Staying Healthy in High Altitude
By Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH
Summer Solstice Sadhana, International Women's Camp, and Youth Camp are a very special events, and we gather in a very special place. As beautiful as our sacred land is though, the environment can be a little challenging. Among its challenges is its sheer altitude. The air is thinner than you might think, and flatlanders (that’s most of us) are breathless, tired, and headachy for the first few days. Let’s not even start with the dryness…
The direct cause for the misery is thin air—and a decreased amount of available oxygen for all your organs. Your body counterbalances oxygen starvation by increasing your heart and respiratory rates, causing more blood to be pumped to all your assorted body parts. Chemical changes in the blood allow more oxygen to be released into the body tissues. Sounds good so far, you say? Well, one of the drawbacks is that some tissues (hands, feet, face) tend to accumulate fluids. Maybe you’re familiar with a swollen head but, at this altitude, even your brain swells a little.
There are key steps to remember whenever venturing to this altitude:
- Allow time for your body to acclimatize
- Rest a day or two before strenuous activity
- Move slowly until you are acclimatized
- Recognize early warning signs and seek relief
When it comes to altitude, there is no substitute for common sense. Still, there are complementary methods that can speed up your ability to acclimatize to the altitude:
- Eat healthfully for a while before you leave for Summer Solstice.
- Two days before arriving, consume plenty of complex carbohydrates to enhance blood oxygen.
- For several days, take antioxidant vitamins C and E.
- Take co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to promote cellular oxygen uptake.
- Use l-tyrosine in the morning to boost your metabolism.
- Use some potent herbal medicine to ease your adjustment. Ginkgo promotes circulation. Reishi mushroom, Rhodiola, ginseng, eleuthero, osha, and red clover all bump up circulation and stamina and have proven their worth for altitude distress in the past. You may not need all of these. Put together a personalized selection.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Too late for advance preparation? Not to worry. There are many simple things you can do to stay healthy and (more or less) comfortable while you adjust.
- Stick to the Solstice diet, which has a proven track record over many years.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Sipping small amounts every 15 minutes helps keep you hydrated. Imbibe the special electrolyte drink provided. Tasty!
- Continue your antioxidants and blood support supplements.
- Stop every four to six minutes and take 10-12 deep breaths.
- You wouldn’t bring alcohol to Summer Solstice, but if you did drink it, it would be dehydrating.
The rugged environment is part of Summer Solstice and an integral aspect of the experience. You’ll do fine, no matter what challenges Mother Nature stirs up. Even so, you’ll do even better if you pamper yourself just a little at first and use some tools to help you excel in the high desert climate.
- Ginkgo standardized extract- 60-120 mg per day
- Reishi mushroom- 3 one gram tablets, 3 times per day
- Rhodiola standardized extract- 500-1,000 mg per day
- Ginseng root- 3 grams per day
- Eleuthero root- 5 grams per day
- Ginger root (powder, tea, capsules)- as necessary for headache and nausea
- Garlic (food or deodorized capsules)- as much as comfortable to promote circulation
- Osha root- 3 grams per day
- Red clover flower tea- 1-2 quarts per day
- Vitamin C- 5-10 grams per day
- Vitamin E- 1,000 IU per day
- L-tyrosine- 500-1,000 mg per day, early in the day
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness develops in stages. Mild symptoms can develop within hours, or may show up within a few of days after arriving. Mild forms of altitude sickness appear as headaches and insomnia, and are frequently harmless and short-lived. Once you have arrived at this higher altitude, it takes about two to four days for the body to acclimatize to the thinner air, and the symptoms will disappear.
Watch out for these symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Bizarre dreams
- Frequent waking
- Shortness of breath
- Heavy/light breathing cycles
- Difficulty breathing
- Decreased ability to exercise or perform work
- Mental sluggishness
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj, DN-C, RH, is the president of the American Herbalists Guild. He mentored in Ayurveda with Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. The Healing Cures of Yogi Bhajan is his homage to Yogi Bhajan and the wealth of information he had the blessing to learn from his master.
Karta Purkh has presented over 150 times at professional conferences, has written over 3,000 articles on health topics and is the author or editor of 30 books on health, including his latest, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs. He is curriculum director and lead instructor in the Portland Community College Nutritional Therapy Program and heads the herbal education department of the Northwest Institute of Ayurveda.
He will be a featured presenter at the 2012 conference of the National Ayurvedic Medicine Association conference.
He lives in the Northwest with his wife and daughter. [email protected]