Altitude sickness, also called mountain sickness, is caused by reduced oxygen available to the body at higher altitudes. It is more likely to happen when climbing altitudes above 8,000 feet quickly, not allowing the body to acclimatize. The body may need more time getting used to the higher level. Symptoms of altitude sickness include fatigue, dehydration, headache, and nausea. If more severe symptoms occur, immediate medical attention is required.
Here are some things you should do when you have mild altitude sickness.
- Stop ascending to higher elevation! Move to a lower altitude. Do not go to the higher altitude for at least a few days.
- Drink plenty of water. Do not drink alcohol.
- Consider an anti-emetic medication or herb to help reduce nausea. Herbs that may help include ginger and peppermint.
- Consider an oxygen treatment. Bring portable oxygen (such as oxishot) on a hiking trip above 10,000 feet.
- If more serious symptoms occur such as confusion, shortness of breathe while at rest, double vision, or severe chest congestion, seek medical attention immediately.
Recipes to Help with Altitude Sickness
The listings of research below represents a compilation of scientific articles found on the topic, with a very brief overview description of each article/study. This compilation of research articles does not necessarily imply that there are adequate results to demonstrate safe and/or effective human use of any herb listed.
Ginkgo may be helpful before ascending up a mountain. It helps increase blood circulation. More research is needed. Other herbs that have been used as a folk remedy include gotu kola, coca tea, garlic and chlorophyll. Garlic may help to thin the blood; more research is necessary. Liquid chlorophyll may also help as it increases red blood cells, which can increase oxygen absorption.
- Ginkgo reduced mountain sickness in participants normally living at sea level. From: Moraga, F. A., Flores, A., Serra, J., Esnaola, C., & Barriento, C. (2007). Ginkgo biloba decreases acute mountain sickness in people ascending to high altitude at Ollagüe (3696 m) in northern Chile. Wilderness & environmental medicine, 18(4), 251-257.
- In a double blind study, a one day of pre-treatment with ginkgo (60 mg) significantly reduced the severity of altitude sickness in a rapid ascent from sea level to 4205 meters. From: Gertsch, J. H., Seto, T. B., Mor, J., & Onopa, J. (2002). Ginkgo biloba for the prevention of severe acute mountain sickness (AMS) starting one day before rapid ascent. High altitude medicine & biology, 3(1), 29-37.
- Herbs that have been used for mountain sickness include ginkgo, gotu kola, coca, and others. Sharma, K., Jeet, K., & Baldi, A. (2015). MANAGEMENT OF ACUTE MOUNTAIN SICKNESS: AN EXPLORATORY REVIEW ON HERBAL D RUGS. INDIAN JOURNAL OF NATURAL PRODUCTS, 29(1), 5.
For those with medical conditions or taking medications, consult with your Doctor before considering herbs to help with blood circulation or to thin the blood. This is especially true when taking herbs beyond normal food amounts. Herbs like ginkgo, gotu kola, garlic, coca, and chlorophyll may interfere with blood thinning medications, heart medications, and blood and heart conditions.
My Personal Experience
I have had issues with mountain sickness in the past, and wanted to not have any problems for my trip to hike up the amazing mountains of Colorado. As a vegetarian, I wanted to especially make sure to have plenty of red blood cell production for improved oxygenation of my cells. I ate plenty of spinach (for the iron), and took liquid chlorophyll beginning three days before my trip to Colorado, along with a ginkgo supplement and plenty of water and electrolytes. Upon arriving to the mountains, I hung out at 5,000 feet of elevation for the first day. The second day, I hiked to about 7,500 feet of elevation, the third day I hiked to 10,000 feet of elevation, and waited until the fourth day to try the 14,000 foot elevation hike. I did not drink any alcohol and had plenty of hydration and night time rest. If I traveled again to hike at elevation, I would do the same thing, but also bring portable oxygen for above 10,000 feet. Plus, I would pre-make some ginger chews; here is the recipe: Ginger Candy Recipe.
Compiled By: Kathy Sadowski
Last Updated 12/31/18