Living on the Colorado Front Range in the greater Denver-Boulder area, we are at an elevated altitude between 5,280 and 5,328 feet. As many of us are transplants from other states, it can take anywhere from one week to six months+ for our bodies to produce the blood oxygen necessary to adjust to this climate. At one mile high, there is 17 percent less oxygen than at sea level, and when you go up to the mountains to ski at 8,000+ feet, there is 25+ percent less oxygen. The higher you climb, the thinner the air and lower the atmospheric pressure, which reduces the driving pressure for gas exchange in your lungs.
Without oxygen efficiently powering the mitochondria of your cells, you may experience symptoms like dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue, headaches, trouble sleeping, nausea, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath with little exertion. Here are few alternative solutions to helping you cope with the effects of altitude.
1. Adjust Slowly: Allow yourself breaks to rest while physically exerting yourself at altitude. Even if you’re used to the Front Range altitude and climb several thousand feet to go skiing, your body can take 2-3 days to adjust.
2. Stay Hydrated: Extra H2O is important to keeping your oxygen levels normal. The average person at altitude needs an extra 1-1.5 liters each day. A trick my chiropractor gave me many years ago when I first moved to Colorado is to take your weight in pounds and drink that number in fluid ounces per day while you are adjusting to the altitude. For example, 120 lbs = 120 fl oz/ 15 cups per day.
3. Get your Electrolytes: It’s easy to get dehydrated at altitude. You may notice that it’s harder to break a sweat than at sea level because your sweat evaporates so quickly. When you sweat, you lose sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, and hydrogen phosphate. It’s important to replenish these minerals and ions by drinking things like natural spring water and coconut water. Stay away from water filtered by reverse osmosis, including Brita filters. While these filters get rid of chlorine, lead, copper, etc., they also filter out essential minerals that your body needs. When you drink this water, it actually leeches out your essential minerals.
Other ways of replenishing electrolytes, especially when you’re hit by altitude-induced fatigue, is by drinking Emergen-C, Gatorade, or taking a potassium gluconate supplement (to avoid the extra sugar).
4. ChlorOxygen: Supplementing with ChlorOxygen, or chlorophyll liquid concentrate, helps oxygenate your red blood cells. In my experience, I find that for this reason, it also helps with sleep.
5. Avoid Alcohol and Smoking: Drinking alcohol causes dehydration and smoking reduces your oxygen levels. Your heart is naturally more taxed at higher elevation, and both alcohol and smoking increase you heart rate and add even more stress on your body.
6. Coffee: While coffee is a diuretic and dehydration is a concern at high altitude, coffee can actually alleviate headaches caused by high altitude simply because it circulates more blood to your brain. Blood carries oxygen, and coffee increases your heart rate and circulates blood at a faster rate. Just make sure that you’re drinking water while drinking coffee at high altitude.
7. Get Oxygen: Whether you go to an oxygen bar or carry with you a portable can of oxygen, this is a direct combatant to lowered oxygen levels from higher elevations.