Archive for the ‘Altitude science’ Category

Updates on altitude illness

August 10th, 2010

Most folks who travel high are rightly concerned about altitude illness. Here are some new resources for you. You can download the Wilderness Medical Society Consensus Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness for free. This contains the latest medical recommendations (though in real life one might vary from some of these recommended approaches, but I’m not a doctor and can’t give medical advice). Anyway, lots of good info here.

So you’re at altitude and you feel lousy–do you have altitude illness? To help diagnose acute mountain sickness (AMS), physicians and researchers have developed numerical scoring systems which use your symptoms and the observations of others. These are known as the Lake Louise Consensus Scoring Systems (the name will help you to search for more info). I included a version for both adults and children in the book, and have finally formatted them for easier use in real life. You can download the adult version and the child version from my home page.

Keep in mind that there are two other important types of altitude illness: high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). These scoring systems don’t diagnose these serious illnesses, so make sure you read Chapter 5 to become familiar with them.

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Farewell Charlie

October 13th, 2009

Dr. Charles Houston died recently at the age of 96. I first started learning about high-altitude physiology from his book Going Higher. He was the godfather of high-altitude medicine and climbed in Alaska and Asia. My book wouldn’t have been possible without the research he conducted and inspired over the years.

Read a fitting tribute by journalist Bill Moyers. Watch the 1953 K2 film there too!

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Does Ginkgo biloba prevent altitude illness?

September 11th, 2009

There have been a number of studies that examine the effectiveness of Gingko biloba extracts in preventing acute mountain sickness (AMS). A nice paper by van Patot and others in the spring 2009 issue of High Altitude Medicine and Biology summarizes the results of these studies. They suggest that the main problem is the lack of standardization of extracts, leading to different amounts of the various chemicals being present in the pills. Until the various individual compounds are tested, we won’t really know what benefit gingko might have.

So I continue to suggest that taking gingko is ok, but acetazolamide (Diamox) is still the go-to drug for AMS as long as you’re not allergic.

Link to abstract

Citation: Martha C. Tissot van Patot, Linda E. Keyes, Guy Leadbetter, Peter H. Hackett. High Altitude Medicine & Biology. Spring 2009, 10(1): 33-43. doi:10.1089/ham.2008.1085.

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You are unique: more interesting research

February 8th, 2009

If you’ve read my book, you know that I talk a lot about your uniqueness, and how that affects your response to altitude, training, etc. Here’s another study which confirms this.

Researchers at Tufts University published a study that examined differences among people’s glycemic index (GI) for white bread. Recall that the GI measures the degree to which a food changes blood sugar levels. Low GI foods (most fruits, pasta) have little effect on your blood sugar, while high GI foods (potatoes, carrots) cause a spike in blood sugar.

While white bread has a published GI of 72, the fourteen test subjects had average GI values that ranged between 44 and 132! And, the measured GI of white bread varied a lot within some individuals (they measured GI three times in each person).

So your response to a food might be quite different than you would expect, based on the published values. Knowing how your body responds to food, dehydration, altitude, etc. will allow you to tune your approach for better performance.

Citation: Vega-Lopez, S., L. M. Ausman, et al. (2007). Interindividual variability and intra-individual reproducibility of glycemic index values for commercial white bread. Diabetes Care 30(6): 1412-7

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