Has altitude sickness been keeping you or your loved ones off the mountains?
If you suffer from altitude sickness you know that it can be physically debilitating. The fact of the matter is, there is less oxygen at higher elevations and for those of us living at the beach traveling to higher elevations can be a jolt to the system resulting in headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and fainting.
People who live year round at high altitude locations have adapted to low oxygen levels. Their bodies have adapted to the low oxygen levels by producing and maintaining higher red blood cell levels and therefore more red blood cells to carry oxygen. Such changes naturally take place about a week or two after arriving at a high altitude location. Most mountain climbers, skiers, and tourists however, do not spend this much time at high altitude locations and thus experience altitude sickness. Additionally people who have anemia, blood disorders, recovering from surgery or are post-partum already have a low red blood count and this only exacerbates the effects of traveling to higher elevations.
Often Diamox (Acetazolamide) is prescribed for high altitude sickness. It can increase your rate of breathing thus increase your oxygen intake. You need to start taking Diamox a few days before you travel and should be prepared for the following side effects: increase urine production, drowsiness, headache, thirst, changes in mood, fatigue, decreased appetite, paraesthesia (pin and needle sensation), flushing, alteration in taste. And for those individuals who are unable to tolerate the side effects of Diamox or prefer holistic treatments Chinese Medicine has been found to benefit altitude sickness and is often an effective alternative.
So we know that increasing your red blood cells, increases the amount of oxygen available to your body, and ultimately is what alleviates altitude sickness. Here are several Chinese Herbal formulas that can boost your red blood cell count:
- Shi Quan Da Bu Tang (All Inclusive Great Tonifying Decoction)
- Si Wu Tang (Four Substance Decoction)
- Ba Zhen Tang (Eight Treasure Decoction).
According to the studies conducted thus far, you should start taking your herbal formula for at least 3 days prior to arriving at high altitude (about 2,100 meters/ 6500 ft.) and to continue the use of the herbs for the entire duration of a high altitude visit. Single chinese herbs also aid the body in increasing the amount of oxygen available:
- Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xie Cao)
- Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen)
- Ginseng (Ren Shen)
- Astragalus (milk vetch Root, Huang Qi)
- Ganoderma (Zhi Ling)
So don’t let altitude sickness limit your travel and lifestyle choice, contact a board certified licensed acupuncturist and inquire as to what approach and formula would be best for your individual symptoms and remember Chinese Herbs should only be purchased from qualified licensed individuals who can verify the source and quality of the herbs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brenda Ballard is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Herbalist and Diplomat of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles, CA. She received her Master’s Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Emperor’s College, undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and maintains a private clinical practice in West Los Angeles, Westside Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.