For centuries, indigenous cultures of the Altiplano in Bolivia and other high altitude cities in Peru, such as the Aymara, Quechua and Incas, have used coca leaves to treat and prevent mild altitude sickness. Drinking plenty of water will also help in acclimatization to replace the fluids lost through heavier breathing in the thin, dry air found at altitude, although consuming excessive quantities ("over-hydration") has no benefits.
The folk remedy for altitude sickness in Peru and Bolivia is a tea made from the coca plant: “Mate de coca” or “Coca tea” both countries produce coca tea, small tea bags that contain one gram of dried crushed coca tea. Coca Tea is offered to tourists and foreigners at hotels, restaurants, offices, etc. Coca is an alkaloid plant (like tea, coffee, poppy or tobacco). It contains a number of alkaloids, including cocaine (present in coca leaves in minimal amounts, between 0.25 and 1%), which, through mastication and the effect of saliva, reacts with other alkaline substances, is broken down and transformed into Ecgonine.
Our company has sent coca tea and coca tea candy to resorts areas and hotels in Switzerland, Namibia, Italy, Canada, Nepal, USA and also to customers worldwide engaged in mountain, rock and ice climbing and high altitude hiking that purchase the tea for altitude sickness. It is very hard to find credible information regarding coca tea, it's benefits and use. Well, we do have a large amount of information that we collect from research groups , colleges and laboratories worldwide that buy our products and in several cases we donate the tea for farther studies. All the information we have, it is shared with all our customers; the amount of data accumulated in the last two years is considerable and we generally post articles periodically or under request.
- High Altitude: 1500 - 3500 m (5000 - 11500 ft)
- Very High Altitude: 3500 - 5500 m (11500 - 18000 ft)
- Extreme Altitude: above 5500 m
Practically speaking, however, we generally don't worry much about elevations below about 2500 m (8000 ft) since altitude illness rarely occurs lower than this. Certain normal physiologic changes occur in every person who goes to altitude:
- Hyperventilation (breathing faster, deeper, or both)
- Shortness of breath during exertion
- Changed breathing pattern at night
- Awakening frequently at night
- Increased urination
As one ascends through the atmosphere, barometric pressure decreases (though the air still contains 21% oxygen) and thus every breath contains fewer and fewer molecules of oxygen. One must work harder to obtain oxygen, by breathing faster and deeper. Persistent increased breathing results in reduction of carbon dioxide in the blood, a metabolic waste product that is removed by the lungs. The build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood is the key signal to the brain that it is time to breathe, so if it is low, the drive to breathe is blunted (the lack of oxygen is a much weaker signal, and acts as an ultimate safety valve). Dramatic changes take place in the body's chemistry and fluid balance during acclimatization. The osmotic center, which detects the "concentration" of the blood, gets reset so that the blood is more concentrated. This results in an altitude dieresis as the kidneys excrete more fluid. The reason for this reset is not understood, though it has the effect of increasing the hematocrit (concentration of red blood cells) and perhaps improving the blood's oxygen-carrying ability somewhat; it also counteracts the tendency for edema formation. It is normal at altitude to be urinating more than usual. If you are not, you may be dehydrated, or you may not be acclimatizing well.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a constellation of symptoms that represents your body not being acclimatized to its current altitude. As you ascend, your body acclimatizes to the decreasing oxygen (hypoxia). At any moment, there is an "ideal" altitude where your body is in balance; most likely this is the last elevation at which you slept The exact mechanisms of AMS are not completely understood, but the symptoms are thought to be due to mild swelling of brain tissue in response to the hypoxic stress. If this swelling progresses far enough, significant brain dysfunction occurs.
Anyone who goes to altitude can get AMS. It is primarily related to individual physiology (genetics) and the rate of ascent; there is no significant effect of age, gender, physical fitness, or previous altitude experience. Some people acclimatize quickly, and can ascend rapidly; others acclimatize slowly and have trouble staying well even on a slow ascent. There are factors that we don't understand; the same person may get AMS on one trip and not another despite an identical ascent itinerary. Unfortunately, no way has been found to predict who is likely to get sick at altitude. It is remarkable how many people mistakenly believe that a headache at altitude is "normal"; it is not. Denial is also common - be willing to admit that you have altitude illness, that's the first step to staying out of trouble. It is OK to get altitude illness, it can happen to anyone. It is not OK to die from it. With the information in this tutorial, you should be able to avoid the severe, life-threatening forms of altitude illness.