We Tried It: Chlorophyll Pills for Altitude Sickness

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Here’s something new for the “We Tried It!” series. If you’re like me (a flatlander through and through), you might have noticed when you travel to higher elevation, you are susceptible to the myriad of symptoms that come from ascending too quickly. While altitude affects everyone differently, the symptoms can be incredibly unpleasant.

For many years, prescriptions drugs, such as Diamox, have been prescribed to travelers headed to high regions. However, these prescription drugs come with a list of side effects nearly as long as the list of altitude sickness symptoms!

Dedicated to finding a more holistic approach, we went in search of a more natural option!

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a grouping of symptoms that are brought on by ascending to a higher altitude too quickly. The body doesn’t have enough time to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen in the air or the lower atmospheric pressure. When the kidneys detect a lower oxygen concentration in the blood, they decrease the amount of water in the blood. As a result, you may find that you urinate more, causing dehydration. The kidneys also secret a hormone to stimulate the production of red blood cells. This “metabolic overdrive,” coupled with hypoxia, is the reason many people suffer chronic fatigue and insomnia at higher elevations.

We Tried It: Chlorophyll Pills for Altitude Sickness

What are the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness?

Symptoms of mild to moderate acute mountain sickness may include:

  • Headache

  • Dizziness or light-headedness

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Rapid pulse (heart rate)

  • Shortness of breath (especially with exertion)

How can you prevent altitude sickness?

  • Using these guidelines for proper acclimatization may help:

  • Ascend slowly over several days to higher altitudes.

  • Limit physical activity for the first few days.

  • Increase water intake.

  • Avoid central nervous system depressants, such as: barbiturates, tranquilizers or sleeping pills.

  • Limit or avoid tobacco and alcohol.

Photo courtesy of  IFC

Photo courtesy of IFC

Chlorophyll, don’t you mean bore-o-phyll?

So, ever on the search for a more natural alternative than Diamox and it’s long list of side effects, I came across chlorophyll tabs on Amazon. Chlorophyll gets its name as a “blood builder” from its structural similarities to hemoglobin. Chlorophyll can be found in natural sources, such as dark, leafy greens. For many naturalists, some evidence that Ginkgo biloba can also help in symptoms of AMS.

The results

I took the chlorophyll tabs on my trip to Breckenridge (10,000’+ elevation), as well as my recent trip to Mt. Hood (4,500-7,000’). As someone who has suffered from chronic headaches while being at higher elevations, I noticed that I had very little issue with breathing or symptoms on either of these trips. I’ve always been an endurance athlete, so recent levels of training didn’t play a factor.

The supplements were also small and easy to take and I started supplementing one week prior to both trips and continued taking the same dosage while traveling. I didn’t notice any ill side effects or issues with taking the chlorophyll supplement.

If you’ve followed for awhile, you know that I’m a big fan of linking to scientific articles (Hello PubMed!) with any claims that I might give. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a single scientific article that discusses chlorophyll’s ability to increase red blood cells. So, scientifically speaking, I can’t back up any of these claims. However, I can’t deny that I did feel pretty great in the mountains (a first for me!). Of course, maintaining proper hydration levels is also crucial to avoiding many of the symptoms!

So, we will tentatively say that these were a success! Have you ever tried a natural recipe? What works for you? Leave it below!

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We Tried It: Chlorophyll Pills for Altitude Sickness