supplements for altitude sickness prevention

November 21, 2020

It has twice been brought to my attention as of late about clients having symptoms of altitude sickness. I must admit the symptoms can be very bothersome and range from mild to severe. I felt compelled to bring to your attention some herbal remedies that may be helpful next time you take a trip 1000 feet above sea level or more.

The primary cause of altitude sickness is the decrease in air oxygen levels. At 8000 feet, oxygen levels are about half those at sea level. If one ascends slowly the body has a chance to acclimatize by making physiological adjustments and symptoms can be prevented. If one ascends too quickly, fluid moves from the blood stream into the tissues, the blood thickens due to fluid loss, and slows elimination of toxins and wastes from the body. The resultant dehydration inhibits the normal distribution of nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transport of wastes from the tissues, causing thirst along with other symptoms, including breathlessness, sleep disturbances, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, headache, oedema and fatigue. Symptoms can present within 12 to 48 hours of arrival at high altitude and are intensified by alcohol and vigorous exercise. If symptoms persist for more than 2-3 days, it is best to return to lower altitude. If you are moving or going on vacation and are an avid exerciser then you simply must be patient as it takes 4 weeks for you and your blood to acclimate to the higher altitude. I recently moved from about 224 ft sea level in Memphis to almost 1100 ft above sea level and it absolutely took four weeks. My runs and bike rides were just so slow and with exercise induced asthma I felt it probably more than the average person.

A list of the mild altitude sickness symptoms are as follows:

  • headache • nausea • dizziness • throwing up • feeling tired • shortness of breath • faster heart rate
  • not feeling well overall • trouble sleeping • loss of appetite

Here are a few vitamins/supplements you might already have around the house and can gear up for that trip.

Free-radical-mediated damage to the blood-brain barrier may be implicated in the development of acute mountain sickness, and so taking antioxidant supplements such as vitamins A, C and E, alpha-lipoic acid or selenium could be very helpful.  B-vitamins work as catalysts for many biochemical reactions, including the utilization of oxygen by the cells.  Vitamin C acts as a major antioxidant, protecting nutrients like the B-vitamins, and helping the body deal with stress. Daily doses of 1000 mg vitamin C, 400 iu vitamin E and 600 mg alpha Lipoic Acid are recommended.

I like to look at other how other countries and cultures take care of the body via herbs, manual therapy (massage, reflexology or accupressure), sound healing, etc. We can learn a lot from cultures that are deep rooted in healing passed down from generation to generation. There are several herbs which could be very helpful to help prevent or treat altitude sickness, particularly those which are classed as adaptogens and cardiotonics.

CAUTION: Of course if you are on any prescription medications or have health related issues PLEASE check with your doctor to see if any of these suggestions are contraindicated for you!

  • Ginkgo biloba has a remarkable ability to increase blood flow throughout the body, in particular to the brain, enabling it to cope better with decreased atmospheric oxygen levels.
  • Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is used in the high altitudes in Asia to prevent altitude sickness. The ‘mushroom of immortality’, Reishi has been used for centuries as a longevity tonic to increase energy and increase resilience to physical, mental and environmental stressors.
  • Rhodiola is native to the Himalayas and found growing in at high elevations in Asia, Europe and North America. The root, stem, leaves, flowers, and seeds all have adaptogenic and antioxidant properties and have long been considered a panacea. Rhodiola enhances physical and mental energy and performance, improving mental acuity, memory and concentration and increases blood supply to brain and muscles.

Spices or Foods that may help:

Eugenol, a component of the volatile oils in cloves, allspice, basil, cinnamon, bay, wild carrot seeds and marjoram decreases blood viscosity, and aid the retention of fluids in the blood. Horsebalm, (Monarda spp), and various related species including thyme, mints, wild bergamot, winter savory,  contain blood thinning compounds including thymol, menthol or menthone. Foods such as garlic, ginger, tomatoes, dill, parsley, chillis, celery, onions and fennel also possess blood thinning compounds.

A solution many people use in South America for altitude sickness is coca leaves which are available in pharmacies in tea bags!

Drink plenty of water a very common theme of how to prevent altitude sickness. You may even wish to combine with the nunn or other electrolyte tablets or powder I have suggested before in blog posts for proper hydration.

Reflexology & Acupressure Points that may be helpful!

This acupressure point is actually a two-for-one point. That’s because Pericardium 6 or Nei Guan by its Chinese name, is used to treat nausea and vomiting, and it is also be used treat anxiety. So if you’re feeling slightly nauseous AND anxious, then you may find this point helpful. I had to take my wrist watch off for this pic as it’s pretty much right under the band. Pericardium 6 is located on your forearm, three finger-widths below the wrist crease. Hold your thumb on the location and press for up to 60 seconds at least once per hour as needed. So where ever you go next time high in the sky or mountains try a few of these blog post suggestions to keep that sickness at bay.


GIVE US A TEXT OR CALL AT 901-466-6242
or email us at  552 S. Main, Downtown-Memphis, TN 38103

Our covid guidelines are that staff will be wearing face coverings as well as clients for massage. You will have to sign a Covid19 release form, wash your hands upon arrival, etc. All clients onsite must sign Covid form, successfully answer health Covid questions and socially distance.

Click  here for information on our Healing Arts Services (Massage Therapy).