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Addressing the Stresses of High Altitude Living

Tips from Big Sky Natural Health


By Kaley Burns

Although some people thrive in a more challenging climate and geography, there’s no arguing that at higher elevations, you start taking in less oxygen per breath. Altitude sickness is actually a type of stress on the body and can be a big concern for travelers, and in addition, we also know there are physiological effects from living at these higher elevations.

People with underlying health issues, especially related to the lungs and heart, may find their conditions exacerbated by altitude. The available data indicate that residency at higher altitudes are associated with lower mortality from cardiovascular diseases, stroke and certain types of cancer. In contrast, mortality from COPD and lower respiratory tract infections may be greater.

Dr. Kaley Burns assists a patient at her offices here in Big Sky. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIG SKY NATURAL HEALTH

It has been clinically documented that many women who move to the higher elevations, experience changes in their menstrual cycles in the first few months of living at altitude. Often, women experience increased intensity and frequency of hot flashes as well as imbalances in fluid retention. While research in this area is still limited, data monitoring the effects of altitude on stress, thyroid, adrenal and reproductive hormone axes, suggests that hormone profiles of estrogens, testosterone and progesterone all change at high altitude when compared to sea level. We have seen that, particularly in regards to progesterone levels, there is possibility of long-lasting changes in these hormone axes.

The holistic team at Big Sky Natural Health encourages an approach to healthcare that involves a comprehensive focus on the physical, emotional and mental pieces of an individual’s health through all phases of life. Optimizing a healthy balance allows for full involvement in all of the activities and elevations we search for in mountain living, which is why we’re happy to offer these tips for optimizing your wellness at altitude so you can get back to doing what you love.

Tips to Optimize Wellness at Altitude

  1. Keep up hydration with electrolytes: Electrolytes play a role in mood regulation, sleep, brain function and energy levels. Currently, our favorite electrolyte on the market is LMNT. Add a packet to your 40-ounce water bottle once or twice per day to keep your muscles happy and allow you to enjoy the mountain to the fullest. Water intake is advised to be half of your bodyweight in ounces. If you are physically active, it’s vital to add roughly 8-ounces for every 15 minutes of activity.
    1. Start early—Consume 24-ounces of water within the first 30 minutes of waking. Your body dehydrates overnight.
    2. IV nutrient and hydration therapyIf you know you are sensitive to hydration changes, we suggest getting a nutrient intravenous drop (IV treatment) once every four to six weeks.
  2. Get adequate amounts of sleep: Sleep disturbances are common at higher elevations. If you are struggling to sleep, check your caffeine intake and try improving sleep hygiene with a dark room, white noise or calming essential oils such as lavender.
    1. Magnesium is great for helping promote optimal sleep. Current research shows that magnesium can help the body relax to help improve disruption and even insomnia. Magnesium supports hormone synthesis and helps to normalize the action of progesterone on the central nervous system.
  3. Boost your nutrient intake: More oxidative stress requires more antioxidants, found in items such as broccoli, spinach, carrots, artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, radish, sweet potatoes, squash, berries and kale. Foods such as bananas, avocados, spinach, greek yogurt and kale are all high in potassium which can help mitigate some of the effects of altitude.
    1. Another favorite way to support your nutrition and help with hydration levels is consuming bone broth. Full of amino acids, this helps the body to produce and process hormones to keep a healthy balance.
  4. Recruit quality supplementation as needed: Iron is one of the most intricate nutrients to check when living and recreating at higher altitudes. It also plays a role in estrogen metabolism. Adding vitamin C increases iron absorption and helps to balance adrenal hormones to make us more resilient to stressors.
    1. Nitric Oxide/Beets: I recommend utilizing NEO40 or SuperBeets supplements to support nitric oxide production. Research has found that optimal nitric oxide levels are key to improving high altitude function.
    2. N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC): An amazing addition that supports liver health (to process hormones), immune function, hormone balance, acts as an antioxidant, is anti-inflammatory and supports regular circulation.
  5. Go lower or seek support if necessary: Don’t wait too long to seek medical attention if your health is struggling as you adapt and live at altitude. If needed, make arrangements to sleep at a lower elevation.This has been found to help the body adjust more optimally and can allow you to still enjoy life in the mountains!

The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.