Spending Some Time High in the Mountains can Improve Your Blood for Months to Come
Almost anyone can agree that a couple of days hiking up the mountains do wonders to one’s health, both mentally and physically. Tenting outside, cooking your own food, listening to the birds chirping and the wind blowing through the leaves, and just taking in the fresh air, make you in a totally different person. Well, as it turns out, a new study has found out that just a few hours spent at high altitude have a tremendous effect on the bloodstream.
While this was the first time researchers have thoroughly looked at hikers’ blood, there were some previous notions that high altitudes affect the blood, making it produce more red cells in order to better oxygenate the organs and muscles. Since high altitudes have less oxygen, the body makes up for it by generating more red cells. however, this new discovery has revealed that more is actually going on.
“That’s been the story for 50 years,” Robert Roach, lead investigator and director of the Altitude Research Centre at the University of Colorado, told Richard A. Lovett at Science.
The problem with the previous assumptions was that it takes the body at least a week for it to start creating new red cells, and experienced mountaineers and hikers can attest to feeling the effects much faster than that; sometimes literally overnight.
To test the theory, scientists gathered a group of 21 volunteers (12 males and 9 females) and sent them in the high-up mountains of Bolivia. At an altitude of 5,260 meters, there is 47% less oxygen than you’d find at sea level, and the body has a tough time supplying itself with it. It’s hard for anyone to breathe and even exercise, but the body can adapt.
The volunteers were put on a 2-mile long hike after which they were to descend to an altitude of 1,525 meters for a week of rest. Afterward, they again went up and attempted the same 2-mile hike like before. This time around, however, the distance was far easier to make, and the blood analysis showed some really interesting results. The body wasn’t yet producing new red cells as previously believed, but it was changing the already existing ones.
“We provide for the first time supportive evidence of red blood cell metabolic adaptations that ensue within hours from exposure to high altitude hypoxia,” the team concludes.
These results show that, even if you’re not born with some high-altitude genetic variations, ou can still adapt to the new conditions of the environment with ease. It also shows that our bodies are far better equipped to dealing with these kinds of situations than previously believed. Moreover, the significance of this discovery can have some tremendous benefits when it comes to treating various wounds.
“Low oxygen is also a problem when trauma – from car accidents to gunshot wounds – causes blood loss,” says Lovett. “Finding ways to kick the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity into high gear in such an emergency … could save lives in both the civilian sector and on the battlefield.”