sickness and the condition is not necessarily related to altitude. The pressure of oxygen and thus the presence of sufficient oxygen decreases the higher one goes up-this results in the sickness.
Thus the atmospheric air will contain only approximately half of its normal sea level oxygen content at 8,000 feet elevation, therefore the pressure of oxygen goes down the higher one goes up. Thus acclimatization which occurs when ascending slowly is possible due to physiological adjustments that the body makes, by gradually ascending a few thousand feet a day, the body will adjust to the decreased oxygen pressure and the person will suffer few problems.
Altitude sickness can result during rapid ascents, which happens for example during vigorous mountain climbing. The rapid climb deprives the body of sufficient time to adjust to the ambient oxygen availability-altitude sickness is always present in such cases.
Dehydration of the body is a primary component of altitude sickness in the human body. The body tissues are affected in a different way at high elevations, they accumulate fluid that moves out of the blood and this leads to rapid loss of fluid from the blood plasma.
This results in a retarded elimination of toxic wastes from the body and the blood thickens due to fluid loss, the dehydration also interferes with efficient distribution of nutrients and oxygen further slowing down the rate of waste elimination. Extreme thirst along with symptoms such as headache and fatigue along with malaise-which are all typical symptoms of altitude sickness start at this stage.
The best preventive measure to avoid such altitude sickness is the consumption of large amounts of nonalcoholic fluids before starting the ascent, this intake of fluids must continue as you keep climbing-this step will help reduce the intensity of altitude sickness and in some cases preclude its arrival. The best fluids to consume are fruit juices or plain water. Another great alternative is the consumption of herbal teas.
Supplements and herbs
Altitude sickness can be alleviated or prevented by consuming the herbs mentioned below.
Clove botanical name-Syzygium aromaticum can be used as an herbal supplement to combat altitude sickness as the oil of the clove is rich in a compound called eugenol. This substance is a very potent blood thinner-an anti-aggregator which will aid in retaining the blood fluids. Herbs such as the allspice, the leaf of the bayrum, the galangal, and the seeds of the carrot, and other herbs such as the shrubby basil, the cinnamon, the bay leaf and the marjoram are also rich in this compound and they can all be used to treat altitude sickness.
Prepare the herbal mixture by simply boiling all these herbs in a pot with water. Slowly steep the cloves or the herbs such as the allspice, the bay leaf, the celery seed, and adding cinnamon or marjoram as available brew and put it through a sieve. For taste and added benefits add, as available, any or all of these mints, the basil, the mountain dittany, some savory or some thyme-cool and drink the herbal tea as a preventive measure against altitude sickness.
Garlic, the common garlic-botanical name Allium sativum, is also an excellent blood thinning agent and it contains at least nine compounds which have this effect. Thus the garlic finds great use as an herbal remedy because of its anti-aggregator effect-finding use as a heart attack preventive, in addition soroche sufferers can also benefit from its use as an herbal supplement.
Common garden plants such as tomatoes, the dill and fennel also posses about seven blood thinning compounds and make excellent anti-aggregants. Other herbs such as the onions, the hot chili peppers and soybeans also posses some six such compounds. In addition about five such compounds are known to be present in herbs such as the celery, the carrots and the parsley.
Horsebalm or the Monarda, and various related species can also be used as an herbal supplement in the treatment of altitude sickness. These herbs also contain excellent blood thinning compounds and all the mints in this family contain active ingredients such as thymol and menthol or menthone, the anti-aggregant properties of these ingredients are potent and excellent in dealing with the symptoms of altitude sickness.
The horsebalm herb however contains the majority of these compounds and is the most effective herb in the family. Given here in descending order of potency are other herbs that can also function as effective blood thinning agents, the thyme, the nude mountain mint, the wild bergamot and the winter savory, the mountain dittany, the lemon mint, the basil and California bay are also important herbs having this property.
Reishi whose botanical name is Ganoderma lucidum is also effective as an herbal supplement in the treatment and prevention of altitude sickness. In a similar manner to the way Peruvians use the coca leaf; this mushroom is used in mountainous regions of Asia to ward off altitude sickness.
The use of the reishi is said to have significantly reduced the occurrence and intensity of altitude sickness symptoms among Chinese workers ascending over 15,000 feet in Tibet-this observation was made under scientific methods over three days by workers. The use of the reishi is theoretically said to lead to an increase in the body’s oxygen consumption and this in theory aids in warding off altitude sickness in the climbers.
Ginkgo whose botanical name is Ginkgo biloba is also an excellent remedy to prevent or treat altitude sickness in climbers. The remarkable property of the herb lies in its ability to increase blood flow throughout the human body, in particular to an important organ like the brain. Thus an ability to tolerate low oxygen levels has been observed in animal studies, where laboratory rats were fed a ginkgo extract-the animals all displayed a definite increase in the cerebral blood flow and this helped them cope with decreased oxygen levels in the environment.
The recommended dosage for this herb is about 60 to 240 milligrams of standardized extract daily, to treat or prevent altitude sickness-avoid taking higher doses. The herb ginkgo is known to cause diarrhea, and symptoms such as irritability and restlessness when taken at very high doses.
Other beneficial herbs
- From Sarah
- I take an Oxygen Pod with me whenever I travel to high altitudes. I take a few breaths from it whenever I start to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness.