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Health Buzz: Altitude Guide

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By Dr. Kaley Burns EBS Health Columnist

Welcome to wonderful Big Sky, Montana—as you take in the beautiful scenery, your body may also be reminding you that you are not at sea level anymore. Depending on where you are in town, you could be resting anywhere from 6,000-11,000 feet of elevation. 

At higher elevations, you will take in less oxygen per breath. This means the higher you climb, the greater the risk of developing altitude-related illness. Altitude sickness is actually a type of stress on the body and can be a big concern for travelers. The stress of lower oxygen levels can lead to symptoms such as nausea, trouble breathing and weakness.

Thankfully there is no need to miss out on the fun and leave the mountain to alleviate altitude-related symptoms. Reference this guide for helpful tips and tricks.

Dr. B’s Top 10 Tips to Adjust to Altitude

  1. IV nutrient and hydration therapy: Especially if you know you are sensitive to elevation changes, I suggest getting a nutrient intravenous drop (IV treatment) as soon as you get into town. Don’t wait until you are already feeling ill. 
  2. Keep up hydration with electrolytes: Our favorite electrolyte on the market is LMNT. Add a packet to your 40-ounce water bottle once to 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 your bodyweight in ounces, PLUS if you are physically active adding roughly 8 ounces for every 15 minutes. 
    1. Pro Tip: Consume 24 ounces of water within the first 30 minutes of waking. Your body dehydrates overnight.
  3. Mind your activity levels: Many people notice that they need to monitor their intensity and duration of activity as they are adjusting to higher elevations. It’s common for physical performance to become more difficult when you ascend in altitude. It is best not to push yourself too hard for the first two to three days. 
  4. 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. Pro Tip: 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.
  5. Exercise caution with alcohol intake: Alcohol is dehydrating and can affect many people more significantly at altitude. Alcohol intake can also disrupt sleep patterns. Your safest option is to wait about 48 hours before you consume alcohol at altitude.
  6. Boost your nutrient intake: 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. Pro Tip: Another favorite way to support your nutrition AND help with hydration levels is consuming bone broth. There are a couple great restaurants in town that offer this tasty treat as well! 
  7. Keep an eye on your calorie intake in general: Your body has to work extra hard to keep you functioning with less oxygen available. Therefore, your body requires more fuel. A nutrient-dense diet combining complex carbohydrates, plant and animal proteins and healthy fats can help keep you full and enable your body to run well at higher elevations.
    1. Pro Tip: If you experience appetite reduction, this is a great time to utilize nutrient-packed fluids including bone broths, juices and quality protein shakes. Just check labels and steer clear of sugar levels above 12g/serving!
  8. You may have to ditch the keto routine: consuming adequate complex carbs, which require less oxygen to metabolize and helps you maintain a better ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide, allowing you to use oxygen more efficiently. 
  9. Recruit quality supplementation as needed: 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.
    1. Beets contain iron and vitamin C as well, which can be a good way to help maximize the metabolic benefits of being at altitude. 
  10. Protect yourself from the sun: The ultraviolet rays are more intense the higher you go in elevation, meaning sunburn can occur more easily. The effect is intensified by the sun reflecting off the snow, so don’t underestimate the power of sun protection.
  11. Go lower or seek support if necessary: Don’t wait too long to seek medical attention if your health is struggling as you adapt to 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 a day at the mountain!

A version of this article first appeared in the Dec. 31, 2022, edition of EBS.

Dr. Kaley Burns is the founder, owner and Naturopathic Doctor at Big Sky Natural Health. She embraces a natural approach to health and aims to similarly inspire and guide others on their health journey. Dr. Burns has advanced training application of regenerative and intravenous injection therapy. She also serves as the Vice President and CE Liaison of the Montana Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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